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The Beginning of the End of Business As Usual

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 marketing 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 Stockholm, Skellefteå, and Copenhagen. 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.

Brian Solis Engages With Vocus

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Facebook
If you’re looking for a way to FIND answers in social media, consider Engage!: It can help

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock

71 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Beginning of the End of Business As Usual”

  1. Engage or die. That says it all! Even when the companies deny to be part of the Social Media World, their customers are talking about them anyway inside the Social Media World. So either you become part of it, and defend your company, create a relationship with your customers and create an engagement between customer and your brand or people are going to talk whatever they want (good or bad) and you are not going to know.

  2. Reneelloyd says:

    Social CRM is phony. Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Rick Levine were talking about markets as conversations over 10 years ago. Their book, The Cluetrain Manifesto ( published in 1999 was updated for a 10th anniversary edition last year. Well worth a read. Since writing Cluetrain, Doc Searls launched ProjectVRM ( at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University his work and the work done by the VRM community goes to the heart of what it means to have 'real relationships.' In real relationships customers have real power and exercise equal control of the customer seller relationship. Projects that they have launched include rethinking legal practice to empower customers with, for example, their own legal terms. Building digital tools that give the customer insight into their own habits such as listen log which tracks customer's public radio listening preferences and gives the data to the customer. Moreover, this data is only used by public radio with the consent of the customer. Last month, VRM hosted a VRM vs CRM conference at Harvard law school. The results of that conference are summarized here (
    I've come to think that what we are all really looking for is real relationship which requires at minimum the desire to connect with people as human beings. To do this you have to check your agenda. In my experience, with social crm the agenda gets in the way.

    • briansolis says:

      Renee, I can't disagree with you…I've followed VRM and Doc's work for years. We've also discussed these very issues and opportunities. As you'll see, I've written quite a bit about the need for VRM to influence sCRM in order to build an infrastructure that supports and incorporates outside-in and bottom-up customer experiences and insights in order to inspire relevant top-down and inside-out processes, programs, and products.

  3. Great stuff! As one that actively engages with my facebook friends, I am a firm believer. Since I take the time to listen and respond and follow-up occasionally with a visit to their pages, my friends, for the most part, adore me.

    Because of my engagement with them, I have also found that I can influence them for the better because they know I care. When I post, I have proportionately large responses because of my previous engagements with them.

    I am a firm believer through tried and true experience!

  4. Kyle Lacy says:

    Nice Post. It's so much more than using social media; it's engaging and creating quality relationships.

  5. Awesomeness – I call it “business unusual” (in my danish book that I guess you've read ?=) and Im also a firm believer that engaging will be one of the factors that ends business as usual

  6. I love how he put it, the change is happening anyway and it's up to you to be part of it. Very much true, as long as there is a strategy behind it and it's not just done in the spur of the moment.

  7. Kathleen Bracken says:

    As a newbie in the use of social media to grow business i found this to be a truly instructive post. One thing that really resonated for me was the edict to change from the “inside-out” workflow to “outside-in” engagement. How clear! I think it's very difficult for traditional business folk to change, especially to venture into the unknown. But they better get to know it, asap!

  8. hust0058 says:

    Yes! It is about engagement, but simply it should be an extension of how businesses, brands and people conduct themselves in other aspects of life/work.

  9. ophil says:

    I enjoyed the post… I thik we easily get caught up in relationship and engagement rhetoric as if we get a choice (eihter as businessess or customers)… we don't question our relationship with gravity we have the relationship by default and so it goes wiht the firms we transact with or not… the relationship exists whether we choose to recognise it… what we can choose is the quality of teh realtionship, and while we (as humans) have been known to choose (and stay in) bad relationships in the long run they don't sustain… not many of us would choose to have a bad relationship wiht whomever or whatever we are relating to… business shoudl not be any different… a choice to engage should remind us of this

  10. Barry says:


    Great post. Engagement hinges on 'mindful' words, actions and listening. Said differently, the words organizations and people use, the tone that is used and intention of those words and actions together result in how another feels and will either allow them to achieve their true potential or not. Further, as people achieve their true potential through mindful and 'peaceful' engagement, the organization that is facilitating those interactions will in turn achieve its full capabilities.

    Its time for us all to 'engage' each other in mindful, positive and supportive words and actions. thanks for pushing this agenda – it can only help us all achieve our personal and business objectives.


  11. Esther says:

    It's really interesting to still see a lot of resistance from corporations to engage in social media. The audience is already on social media and something must not be communicating to companies if they allow someone else to drive the conversation by not being present on that medium. Now that people have a voice that will be heard, those who have something to say will definitely use it. There has to be a strategy to respond to these voices and have it aligned with the company's goals.
    Thank you. This is a really great post.

  12. Dave says:

    On the one hand, I don't know when we last had “business as usual”. On the other hand there is no doubt that the market is changing and engagement of both customers and employees is going to be critical to a companies success. I do believe that this is a natural extension, progression, or evolution of our society. To me the only question is, will the companies that “embrace” engagement with their customers truly want to engage them or will it be treated as a fad where the put a happy face on Social Media but fail to address the baseline customer service issues that are really at the core of customer satisfaction.

    Time will tell. But I hope this really is the start of something bigger that really turns the tide on customer satisfaction.

  13. Emilie says:

    Great post. I'm new to social media, but have seen countless campaigns that only push information out to people with no thought to engagement. Now that I'm getting more involved in social media, I will definitely concentrate on my listening skills!!

  14. Kim A says:

    Very interesting post

  15. Sarah says:

    This blog shares a great point. I recently wrote an article for school on how local musicians engage through social networking. Although musicians can reach a much larger audience with Twitter, Facebook, etc., there is only a benefit if the communication goes both ways. This applies to businesses as well.

  16. Kevin Deal says:

    Working for a retail company at the moment, I see two regular instances of the inability for companies and their employees to relate to customers. One is confusing(customers feel its misleading) sale signage which could be easily fixed and I doubt any drop in numbers sold. The other problem, coupons with so many exclusions and fine print customers often complain. The second may be harder to fix, but I think it would be much more profitable in the long run if the company addressed both issues.

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