In the last few years, there’s been a trend towards organizations describing themselves as “a social business.” Because of the way this term is used, it can come off like a buzzword. In reality, it’s really important — and amidst all the other ways your business is probably changing via digital and mobile and new members of the workforce, thinking about being a “social business” is crucial for your future success.
In order to think about this properly, you need to begin by understanding what exactly a social business is. Would it be one that’s active on various social media channels? That’s part of it — but only a small part.
A ‘social business’ is one that focuses less on its core product or service, and more on relationships with customers and clients. This is a major business shift, because much of the way we’ve designed and marketed companies since World War II is about products and services. Now the focus is on relationships.
This chart is based on data from 6,000 mergers and acquisitions. Values were assigned to ‘brand’ items — such as trademarks, product names, banners, etc. — and ‘customer’ items, which is an approximation of the worth of repeat customers and those known in person. As you can see, the value of customer relationships is now outpacing the value of brand. That’s a major shift.
That’s what being a ‘social business’ is really all about: it’s relationships and connections driving everything, as opposed to strictly products or services.
Of course, social media is a big part of this. Because your customers aren’t at your HQ every day and don’t know your culture or your office politics or anything of that nature, how you act on social showcases the type of company you are. You can’t be ‘a social business’ — driven by relationships — without having some context around how and why you’re using social media.
But listen, this part is important. If you want to have any value around social, you gotta actually be social. To quote Neil Patel:
What is social media about, really? It’s about the social. But social with who? Your users. To be effective, you’ve got to understand who they are, what they want, and how to get it to them.
This is where many businesses fail on social media: they forget the first word of the two-word concept. You need to be social on there. You need to pull back the curtain a little bit more. You need to respond to customers — both complaints but also just general interactions.
Think about one of the most popular music acts of the past decade: Taylor Swift. What’s her ‘social brand?’ She shows people her life — she’s social with them — to the point that thousands of her fans view themselves as actual friends of hers, even if they’ve never met her. It’s an organic relationship: she shows aspects of her life, and the connection between her and her friends (who eventually pay for the concert tickets and albums that keep her as a famous musician) grows.
Many businesses become confused by social media and want immediate ROI from it, because that’s often how we’re trained to think about business (especially in companies that are evaluated quarterly). Because social media is about relationships, though, the ROI takes time to build. Once you’ve invested in it, however, the ROI can be massive. You’ll be creating legitimate ‘brand advocates’ instead of one-off purchasers of your product.
When we say that a business needs to ‘be social’ on social media, here are some of the things to avoid:
Only sharing about yourself
Selling all the time, either overtly or up-selling
Not responding to questions and concerns from other users
Marketing teams often have responsibility for social media, and often dive in with lots of spreadsheets, automation tools, analytic trackers, and general plans and calendars. That’s all very good and important — the process is key to avoid making mistakes that could hurt your brand — but it misses a bigger point around why you’re on social media in the first place. You’re on there to build relationships and connections, not “because everyone else is doing it” or “to grow revenue.” (The latter idea can come from social, but it will take time.)
There’s your first rule of social media, then: be social. Let’s build from there.
Ted Bauer is a freelance writer, editor, and marketer based in Fort Worth, Texas. He’s originally from New York City but has lived in many different U.S. cities. He’s worked for companies as diverse as ESPN, PBS, the Houston Independent School District, and McKesson. He blogs daily at The Context of Things.