If you agree with the premise that we now live and work in a world that is increasingly becoming more and more ‘social’ then it is easy to understand that new rules in business are being written for companies to be successful and compete.
Social media now thrives in a dynamic environment as a result of the convergence of many great enabling technologies built around the Internet, Web 2.0, and mobile along with advancements in bandwidth and connectivity (among other things).
We now operate in a world where hundreds of millions of people are seamlessly connected through devices and the Internet - sharing billions of pieces of content, information and experiences on a daily basis. It is just amazing.
In many ways, social media has evolved to become a very powerful medium to channel emotion, context and experience.
- Emotion: How I feel…
- Context: What I think or where I am…
- Experience: What I did and how I will act as a result of...
Perhaps the most important component for business leaders to understand and appreciate in a social world is 'experience.’
A bad experience shared on the Internet can travel at a velocity that can reach millions of people over night.
As people begin to identify with or share their own similar (bad) experiences - the impact on a company’s reputation and sales can be dramatic. This alone should be enough to cause concern for any business leader.
Perhaps more important though, is that every bad experience exposes a root issue (e.g. product or service quality, sales experience issues, etc.) that if ignored or not addressed in a timely manor can further expose a company to massive short and long-term business challenges.
…and in today’s social environment, the spark that often ignites the flame comes via a tweet, a blog post or a status update to a social media peer group.
As a result, many business leaders now realize the transformative power that social media can have on a business. One only needs to look at recent 'lessons' from Toyota, Nestle, and Dominos (among dozens of others) .
Business leaders usually start to ‘get it’ when they think about social media in the context of ‘social business’ and how principles of ‘social thinking’ can help them compete in this new environment.
This said, I have found that there are three fundamental principles of social thinking that business leaders must ‘align to’ in order to be successful in a social business environment. They must:
- Be open to ideas outside of their own
- Be flexible and open enough to incorporate those ideas into what they do
- Have genuine desire to achieve continuous competitive advantage
If business leaders align to these principles, then applying the process of social engagement/interaction to what they do (using social media tools to support) will open up great opportunities and help avoid great potential risks.
Now going back to the fact that we now operate in a world with hundreds of millions of people sharing billions of piece of content, information and experience…
Business leaders (at a minimum) should use social media tools now to understand how their company’s brand, products and/or services are being used and experienced by people. Insights gained from just ‘looking through the portal’ can provide tremendous value to any business executive, by identifying: product and service quality issues; new ideas for product and service innovations (based on how people are using); new routes to market; etc.
Twitter is a great place to start. People who 'tweet' want to be listened to…they want to be heard. As such, Twitter is a great platform for people to channel their emotions, thoughts, ideas and experiences.
Using the free Twitter application called TweetDeck (did I mention that this is free?) you are able to run an infinite number of Twitter queries at the same time. Among other things it is a great application to explore and understand basic 'user' sentiment towards pretty much anything - among Twitter's 75+ million users.
As an example, I suggest to run the following as side-by-side queries: 'love [insert your company name]' and 'hate [insert your company name].’ This is an easy way to understand the sentiment of people toward your company (brand, products and services) - at the extremes. You can also do the same with your competitors as a comparison/benchmark. Again, this is a safe and easy way to understand how your company is perceived among the segment of users connecting through social media.
If you want to go a step further you can 'engage' with and thank customers who support and love your products/services - by responding to tweets. Perhaps ask a few questions while at it "What do you like best about x products?" "How can we improve your experience?"
On the flip side you can also engage with people who hate or do not like your products. "How can we improve and do better?"
An important note, though, is that before you engage and ask questions you must be prepared to graciously accept the input/ideas AND if the ideas are relevant - adapt them to improve products/services. The power of question is great. It shows people that you care to understand their insights. But it also comes with responsibility on your side. You should only ask questions if you are willing to accept and potentially act on the answer.
If you do this, it is a very authentic way to show that you/your company care. It strengthens the emotional and experiential ties with customers and in the areas where experience is bad...it just might be the beginning of turning around sentiment.
There are many other examples of social media tools and platforms that a company can use (free of charge) to conduct similar research and engagement efforts.
Social media is no longer a front-line issue for just marketing and communications within a corporation. Business leaders must appreciate and start to understand and apply the principles of social business and social thinking to their operations – now.