Tag Archives: Public relations

Social Business Means Redefining What Business Is

Brian Solis talks about the bigger social business opportunity that is ahead of businesses and social media professionals:

When you look behind the scenes, you actually see more duct tape and rubber bands than fluidity and polish. Business units are still siloed and even the chief executives have gone on record saying that the acts of engagement do more for the company’s PR than it does for the improvement of products and services. Just look at your favorite social media source and you’ll see an endless array of examples of how brands are succeeding in social media. Again, most of them are basking in the brilliance of individual victories, some are actually breaking through the internal barriers that prevent collaboration, and others are simply stunts designed to spike conversations, sales, and PR. Nothing wrong with it…especially if it work as intended.

You and I are here together, right now, to do something greater. It’s up to us to lead the way for the socialization of business, understanding that it’s an uphill journey for the foreseeable future. But in the end, our experience and triumphs are unparalleled.

What Brian is talking about here isn’t social media marketing.  He’s talking about redefining what it means to be a business. It’s an ambitious vision, but has a few nascent successes that point to what could become the new corporate structure (Zappos comes to mind, 37 Signals, etc.)

For as long as the corporate entity has existed the model has been command and control.  Ground troops up on the front lines taking orders from well heeled Generals sipping tea well back from the front, who are ordering air support via massive branding campaigns on television, radio and print. All in an effort to convince the public that their product was just a little bit better, cheaper or faster.  And this worked well, for a long time.  But not any more.

With today’s connected, real-time landscape, business leaders and brands are in the thick of it.  They’re being pulled in every direction, flanked by conversations, complaints, kudos, competitors and their own internal chaos as they try to respond to the changes in the way business gets done.  And respond is all most have been able to do.  Not think, not plan, not leverage. Merely react.  Often these knee-jerk reactions are head-in-the-sand denials. Across the country there are conversations going on that start like this “Maybe we should just kill our Facebook presence,” because these leaders and brands aren’t fairing well in this new reality.

And even those that choose to engage in this new arena, as Brian points out, are doing it via smoke and mirrors, not necessarily through any enlightened state of corporate prescience.  But hey, if you’re one of the brands that hit the jackpot in connecting with customers online; well, by all means, don’t leave the girl you brought to the dance.  However, it’s important to understand the distinction between achieving success with social media marketing and reconstructing your business based on this new world order.

The marketing changes wrought by social media platforms have been hashed over ad nauseum for the last few years.  Most socia media successes can be boiled down to tactical executions of providing customer service and compelling experiences on the social web.  And that’s all well and good and interesting.  The evolution of marketing from spray and pray, one-size-fits-all messaging to actual conversation is welcome indeed; but in order for businesses to fully leverage the changes afforded by the social web they must embrace this new reality outside of their marketing department.  And that’s where I think Brian gets it right.

It’s not about redefining your message, it’s about rebuilding your company.  Breaking down command and control, creating better flows of information capital, creating more authentic and meaningful customer experiences and touchpoints, and empowering employees to put in their best to work for the business and customer every day.

This transformation starts when the business owners realize that the game has changed, that they in turn need to adapt.  Businesses must be willing to flip the megaphone around and put the wide end up to their corporate ear.  And then do something with the data to rearchitect their fundamental infrastructure to better serve the market. Because it’s not enough for a company to come up with the Old Spice Man campaign if customer feedback isn’t driving product development.  It’s not enough to launch a Facebook page when you’re customers are all active on a BBS somewhere.  It’s not enough to have branding, product, customer service, loyalty, global marketing, product teams, etc. all off experimenting with Twitter; when what’s needed is leaders who can to drive the new social way of operating on the Web through the organization to create a new way of thinking about delivering value to the market place.

A favorite metaphor for corporate dysfunction and disorganization is that the left hand isn’t talking to the right hand.  Well this problem is amplified by the challenges created by a real time, messy, loud market place full of demands.  And if organizations insist on relegating social media to the PR/customer service silo, without truly embracing the power it can bring them in terms of insight, innovation, customer and employee satisfaction and bigger and better shareholder returns, than the vision of social business is left unfulfilled, and we as champions of the space will have come up short in our mission to change how business is done.

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Speed as a Social Media Strategy

I just finished reading a great business book called “Rules of Thumb” by Alan Webber.  Webber founded Fast Company magazine and was also managing editor at Havard Business Review, among other things.  In “Rules of Thumb” he compiles 52 bite-sized pieces of wisdom he has collected over the past 40+ years in his distinguished career.  They’re all excellent.  I want to dive into some of them here – in part to share with you, in part to cement them into my mental firmament.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did and I encourage you to pick up Rules of Thumb when you get a chance.

Speed as a Strategy

This is one of my favorite rules of thumb in the book.  Speed as a strategy.  Whether you’re talking about the first-mover advantage or simply being able to react and evolve in an ever-changing business environment, speed is a strategy all on its own. Too often you hear “we’re moving too fast” or “we need to make sure we’re not moving too fast,” from the planners and the folks in accounting and those who are uncomfortable with speed.  They want to slow things down, plod through detailed analyses and make the “perfect” decision.  Webber refutes this line of thinking as an evolutionary outmoded approach that is sure to leave your business in the dust and your team far from the leading edge of your industry.

The solution of course, is to become comfortable with speed and to use it as a competitive advantage and strategy.

Becoming comfortable with speed

If the answer is to become comfortable with speed, then how do you do it?  I believe you become comfortable with speed by developing a framework for evaluating situations and options and then a process of constant iteration and refinement of decisions through rapid and ongoing evaluation of the choices made.   Something like this:

  1. Evaluate current situation
  2. Determine course of action
  3. Implement change quickly
  4. Measure inputs/outputs of change
  5. Evaluate results
  6. Refine and adjust strategy on the fly
  7. Repeat

If you are able to implement this cycle then you have the tools and processes in place to manage rapid change then making quick decisions is not a short-sighted exercise that leaves you open to threats and missed opportunities; but rather is an ongoing, renewable business process that always ensures that you’re attuned to the environment and challenges your organization faces. All while staying out ahead of the pack through nimble, smart decisions.

Once you’ve developed this process to provide opportunities for constantly refining your strategy then you are able to embrace speed.  No longer is a decision all-or-nothing, but rather a series of incremental adjustments based on the results of the previous choice.  It makes everything much easier to manage in my opinion.

So, if that’s the high-level look at how speed can help an organization, what about in marketing?  Where this best comes into play is in online marketing.  Because print is built around big bets – long lead times, big RFPs, big campaigns, etc., it isn’t able to leverage the benefits of speed. Print and other old media need the plodding decision-making because for the most part, once you’re in, you’re in.  So you need to make that big bet count.  Online media, for the most part, behaves in a way that makes speed and incremental changes an essential part of success.

Speed as a strategy in social media marketing

More than any other online marketing effort, social media marketing demands speed.  In fact, it is organizations that can’t or won’t embrace speed who are the ones most damaged by the conversations in social media.  Those that wait to put together a pain-staking strategy, require lengthy legal involvement and rely on the old world media paradigm of creating perfect before shipping are all hurt by real-time conversations that wait for no one.  There are plenty of case studies about this phenomenon, and we don’t need to dive into them all here, but suffice to say that speed is the only strategy that works in social media.

Why is speed so important in social media?

Because people aren’t hierarchical organizations with command and control reporting. They speak their mind, share their opinions freely, and don’t need legal sign-off to present an argument or make a statement. That makes them infinitely faster than any organization.  But people also expect to deal with people, not brands, not organizations, not entities when engaging in a conversation online.  If a company wants to participate they need to let their people act like, well, people, and not corporate mouthpieces or brand ambassadors or any other non-human corporate cog.  This requires giving those people on the front lines of your organization engaging in social media the gift of speed. And your organization needs to be aligned to respond quickly to inputs that come through this new conversation channel.

Without speed your social media marketing strategy is dead on arrival.  It has a higher likelihood of doing harm rather than good, as the attention-spans, and patience online is reduced to near-zero by the customers and people you’re trying to engage. If your team is unable to answer a simple question in a timely fashion you’re hurting your brand.  If you can’t get a customer service request routed and addressed quickly, you’re hurting your brand.   The list goes on.  Without speed you’re brand will not thrive in the social space.

A few guidelines for speed in social media

Here are just a few (not comprehensive, please add more in the comments) thoughts on how to make sure you’re organization has the speed it needs to be successful in social media:

  • Have a corporate social media policy that encourages employees to embrace social media and clearly outlines the company’s guidelines and beliefs for using social media
  • Ensure that business division owners are ready to handle requests that come in through the social channel.  Is your customer service team ready to handle a complaint via Twitter?
  • For companies of any size over 30, implement some form of tracking of open issues and resolutions.  Can you track outstanding issues that have been posted to message boards about your product?  Can you communicate with those people and get back to them when things are resolved?
  • Give your front-line folks answers to questions ahead of time.  Do they have an extensive corporate knowledge? Do they have access to policies, warranties, press materials and other company facts that they can go straight to without needing to track down someone in product or PR to address?
  • Give your front-line folks freedom to talk like people.  Can you set guidelines about what will and won’t be answered immediately? If you have an intense legal component to your business what can you do to provide as much leeway to front-line folks while ensuring proper guidance and discretion on sensitive items?
  • Give your front-line folks the proper training in investor relations, media relations, customer service, public relations, etc. so that they understand the different types of inquiries they’ll receive and a framework with which to deal with them.
  • Make sure your front-line people are friendly, personable and genuinely interested in helping people. That spirit will shine as they interact with your customers and potential customers in the social sphere.

Speed wins – how fast are you?

To me it is clear that speed wins.  Especially in social media.  So how fast are you? How fast is your organization? And what can you do to make it or your department faster?  What am I missing?  I’d love your feedback in the comments.

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Compromises are easy to make, hard to live with

Purple cows rarely come from compromise

Purple cows rarely come from compromise

Compromises are a part of work, a part of life.  We make them every day.  Whether with our coworkers, family members, partners, suppliers, children, or employers; we make compromises everywhere.  In fact, often the ability to do your job effectively means making compromise after compromise to meet the limitations and requirements of other stakeholders tied to a particular project.  But it is often times the people who don’t make compromises, who are difficult and dedicated to an idea (a vision really) that they want to see brought into being untarnished and uncompromised.  It is usually those ideas that are the real wow ideas.  So why do so many compromises get made?

Because they’re easy, of course.

I was recently working on a new marketing initiative for my company. It’s a complex, multi-tiered marketing effort spanning across a bunch of channels and executions.  To pull something like this off you need everything from executive sponsorship to product support to public relations to agency and vendors to help realize the vision.  And a project like this is a breeding ground for compromises.  Things that are hard and expensive get put on the chopping block or reduced in scope and function.  Things that are seen as a risk as dialed back to a test.  Creative that needs to really grab you in left at good enough for budget reasons.  And the list goes on.

The job of a good marketer, a leader, a visionary is to understand which compromises are worth making and which ones aren’t. It is your responsibility to understand what makes a difference and where to draw the line.  What compromises are being done for budget reasons?  If you spend that extra money will you get a much greater return?  What compromises are being done for convenience? Does an idea not fit a template or product? How much better would the campaign be if you spent the time and money to change it?  Which compromises are being done for time?  Can you do a phased launch to ship something that works with a commitment to improving it quickly? And finally, which compromises are you absolutely not willing to make?  And how do you deal with proposed compromises to your inviolate core?

Compromises are a part of life. They are easy to make and we make them everyday.  Evaluating which compromises are the right ones to make is the job of any successful marketer.  Because while compromises are easy to make they’re often very hard to live with.

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