Listening is only the beginning. Engagement is the beginning of the end of business as usual. Once we hear, truly hear our customers and the people who influence our decisions, effective engagement is inspired by the empathy that develops simply by being human.
We start to see things through the eyes of our consumers.
We feel their pains, frustrations, and also happiness.
We sense what it takes to encourage positive sentiment.
Once we put "people" back into the mix, a new culture will take shape within the organization...and that's when we will truly realize what it takes to socialize our business. It is quite literally, the beginning of the end of business as usual.
Much of my time these days is spent helping businesses restructure management and departments to shift from inside-out workflow to also one of outside-in engagement and adaptation.
Words are just that...words. Our ability to transform and adapt based on what we hear, feel, and learn will earn us relevance and community in order to compete for the future, today.
I recently sat down with Chris for Pilbeam for Vocus and I wanted to take a moment to share that discussion with you...
"Social media is growing in prominence on a daily basis, and I believe that the consequence of not engaging, or not even listening, is, unfortunately, the beginning of the end."
The author of Engage! and principal of FutureWorks reveals how an expert overcomes some of the obstacles we face in driving social media within organizations, and why a well-executed social media strategy involves far more than just setting up a Twitter account.
Three years ago, Brian Solis wrote the warning: "Engage or die" in The Social Media Manifesto, a rallying cry he was publishing to urge businesses to engage with their public online. The principal of Silicon Valley new media firm FutureWorks was simply 'in the moment', as he puts it - but the term has come to sum up the scene across the landscape of PR, advertising, and marketing as organizations scramble to come to terms with the openness and transparency that social media marketing demands.
"The term seems to have taken on its own life," smiles Solis. "It wasn't necessarily intended as a dire warning. But what it does mean is that conversations and evolution are taking place with or without you. And you have a choice to make."
Vocus has caught up with Solis at its Users Conference, where his Engage or Die keynote speech has just gone down a storm. His message to businesses and organizations is that not engaging with their public - and failing to listen to what the public is saying about them - isolates them to an extent that they're in danger of losing their relevance altogether. As more and more consumers turn to social media to make their buying decisions, the need to adapt becomes more critical by the day. Engage or die, in other words.
"The question is," says Solis, "can you afford not to participate? Can you afford to be absent from the decision-making process? Can you afford to give up market share to your competitors? Social media is growing in prominence on a daily basis, and I believe that the consequence of not engaging and adapting, or not even listening, is, unfortunately, the beginning of the end. And I think it also removes the inspiration for starting or running a business. If you don't learn, if you don't listen to people, if you don't adapt, if you don't engage, then you lose the ability to earn mindshare or share of voice."
It's a convincing argument. So why are many businesses still lagging in the social media sphere? Solis believes it comes from a misunderstanding of the dynamic of social media, and a fear of relinquishing control.
"Social media is not just a technology: it's a movement," he explains. "It's permeating business from the outside in and the bottom up. Usually, technology, innovation, strategies and processes are introduced from the top down. Social media, however, is driven from the outside - by you and me.
"What management tries to do with social media is analyze its importance, its meaning, its impact - in order to bring it back to the top down, but without personal experience.. The issue is the willingness and ability of a company to change, and also the very levels of management's willingness to at least research or embrace what social media offers or what it promises, in order to start experimenting or piloting a program that gives it some semblance of control or understanding so that they can then introduce this from a top-down process."
Solis has a great deal of experience in overcoming reluctance to engage online. His firm FutureWorks specializes in social media consulting and counts brands including Cisco, Conde Nast and Budweiser among its social media clients. So what advice would he give to PR professionals struggling to sell social media upwards in their own organizations?
"Everybody has to feel that they have a piece of it," says Solis. "To get this change going, everyone has to feel like a stakeholder. They have to believe that this is going to benefit them and those around them. A lot of it has to do with empowering individuals. I spent two years working with one Fortune 50 brand, getting the right people involved, building new teams around social media. We could then put it in a way that it was now a top-down process with policy, governance, infrastructure, support and budget and everything was data-driven."
It's a very different model to the experimental approach favored by many other social media experts - the idea of starting a Twitter account and seeing what works, then scaling up later. Solis doesn't discount experimentation out of hand, but believes it can be self-defeating.
"It's a start," says Solis. "But it works for you and against you - usually the latter. Many businesses create a profile and a presence - but then they find that it's not delivering the best reward against the opportunity cost. And that's simply because it's not rolled out as part of a strategy. If you're not introducing it with a strategy and some metrics, and a cause, and the ability to inspire some type of measurable and meaningful action, it's not going to perform very well. Of course not, as it's not designed to perform. The danger is then that the management sees it as a waste of time.
"Instead, we should be very intentional about it, designing it so that you can earn support in the process. I approach everything I do with research. I have to get the numbers and data. I have to get the extent of what's happening or where it's happening in order to make a case. It's not just to grab the data: there's the sociological, emotional, and physiological aspects of everything as well. And, where we really bring it home is the ability to package the information for various stakeholders within the organization. There's service, there's business, there's sales, there's marketing: there are so many opportunities. It's not just any one particular division of a brand that can benefit. But it will be one part of the organization that leads the change and becomes the champion. With Dell, it was customer service, initially. With Comcast it was customer service. At Starbucks it was all driven by marketing. One part of the organization realizes the opportunity. And then it starts to spread and permeate the culture within once everybody sees the data, the information and the research, then the strategic plan - and then sees how well it works when it rolls out. Then, people start to say: okay, we're onto something - and the group of change agents starts to grow and spread."
Fundamental to the strategy, says Solis, is communicating the rewards: the return on investment from social media. His new book Engage! features an entire chapter on different ways of measuring ROI, but he doesn't believe in a one-size-fits-all solution.
"People will come up with metrics and people will constantly introduce formulas," he says. "For example, there is an ad agency that calculated the value of a Facebook fan as $3.60. Do we agree with that? No - I don't personally.
"First of all, define the 'investment' part - many people aren't quite sure how to capture it. Obviously your time and resources are not free. Twitter and Facebook might be free to create a profile on, but at the very minimum, you're investing your time, which inherently possesses value. There's also an opportunity cost: what else could you be doing?
"Then consider, what do we want to see as a return? What do we want to drive? What do we need to measure? When you're earning friends or followers, there's no way to just realize the return on investment because it's not quantifiable. One way is to quantify the return is in terms of sales. But there are other metrics. For example, we now know that social media or just online media is where a potential consumer goes to make a decision. If you understand where they're going, what they're looking for and your share of those conversations, that becomes a benchmark too. I believe that the metrics that will work are those that are specific to what we're trying to accomplish - the ones that document where we're trying to get to.
"We have to understand what we want to measure from the program, and design it in. And it's not like we're inventing that concept - we look for benchmarks in other things that we're doing today, right? We have benchmarks for how PR is performing, or we should, how sales is performing, how direct marketing is performing. They help us to understand the opportunity cost in the equation. But many companies aren't thinking that way about social media yet."
With Solis on the case, however, it's likely that they will be thinking his way soon. We're out of time - he has a plane to catch to Sweden, where he'll be delivering his Engage or Die message to the World PR Forum and the Creative Summit. For those hungry for more, you can find the Social Media Manifesto on Brian Solis's blog, follow him on Twitter and read his books.