Guest Post: Brian Solis on The End of Business As Usual

The social media revolution has given way to a new era of consumerism and consumer influence. As a result, the era of business as usual is over. As customers grow more confident and vocal, organizations are either listening and responding or turning towards the inevitable path of digital Darwinism – the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to adapt. Meanwhile, fast-moving challengers are making huge gains through smart, meaningful customer engagement.

To celebrate the release of my new book, The End of Business as Usual, I recently hosted a discussion on behalf of Vocus on how businesses should rethink a marketing-driven social media approach by not just engaging, but activating a market-driven strategy defined by smarter, more meaningful engagement.

More than 1,000 people attended the event and while I tried to answer every question, many were left unaddressed because of time constraints. This post tackles some of the recurring questions we received on Twitter.

Click here to access the recorded webcast of Brian’s Vocus webinar!

Q1: Whenever I hear about strategies, or when I present myself, I always get the feeling that Lewis Carroll said it best: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where…” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

This particular question is unique in how it was presented, but it also reflects the sentiment of so many others who attended the event as well as those I work with every day.

I believe that businesses approach social media with the genuine intention of wanting to engage; however, many miss the tenets and dynamics of what makes social media, well…social. For example, social media is already siloed within most organizations today. The top three departments that “own” social media are marketing, marketing communications, and public relations respectively. When you study day-to-day programs, it’s clear that campaigns, contents, and conversations offer the semblance of engagement, but really add up to nothing more than meaningless platitudes.

Much of new media is just that: new. But businesses are diving into social media without a clear vision, mission or purpose. They are not thinking about the experience they wish to design, the emotions they desire to evoke, the click paths of those they engage, or the outcomes they seek.

In the absence of direction, think about engagement as an opportunity to close existing gaps between an organization and its stakeholders. To get these answers requires research, discourse, and intuition. Without answers or insights, what is this really about? It must mean more than simply creating social presences.

 

Q2: Are we no longer supposed to speak WITH an audience? What happened to interaction?

Interaction, conversations and responses contribute to dialogue and two-way engagement. Intention counts for everything here, but at the same time, engagement is measured by the sum of actions and words. If you study the nature of dialogue that’s taking place without you today, the ability to learn from existing activity inspires engagement strategies and content programs that deliver value. Some ask questions. Others need help or direction. Certain groups seek affinity or simply entertainment. The reality is that social media can cater to all of the above and more, yet strategies are limited in scope with value measured by soft metrics such as the number of Likes, comments, followers, retweets, views, etc. Engagement is not measured this way and anyone who tells you differently is wrong. I just can’t say it any other way.

Engagement is defined as the interaction between a consumer or stakeholder and an organization. It is measured – here’s the important part – as the take-away value, sentiment and actions that follow the exchange. Without definition, where will they go, what will they feel, what will they do or say?

Your job as a change agent is to create content so compelling that you empower others to ENGAGE, SHARE and TAKE ACTION. To put it simply, that A.R.T. of social media is in the actions, reactions and transactions you can shape and steer. This is why we are no longer merely engaging with an audience, but instead a sophisticated and connected audience with an audience of audiences.

Conversations and interaction is useful. But there’s a gap between what stakeholders or consumers expect and what businesses deliver against today in social media. Don’t just mind the gap – bridge the gap!

 

Q3: What is the marketing potential for Tumblr? Are consumers escaping the corporate feel of Facebook and Twitter?

Let me first say this, Tumblr is a unique network that is often misunderstood or underestimated by businesses. In terms of social media, Tumblr is third on the list of total minutes spent in social networks and blogs behind Facebook and Blogger according to Nielsen.  Perhaps I should also point out that Twitter is in a not-so-close fourth position.

Tumblr is a hybrid social network and microblog community rich with its own culture. Some businesses look at Tumblr as an opportunity to further syndicate media in a one-to-many approach. For example, a post on Facebook is often published to Twitter and also Tumblr. Yet, Tumblr demands something new, dedicated and introduced within the culture code established by its fervent user-base. As it is also a social network, Tumblr requires more than just content publishing to successfully engage: it requires bona fide engagement outside of your page to cultivate relationships and a community.

 

Q4: Your social media examples seem skewed to B2C. What are the best practices for B2B?

Social media is not relegated to any industry. The benefits of smarter engagement know no bounds. However, smarter engagement, regardless of market or industry, requires research and an understanding of how people find and share information and also how they influence and are influenced by their peers. You’ll find that with B2B, information, direction, insights around challenges and opportunities, are bound by shared experiences. What’s different of course, are the networks and the nature of the interaction. Depending on the nature of the business, the top networks are usually not Facebook and Twitter – instead, they’re blogs, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Companies focused on solutions for other businesses find that participating in conversations for the sake of conversations carry little value. Instead, delivering value or insights based on real-world challenges or questions helps decision makers make decisions.

For example, Indium, a global solder supplier specializing in solder products and solder paste for electronics assembly materials, studies how prospects search for solutions based on keywords. Rather than manipulate search results to send people to Web pages, the company invests in useful content to match keyword searches with value-added original content. The result? The company experienced a 600% spike in leads over the course of six months.

If you add video to the equation, there’s a reason that Youtube is the second largest search engine next to Google. People are using similar keywords to find results based on a video narrative.
The question is, what are your customers and prospects searching for and what’s turning up in their results?

Overall, it’s time to take a few simple, but profound steps to bridge the gap between customer expectations and business objectives.

  1. Close the gap between what your audience wants and what you think they want.
  2. Avoid the repetitive, one-way messaging that gets you culled from people’s social streams.
  3. Turn your customers into your sales force with shareable new media experiences.

Brian Solis is a principal at Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm in San Mateo, Calif. , His new book, The End of Business as Usual, examines the emergence of a new generation of consumers, why businesses are missing the mark, and how to adapt to survive digital Darwinism. Follow him on Twitter @briansolis and YouTube.

For smart, comprehensive social media monitoring that will help you bridge the customer gap, take a look at Vocus PR software here.

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