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Q&A: Culture Shock, How Social Media is Changing the Culture of Business

Good friend JD Lasica asked me to answer some fantastic questions for a post he published in celebration of Engage. I poured so much of myself into the responses, that I felt it was worth sharing here with you as well.

Many of the lessons and observations below are important for you as a champion, decision maker, entrepreneur, or executive.  Social Media is not only changing how we communicate, we are also changing the culture of business from the outside in and from the bottom up. In doing so, businesses, of all shapes and sizes, will magnetize communities. As such, the intentional creation and crafting of a useful and meaningful culture in business will create a competitive advantage, giving people a reason to align and ultimately embody and extend your purpose and mission.


Your new book Engage may turn out to be the definitive work on how social media is transforming business. Looking at the big picture, how is it changing the balance of power between customers and companies?

I invested an incredible amount of passion and also vision into this book as I believe that the time is now to lead a media revolution based on insight, intelligence and experience. I think the minute you hold this book, its intentions are clear. The impact of new media is only just beginning and the road to where we’re going is, to channel the Beatles, long and winding. I believe that the destination is less important nowadays and it is this journey that we each embrace, that defines our experiences and teachings.

As in many books and blogs on the subject of social media, theory plays a role of course, however, new media isn’t as “new” as we might think. There are lessons and applied learning that we must embrace in order to effectively change, not merely for the sake of change, but for the betterment of the tattered relations between businesses, customers, and the influencers and peers who connect them. The shift of balance skewed towards those who believe they held the power and in many cases, businesses invested profits into distancing the nodes that connect us to our networks of relevance in order to reduce the cost of actually “managing” customers. When we lost the universal ability to hit “0” and connect with a live human being, regardless of medium, it was the final insult that sparked a social uprising.

Social media is the democratization of information and the equalization of influence. Monologue gave way to dialogue and we the people ensured that our voices were not only heard, but felt.

Now that we, as consumers, have the ability to vocalize sentiment and in doing so, cause meaningful and reverberating action, companies have no choice but to pay attention. They must respond. And, they’re not even close to doing so in a scalable nor efficient manner. Brands were blindsided because their focus was on distancing connections instead of embracing them.

Social Media is our industrial revolution, and as sensational as it sounds, we have yet to fully realize its potential and promise.

Tell us some of the success stories you spotlight in the book — one or two compelling examples of how companies have used social media to change the way they operate.

I share examples for every viable aspect of social media within business ranging from service to marketing to product development to the complete transformation of a brand, its culture and purpose, from the outside in and the bottom up. To share a couple of examples right here, right now, would be out of context and also, I believe it would be a disservice to the overall value of what you, someone reading this right now, can bring to the game.

The value of this book, if it’s one thing I want readers to take away, is that it answers your questions as well as the questions you never knew to ask.

When we read case studies, we assume that their experience, their purpose, their intentions are similar to our business and the unique challenges we face. Additionally, we presume that the strategy driving the examples actively shared with us were calculated in their design and execution. More importantly, we also surmise that the KPIs, metrics, and potential ROI were premeditated, designed into the program and that all of the results that showered the company through social media did, in fact, offer true business value – at some level.

Engage starts at the end and works you back towards the middle and makes no apologies for asking you to challenge yourself to understand every important aspect of social media and how it applies to your world. There are no short cuts and the best programs I’ve encountered or lived through, have been designed based on a balance between goals and intelligence – meaning, those initiatives created from scratch as inspired by our research. It’s time to answer our own questions and write our own success stories.

You’re a veteran of the public relations field. How is the landscape shifting for PR, marketing, corporate communications and customer service? (It can’t shift fast enough in my opinion!)

I’m a veteran of marketing, communications, and new media, but I am also forever a student, technologist and futurist. But in order to make sense of everything that’s unfolding before us, I’ve become an aspiring anthropologist, sociologist, and ethnographer as well.

I believe that value-driven engagement is the new marketing and the key to effective engagement now is believability. Transparency and authenticity are table stakes, and quite honestly, they should have always served as the foundation for interaction. But that’s just it, interaction was missing.

To be believable, well that’s something entirely different, and it requires a vested understanding for not only features and benefits, but also how it improves experiences. Believability is a trait that is actively sought by consumers at every step of the decision making process, including after the purchase. It requires a deeper investment from representatives to immediately barrel through suspicions and doubt to convey solutions, guidance, and in turn, inspire action. It’s how we earn credibility and ultimately trust. And, this is true for every department as in a world of direct engagement, one where people have access to the same tools to connect and influence others, we are required to match or surpass their social prowess to steer activity in a favorable direction.

Everything to do so, is simply enabled through the tools and services available today, relying on the channels that reach our desired communities based on how it is that they communicate with one another and what it is they’re seeking. The culture and behavior of each online community dictates our strategies and it’s there for us to discover right now.

In the end, this is all rooted in the art and science of public relations (not PR)…and everyone within the organization is now on the front lines of influence. We are measured by our actions and words and therefore, putting our words into action requires engagement that is driven more by genuine intentions and solutions and less about gimmicks, selling, messaging, or pitching.

What new ground does Engage cover that hasn’t been explored by books like Groundswell or Trust Agents?

I purchased copies of Groundswell and Trust Agents for those I work with because I believe they move thinking and actions in a direction that begets personal and professional transformation. Change is never easy and therefore, we need inspiration and guidance to take steps that lead us away form complacence and mediocrity and march us towards the redefinition of direct to influencer and direct to consumer engagement. Engage only works because of books such as Groundswell, Trust Agents, The New Community Rules by Tamar Weinberg, Social Media Marketing Handbook by Dan Zarrella, among others. Engage is a deep dive into everything you need to apply tangible, and highly effective, strategies and tactics into your day-to-day work, regardless of which division you’re in or your position within the hierarchy.

This book is written to empower champions and executives, bringing them to the table more informed about what they need to accomplish and how…creating a truly collaborative environment that grows based on knowledge and not guesswork. This book is rich with proven lessons and instruction that starts with analyzing the tools at a much more meaningful level in order to grasp their potential, limitations, and ultimately how to form connections with the very people we wish to reach and inspire. Step by step, this book leads readers towards insight starting with…

– How to find communities of influence

– How to create worthy presences in each network according to specific goals and objectives and why

– How to create content and social objects that trigger responses and encourage sharing

– How to grow communities that react when activated

– How to define success and in turn, measure it

– How to ascertain the amount of resources required and how to get top-line support for pilots and campaigns

How do you think social media will impact corporate culture and internal business processes? A lot of corporations are dabbling in social media at the edges but aren’t really internalizing it. What happens if and when they do?

As mentioned earlier, social media represents the democratization of not only publishing, but also that of influence. As such, the communities we “thought” we reached via broadcast, top down branding, now only earn glances as attention rapidly becomes a precious commodity in these conversation-rich media networks.

The reality is this, as consumer gain prominence within online societies, the challenge to connect with them directly or those around them elevates dramatically. Connecting with them is not an option however. Their activity in social networks builds and inevitably creates a groundswell or social tsunami that triggers a tipping point which inevitably forces businesses to pay attention. Engage is designed to help businesses shift from a reactive to proactive model, and in doing so, we can then employ trust agents and linchpins to cause change from the outside in.

Moving away from the play on words, culture is something so powerful that consumers can invariably channel what we represent through their actions and words to assist in the expansion of reach and purpose. However, culture is usually something that is not as intentional as we might think. The exercise of identifying who we are and who we want to be is usually documented in a mission statement but not embodied in our daily interactions. But, as social networks are powered by people and emotions and interests are the ties that form bonds between them, our culture becomes the very thing that attracts affinity, and without it, the humanization of our brand is hindered.

Because influence is surmounting, it is now a requirement to foster a culture within that becomes the essence that cultivates collaboration inside and out, serving as the catalyst for inspired activity in our communities of interest and beyond.

Give consumers something meaningful to talk about.

Empower employees to willfully share their pride and talent.

Become something that everyone can believe in.

Yes, our culture is something that is going to change as a result of social media, as it should. No brand is an island and if you think about engagement as that of a tourism bureau, it is our job to go to where people are discovering and sharing information now in order to attract them to our story, realizing that without culture, experience, community, and corresponding value, we will not earn the relationships nor advocates we seek.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz, Facebook

Please consider reading my brand new book, Engage!

Get Putting the Public Back in Public Relations and The Conversation Prism:

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123 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Q&A: Culture Shock, How Social Media is Changing the Culture of Business”

  1. Anthony says:

    Social Media is def changing the way we do everything. Thanks for the “problem/solution” post. Its very good.

  2. CourtneyM says:

    I have to agree with Anthony. I have noticed a significant change in the way I communicate now as oppose to five years ago. It took me days-weeks to respond to an email. Now with my smart phone it is instant then I have a status update and DM at the same time. It is crazy how connected I am now.
    It is something that businesses need to tap into because I love companies that acknowledge me as a person and not a problem. I think businesses can get more loyal and interested customers with social media and engagement. It is a great lead generation tool for that reason. I know you outline some great ideas here and I can't wait to see where they go in the book. I would like to encourage companies that want to do some lead generation with social media to register for the White Horse webinar about how B2B can use social media. Register here:
    I am definitely buying your book after reading this. I believe that companies will learn how to interact with consumers whether they are being approached for customer service, sales or even just asking to be quoted for a testimonial.
    Keep up the awesome work!

  3. primaretha says:

    Yes Brian, I believe new media such as social media is actually a culture rather than just a tool. And now the question is how long does it take for a big company to adapt this “new culture”?

  4. Jose Huitron says:

    Brian, great post. You mention believability. My understanding is that reaching that point of authenticity and believability is hinged on our ability to demonstrate and understand the importance of 'the story'. It is important for us to make it easy for others to tell our story whether that be a solution, product, or idea.

  5. Brian,

    Awesome and timely post. I have been getting to the point where I have asked myself, “Is social media helping or hurting us?” are we “going in the right direction?” I'm not sure how to answer it, but I think that this post kind of helped me sort out a few issues of my own. Wanted to say thanks.

  6. briansolis says:

    Excellent…be the change you wish to see.

  7. meganzuniga says:

    Great article. It raises interesting insights on the new wave that is sweeping the nation that is social media. I know it's weird to think it but social media would make customer service more personal. Since the internet has been created information can spread out at an amazing speed. If something happens, say the earthquake in Haiti. I don't think it would have been possible to get all the people to give if it weren't for social media. I think some businesses are starting to look into the social media scene. I think it could still be a two-edged sword. For information that travels that fast, it could make or break the business. Because people could simple say anything about you.

    PS. I read about it in this article . It might be of interest to you.

  8. Emily Folks says:

    I also enjoyed your comments on how social media has responded to the dissatisfaction with customer service that so many individuals frequently experience. As you said, social media forces companies to pay attention to consumers. With the growing number of individuals who do their research online before making a purchase decision, the existence of any negative feedback regarding a company can often be a deal breaker. However, if companies are able to recognize, respond to, and resolve the problems that consumers report, their credibility will remain intact. Also, many companies have been using social media as a strategic tool to improve relationships and reach out to customers. It is very wise for these companies to adapt to customer’s medium of choice. This type of interaction with consumers is quite important. When a message is sent from a company via social media and it is sincere and personalized, I believe that it can be effective.

    I’m certainly adding your book to my reading list. I’m curious to read further into your ideas for businesses to use social media as a proactive tool instead of a reactive one.

  9. Katherine says:

    I think most of the companies are already aware of the changes happening, but don't know how to react. Your guidance will be very helpful, thanks for that. But talking about public relations we tend to focus the new communication ways and forget about the classical ones. What do you think will happen whith the classical channels and how does multi-channel public relation strategies will look like?

  10. 1_MikeHarris says:

    Your comments are spot on. Most companies are a bit slow on the uptake but the business culture transformation is marching along relentlessly. Take one small fragment of the marketing equation: market research. I believe in a few short years the traditional market research agency will be history because most companies will be doing their market research through social media. Here's a good white paper that shows how to do new product and marketing concept testing guerrilla-style. Use the discussion guide example on relevant social media sites and you'll have outstanding research that can quickly guide you to a go or no-go decision.

  11. Alexander Zhao says:

    Thank you for your efforts in improving the social media landscape. The wisdom being shared here is invaluable and inspired me to write an article on how the world of PR is also evolving in sync with social media. You can find it here:

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