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The Social Compass is the GPS for the Adaptive Business

Over the years, I’ve written extensively about the need to extend opportunities in social media beyond marketing and customer service to set the stage for the social business. I believe that the impact lies beyond the socialization of business; it introduces us to a genre of an adaptive business, an entity that can earn relevance now and over time by listening, engaging, and learning.

In October 2009, I worked with JESS3 to visualize corporate transparency and authenticity for the release of Engage.  In the process, I realized that those two words, transparent and authentic, didn’t carry tangible business value to leaders and decision makers.

Please, before you think about engaging in social media, I need you to do two things…be transparent and authentic in all you do.

Got it? Good.

While the words carry great importance, in all honesty, it’s our job to define the role of transparency and authenticity in business. What started as an attempt at a simple visualization developed into something much more useful in our work. The end result was The Social Marketing Compass.

Version 1.0 was released as an infographic only with the full instruction manual included in Engage. With some fine tuning and a new name, we are re-releasing The Social Compass as a transmedia object. Like its siblings The Conversation Prism and The Twitterverse, The Social Compass is now available as a free infographic, presentation slide, and is also available as a 22 x 28 poster in the online store.

Exploring The Social Compass

A compass is a device for discovering orientation and serves as a true indicator of physical direction.

Inspired by a moral compass, The Social Compass serves as our value system when defining our program activities. It points a brand in a physical and experiential direction to genuinely and effectively connect with customers, peers, and influencers, where they interact and seek guidance online.

It was designed to guide us from the center outward. However, it can also impact how a business learns and adapts by reversing the process and listening to customers and influencers through each channel from the outside in.

When we listen and hear what’s taking place in the conversational ecosystem, the compass works from the outside in, moving from the edge to the center. When we engage, we move from the center to the outside edge.

Center: The Brand

At the center of the compass is the brand; essentially, everything you do will revolve around it.

Halo 1: The Players

Fundamental to any program, the players define how, when, why, and to what extent our activity is intermediated across the Social Web. They include:

Advocates/stakeholders: Those individuals who maintain a stake in the brand and the success of the company, through emotional, strategic, or financial investment—and are usually among the first line of external champions.

Traditional media: Reporters, journalists, analysts, and other forms of mainstream and vertical media who already reach our intended audiences.

New influencers/trust agents: Individuals who focus a noteworthy portion of their updates, content, and voice on particular topics, industries, or markets.

Champions: Whereas advocates and stakeholders have skin in the game to some extent, champions are merely inspired to share their experiences and views because they are passionate, compelled, or incentivized.

Bloggers/market makers: Bloggers and market makers represent what some refer to as the “A-list.” This elite group can steer, shape, and galvanize activity that moves markets based on their views.

Tastemakers/Magic Middle: Tastemakers and the magic middle are distinct from new influencers and trust agents, and, depending on the industry, serve as a subset of them. In their own way they make markets and spark trends based on their activity. Tastemakers are the trendsetters and, in the Social Web, they usually boast notable followers and connections who emulate their behavior, whether it’s explicit or implicit, on behalf of the tastemaker. The term Magic Middle was coined by David Sifry, who at the time was CEO of Technorati, the world’s largest blog network; he defined this group as bloggers who maintained an inbound link volume of between 20 to 1,000 links.

Now, I refer to the Magic Middle as any group of content creators who remain focused on a topic and have earned a substantial audience because of their experiences, views, and perspective.

Halo 2: Platform

Every initiative, inclusive of those groups of individuals who define our markets and ensuing behavior, requires a platform upon which to connect, communicate, and congregate. These platforms represent existing and also emerging categories that are worthy of our attention today and tomorrow:

Mobile: Any network that unites groups of targeted individuals through interaction on mobile devices.

Social dashboard/microsites: As discussed previously, social dashboards and microsites aggregate distributed social presences into one experience for channeling activity, providing information, fostering community, and guiding perception and impressions.

Widgets and applications: Widgets and applications are portable services that spark interaction in a variety of networks, from mobile devices to Web-based social networks. They create an immersive experience designed to perform a dedicated function including tasks, games, interaction, learning, and other forms of entertainment and engagement within a dedicated, embeddable environment, while branding or conveying messages in the process.

Forums and groups: Web 1.0 still rules, and through research we learn that communication and influence is still widespread in forums and groups where people not only communicate with each other every day, they also organize events, manage projects, and teach and learn from one another on almost every topic imaginable and unimaginable.

Blogs: Blogs, in all of their shapes and sizes, deserve a tremendous amount of attention, as they are still among the most active and influential news sources, besides traditional media. Not only do they hit mainstream audiences, they also focus on dedicated, vertical communities and nicheworks that equally contribute to your total market.

Social networks: Of course social networks are a primary forum for today’s social media interactions and therefore require a dedicated focus. As we’ve repeated so often in these pages, our attention is necessitated in popular networks as well as the nicheworks dedicated to our areas of interest.

Content creation: The development and syndication of social objects carries the ability to reach people in almost every medium today, and will only continue to expand as technology advances. We are now in the content publishing and distribution business.

Events (offline and online): The cultivation of communities is important online and also in the physical locales where we meet our customers, advocates, peers and influencers. A fusion between online and offline communication is critical and therefore mandatory.

Microcommunities: While many refer to these services as microblogs, the truth is that they are not in any way, shape, or form reminiscent of blogs, nor is the behavior that they stimulate. We focus on them as dedicated platforms due to their unique interactions, communities, efficacy, and reach.

Halo 3: Channels

Aggregation: The feeds, platforms, and devices that take content from multiple outlets or memes and funnel them into one branded stream

Crowdsourced: Organizing the activity of consumers onto public stages to foster dialogue, collaboration and glean insights

Curation: Designing social objects to appeal to social curators extending reach and visibility

SEO: If everything begins with search, SEO represents the enhancement of content, pages and destinations through search engine optimization to ensure brands are readily clickable upon relevant searches.

Promotion: Even the best content requires marketing. As social objects, campaigns, and engagement strategies are introduced, they must be complemented with genuine front and backchannel support. There is no such thing as viral marketing, but information travels to the extent of our connections and investment in them.

Syndication: Whereas aggregation is about many-to-one, syndication is about one-to-many. Please note that this does not refer to the mass broadcast of information to general audiences, syndication refers to the intentional repackaging of content for different platforms and nicheworks.

SMO: Similar to SEO, Social Media Optimization (SMO) amplifies the visibility of objects within social networks by improving their “findability” through tags, descriptions, titles, conversations, and linkbacks.

Participation/Engagement: Connections are much more than the 3F’s of friends, followers, and fans; they are fortified by the mutual value that is exchanged in each interaction. Engagement is measured by actions and outcomes.

Portability: Transmedia represents the ability to have stories and objects travel across multiple platforms and devices to match the behavior of the people we’re trying to reach. Portability must be defined to suit their needs.

Content Streams: Streams are the windows to relevance. People discover information through attention dashboards such as TweetDeck, HootSuite, CoTweet,, and the Facebook Newsfeed. Appearing in streams is how we compete for attention.

UGC: Often referred to as earned media, UGC is impressionable and can be steered positively. In addition, through active engagement combined with a recipe of all things above, reach and effect are increased through the genuine voices of others.

Halo 4: Emotions/Sentiment

The socialization of the Web is powered by people, and it is a movement that is bound by the same natural laws that govern human behavior. Successful branding is made possible when individuals can establish a human and emotional connection. In social networks, the brand is represented by you and, for that reason, we must factor compassion, care, and feeling into our planning. Connect from the heart.

Reciprocation: The gesture of a response is far more powerful than we perceive. It is the act of paying it forward that actually contributes to the caliber, quality, and value of dialogue and interchanges. As influence is both democratized and equalized, giving back is a symbol of respect and gratitude.

Empathy: Understanding the sentiment of another related to material interaction and experiences humanizes the context of an experience and conversation. You must become the very people you’re trying to reach and in order to do so, our understanding must extend beyond training and embrace real-life exposure.

Recognition: Identifying the contributions of others and promoting or responding to worthy individuals and instances are parts of how we cultivate communities and build relationships. From “thank you” to “I’m sorry,” the symbolic deeds of acknowledgment, admittance, and identification serve as powerful forms of validation.

Core values: The attributes that define the principles and standards of a brand are reinforced or diminished by its conduct. If we wish to attract influential peers, we must stand for something with which people can identify and associate. We must represent purpose. Our brand and our actions either encourage affinity or they don’t.

Resolution: The practice of solving problems, disputes, and other correlated issues is a focus and a mission that contribute to those actions that indeed speak louder than words. And, if we’re to be measured by them, then let our commitment to resolve impediments speak for itself.

Empowerment: Providing the authority to achieve something not possible before the encounter instills confidence and advocacy and sets the foundation to scale community development. Empowerment alters the balance of engagement and transforms interactions into relationships.

Humanization: Convey and embody a human voice and character in all we do in interactive media. From the creation and distribution of social objects to engagement with individuals, engagement is most effective when we personalize our approach. The Social Web is alive and powered by our ability to identify with others through direct interaction or by coming into contact with their personae, as attached to the content they interact with, share, or produce.

Honesty: Be honest and virtuous in all interactions and not misleading whatsoever in any scenario in order to achieve your objective. Be truthful. If you don’t have an answer or information, say so. If what you represent doesn’t measure up in a particular setting, admit it. Focus on strengths and opportunities. Do not spin or market messages.

Reward: Sometimes recognition isn’t enough to satisfy someone for their contribution. The act of rewarding someone is a sign of appreciation. Rewards can span from monetary items to discounts to free products to access and special privileges. The consistent performance of rewarding community behavior fosters increased activity through positive conditioning.

Value proposition: When humanizing our stories and interactions, it is the value proposition that speaks directly to specific markets. Many times marketing either attempts to generalize features or capabilities for the masses or simply reiterates the value propositions as dictated by internal management.

Believable: Words such as transparency and authenticity are overused in any discussion related to socialized outreach and therefore lose a good deal of their essence and meaning. It is more convincing and consequential in any encounter if you are believable. This can be passionate, exuberant, and contagious, unlike transparency or authenticity. Give me something to believe in.

Sincerity: Your biggest objective moving forward is to earn and continue to gain trust. In order to do so, your actions must exclude pretense and instead enrich interactions through the exchange of genuine feelings and intentions.

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32 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Social Compass is the GPS for the Adaptive Business”

  1. Your brand should be any companies focus..promote the brand and the world will recognized your business in a crowd.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  2. Marco says:

    Why don’t you sell it in a social commerce widget like this one?

  3. Hi Brian,
    Wonderful job for this difficult exercise. I’m a big fan of stepping back to gain perspectives.
    However, without a real business case, the generality of the draft can be confusing and some items seem to be redundant: in the channel layer, portability and syndication is very similar to me.

    But in any case, thanks so much! Your work is always inspiring!

    • briansolis says:

      Hi Virginie, it’s a model…and one that I actually use. Portability is more akin to transmedia where as syndication is more closely aligned with reach and channels.

  4. Des Walsh says:

    This is really helpful, Brian. One thing you might note is that the hyperlink to Flickr for the big picture delivers a warning that the image is private. I got the impression from the text that you were ok about sharing it: “….The Social Compass is now available as a free infographic, presentation slide”.

  5. Brent Hay says:

    Hi Brian,

    As someone relatively new to the marketing world, and in the process of starting a new venture, it is extremely helpful to find these 30,000 foot perspectives on how “it” all works together. I especially enjoy the way you link people, platforms, processes and, ultimately, purpose and meaning and how these all inter-relate. Thank you for all of thinking and work that must have gone into this.

  6. Nick says:

    This is a beautiful picture, well done. I’m struggling a bit with how to use it though.

    e.g. if my objective is “Believability” (Halo 4), then I should consider the “Portability” or “Content Stream” Channels (Halo 3). From their I should focus on Platforms (Halo 2) that are either Microcommunities or fuse Online events with Offline. Lastly, through those Channels and Platforms I should be targeting Tastemakers.

    Following this logic however I’d be ignoring other Platforms like Social Networks, Content Creation and Blogs. Admittedly important Platforms. Likewise for Channels, where Curation and Aggregation would seem like they have important roles to play…?

  7. says:

    Another magnificent piece. Outstanding.

  8. Arcadia says:

    A really good but especially helpful post, thanks that you share this with us.

  9. Dreamosity says:

    Thank you for filling in so much of what my mind was wanting to understand. Much appreciation!

    ~ Marcelle

  10. Wow, lots to digest. Thanks for generously sharing this useful info.

  11. SEO Agency says:

    Thank you so much for representing so useful information. You gave the answer to the question about which I have been thinking for a long time.

  12. The inaugural event was held Oct. 17-19 at the Crowne Plaza in NYC, and
    had 700 attendees from the marketing and advertising industry’s

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