“Influence is like water. It is always flowing somewhere.” – Gary Hamel
There is amazing truth to Gary Hamel’s observation when associated to the hypercompetitive and social business environment that we live and work in today.
Over the past two years we have seen new ‘sources of water’ or ‘pools of influence’ form in and around our companies and our respective industries at an extremely rapid pace (fueled by the affects of social media tsunami).
As a result, many marketing and communication leaders (and their agencies) have struggled to make the right adjustments required to help their companies navigate the new realities of managing influence and doing business in a social environment.
The truth is, we live in exciting times.
Old communication and marketing platforms and the 1:1 relationship models that we have all come to appreciate have been disrupted - to the point that mainstream media, industry analysts, NGOs, etc. are no longer the primary sources of information available for our customers and the market at large to draw upon to inform and shape their opinions and decisions.
Social media and online social networks provide us with instant access to a wealth of rich information for insight, education, advice and shared experience to support our decisions - be it to purchase, vote, endorse, etc.
The key word here is experience.
Experience is the most important and credible factor of influence that affects any individual or community to take action.
As consumers, we rely on our own experience (with a company or issue) as well as the shared experience of others to support our decisions and/or shape our opinions.
Good or bad, experience is authentic, extremely credible, trustworthy…and very hard to buy.
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 manner can further expose a company to massive short and long-term business challenges.
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.
In this regard, experience is perhaps the most disruptive factor of influence to companies in a social business environment.
So how do you manage or generate positive experience?
- Emotion: How I feel
- Context: What I think or where I am
- Experience: What I did and/or how I will act as a result
Combined these three factors represent the trifecta of insight for us as business professionals.
To understand how our customers and/or the public feel about our company. To understand their experiences with our products and services or the industry issues/trends that drive the market is what we strive for.
Thanks to social media, this level of insight is right in front of us - ready to grasp.
This is where marketing and communication organizations have the opportunity to be more than ‘press release factories’ or ‘buzz creation’ machines for our companies.
Many marketing and communication professionals (and PR agencies/experts) preach the virtues of the social web as a listening platform and a platform to have conversations and engage with customers. But the reality is that social media is largely used (by the same people) as a massive communication and marketing channel for the same type of ‘one-way’ communication we have always done (but in 140 characters, via video, etc.).
This is fine…but it is not representative of the true power that social media offers.
Through social media, we can help our companies navigate the transition to being successful in a social business environment by building bridges between our companies and the experience of our customers and the market that build and strengthen trust (among other things).
As ambassadors of experience and facilitators of insight we can support our companies to build great (better) products, deliver or improve services that delight our customers and cultivate positive experiences around important issues that matter to our customers.
Just one example:
- When it comes to the innovation of product and services, great opportunities exist for many companies to engage with customers through social media and communities to test, elicit and validate ideas. At SAP, our product development leaders work directly with customers and customer communities to share roadmaps, plans and discuss new ideas and opportunities (using social media tools and communities as a bridge). This level of engagement is starting to transform how we work with customers across the chain of our business.
If you want to understand other practice – look at IBM. Below are a few impressive stats (as of early this year that I found in this case study) that showcases how IBM has bridged the gap between itself and the market to facilitate enormous opportunity. This was all driven out of the marketing and communication function.
IBM has institutionalized social thinking to tap into the intellect and experience of their employees to fuel innovation, create new business opportunities and advocate the IBM message and strengthen its presence and brand experience in the market. Following are a few impressive stats from the case study:
• No IBM corporate blog or Twitter account
• 17,000 internal blogs
• 100,000 employees using internal blogs
• 53,000 members on SocialBlue (like Facebook for employees)
• A few thousand “IBMers” on Twitter
• Thousands of external bloggers
• Almost 200,000+ on LinkedIn
• As many as 500,000 participants in company crowd-sourcing “jams”
• 50,000+ in alum networks on Facebook and LinkedIn
• Crowd-sourcing identified 10 best incubator businesses, which IBM funded with $100M
• $100 billion in total revenue with a 44.1% gross profit margin in 2008
In many ways this is not new or original thinking.
Of course you want to engage customers early in product, service development and marketing activities. But traditionally this has been done through focus groups or very small/isolated interactions with segments of users or through primary market research.
What is relatively new here is the idea of using the social web to significantly accelerate the idea creation and validation of products; and generate mass amount of insight and feedback; while at the same time establishing a fertile environment for sales engagement in a more collaborative way with customers. So really it is about embedding or engineering the idea of social strategy and social thinking into the core of business processes – to cultivate positive experiences.
The more that companies can generate advocacy and endorsement based on the positive ‘experience’ of their products and/or services through and with their customers - the better situated they are to establish a movement that will increase competitive advantage and generate other desirable results.
My fundamental belief is that marketing and communications organizations are in the right position to help lead their companies through this change in a very powerful and impressive way. Success requires, however, that we not only think different…but also act different .