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Social Media and the Adaptive Business

While I’m in the throes of writing the next chapter, I wanted to share a recent interview I did with BroadVision‘s Andrew Gori. Andrew asked some profound and timely questions that are worthy sharing. Following this discussion, the interview was reenacted live at BroadVision’s headquarters in Redwood City, CA as part of its Clearvale SecondFloor speaker series hosted by CEO, Dr. Pehong Chen.

The conversation tackles subjects facing businesses of all shapes and sizes ranging from social media adoption and planning to collaboration and brand management online to organizational transformation and change management.

Andrew: How can companies with no social media experience identify a good or bad social media plan?

Solis: Even companies with social media experience can have trouble identifying a good social media plan.

With social media, it’s like the starter’s pistol went off and everyone started running, and not a lot of us stayed behind to question: “Why am I in this race to begin with? Who is going to run it and why?” The important aspect of social media is the ability to define your desired outcomes before you even design a program.

Distinguishing a good and bad social media plan is all about design, purpose and outcome. Businesses tend not to consider these three things when developing social media programs. Much of social media is free or inexpensive, but there is also time and resources that need to be considered. A company can create a Facebook page for free, but what happens when someone asks a question on that page’s wall?

In a recent blog post, you discussed Dell’s baptism by fire and how Dell Hell forced them to “listen, engage and adapt”, and ultimately create a very successful social media plan. Do you think it is necessary for a company to have to go through some sort of baptism by fire before it can adopt an effective social media plan?

Baptism by fire certainly is a way that some companies learn. I call it the “ah ha” versus the “uh oh”. There are companies that get it. Starbucks gets it; they’ve been very proactive from the beginning. Dell gets it, but they had to go through the “uh oh” first. People say that Dell is a tired example, but I’ll tell you why I love Dell as a social media case study: they learned the hard way and CEO Michael Dell cares. When you have those two things together, you’re essentially working the ends to the middle. Dell ended up realizing that Dell Hell can’t happen again, so they put in protocols to deal with flare ups before they burn too hot or too bright. What you see today is their social media command center, which feeds every aspect of Dell, from technical support to development to customer service to sales, and even human resources and finance. Each one of those departments has adopted a social extension, which is huge. Dell realized they needed to collaborate internally before it could collaborate externally, and it must be both proactive and reactive.

So if a company is having difficulty being social internally, if departments within a company are not being transparent with one another, should that company hold off on adopting a social media plan?

I don’t think they should hold off, but they do need to think about what they want to accomplish first. They should have the infrastructure in place and be ready to deal with a crisis. Every big company has some sort of crisis communications or crisis contingency plan in place, and this isn’t unlike that. So companies need to have a contingency plan in place in case they do need to collaborate with one another. What would that look like? Who are the point people? These are things that should be defined up front.

Everything a business does should have a plan around it, but many don’t when it comes to social media. Social media came to the organization from the outside in, and from the bottom up. It came from you and me, and everyone who uses Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. There’s no IT department to set everything up, so amateurs are trying to get their arms around it and put some processes in place. There’s a lot of chaos and social anarchy going on, so we need to think through scenarios, even if it’s just for marketing, just in case.

What kind of climate are you encountering when working with executives who are interested in learning about social media? Do they embrace it or are they nervous?

It’s all over the board. I work with a lot of executives and try to help them design their organization around social media. I also work on the management side, and one thing I’ve learned is it’s different every time.

I don’t know of any businesses that are saying, “Social media is our future,” and I don’t know that any business should. Social media should be a focus, not the focal point. It’s not about making the business social; it’s about making it more adaptive.

The lessons that social media teaches us has benefits for the entire organization. Good service oriented businesses have existed forever. Nordstrom came before Zappos, and before Nordstrom there was probably the local shoe store. There are always some elements that remain consistent; culture, communication, compassion, service. Social media amplified these things.

The thing that consultants and internal champions need to realize is the executive might not be as into social media as they are, and that’s ok. Your job is not to talk about the need for Facebook or Twitter. Your job is to figure out the need for your business to be on Facebook or Twitter, and the impact it will have on the bottom line. Connecting those dots changes the game, and that happens when you stop reading Mashable and start looking at click paths and running analytic reports, and other things that are unique to your business and don’t exist in blog posts or books.

Does an established brand, like Nordstrom, run the risk of diluting their own brand if they adopt social media plans?

To some extent; even though Apple doesn’t have a social media presence, they are paying close attention. At a minimum, intelligence is critical. If a company wants to move beyond intelligence and actually be engaging on a social network, it has to do two things. The first is to define what value it can put into and get out of the network. The second is it has to develop a plan that that brings the brand to life in a way that embellishes rather than dilutes is.

One thing that needs to be discussed, and I’m surprised that this doesn’t come up more: what is the persona of the company? If you’re going to have a presence on the web, your persona is something that needs to be defined. Companies often use a style guide; what the logo looks like, how it should be presented and under what circumstances. If it’s so important to have that guide for a brand’s logo, why not have it for a company’s social media presence? If Judy and Bob start Tweeting and interacting on behalf of a company, they’re diluting that company’s brand with the personal identity of Judy and Bob. When you do that, you lose the luster and mystique of the brand. The brand style guide has to include social media elements.

On a more personal level, what do you enjoy about helping companies become more social?

I really enjoy helping companies develop a new sense of purpose. By the time I’m done working with a company, it’s less about social media and more about helping them reinvent an aspect of their business and helping them become relevant again. That’s my personal mission as well. I don’t see myself as much as a social media strategist as I do a business strategist. A lot of what I focus on is change-management and organizational transformation, which for me is personally fulfilling and exciting.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook

20 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Social Media and the Adaptive Business”

  1. I find that a lot of business people still haven’t even stopped to consider the ongoing Social Media fad (as they still consider it), they just haven’t taken the opportunity to consider the benefits, because they’ve been too busy trying to fight the recessionary problems with the familiar, traditional, ‘safe’ methods. Once Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Behance, Digg etc are carefully explained to them, they are amazed at the potential. These business people aren’t daft, they just haven’t had time to learn. I also find that when people see the ‘sexybookmark’ icons on my Blog and the very apt phrase ‘share the knowledge’, they are blown away by what they’ve been missing. Communication adds value, now let’s face it, you don’t have to be a Social Media advocate or a marketing expert to appreciate that ‘old chestnut’, do you?!

  2. Peter Jorde says:

    I agree with Peter, I see the company I work for 12 hours a day struggling to make it out of this recession. There is a lot more emphasis on getting people to do more with less and that can take a toll on everyone. Now try to introduce Social Media as a way to boost sales, get ahead or just avoid slipping backwards and the reception is less than amicable. It is encouraging to see what is happening in my industry (Multi-Family Community Management) which has previously been seen as the Poster Child for bricks and mortar industries. Fortunately, the very same customers we cater too are the young socially media savvy type who won’t stand for anything less.

  3. There is a lot more emphasis on getting people to do more with less and that can take a toll on everyone. Now try to introduce Social Media as a way to boost sales, get ahead or just avoid slipping backwards and the reception is less than amicable.

  4. Btransue says:

    “If you’re going to have a presence on the web, your persona is something that needs to be defined. Companies often use a style guide; what the logo looks like, how it should be presented and under what circumstances.”
    It’s interesting to note that typical social media not only dilutes, but homogenizes a brand. Everybody has the same Facebook page format, the same Twitter format, the same Linked In format. Businesses have to think about their brand, and what that homogenization and dilution does.

    In the rush to get on board, it’s amazing how many businesses just toss down those bags filled million dollar style guides and run for the train. Many businesses are simply tossing up links to everything they can connect with, adding Facebook fan pages, and Twitter feeds, as if, suddenly adding a Linked In icon to your website is going to bring up the bottom line, and for many businesses, it may actually prove to do the opposite.

    I completely agree that businesses need to have a strategy with social media, just as they do with every other part of their business, and it’s obviously a trend, as more and more independent consultants and businesses are popping up in every city to address just that. We regularly have customers who come to us and say, we need to add Facebook and Linked In and Twitter and we need to do it fast. It’s almost as if they’re about to miss some important deadline, as if the social media train is pulling out of the station and they’re not on it. They don’t know why they need it, they don’t even know what it is, which means they certainly don’t have any idea if it has any place in their business plan at all, they are simply terrified that they are missing some golden opportunity to magically expand their business. Our job is to work with our customers to see if social media is a fit for their business at all and frankly, many businesses will not benefit by posting a Tweet a few times, or even a few thousand times a week, and as Brian touches on, not knowing what you’re posting might do more harm than good to your brand.

    I also agree that knowing what social media does for you is not something you’re going to read in a blog, or the local paper, it’s about statistics, like any other form of marketing and advertising, if you run an ad in the paper or on TV, you want to know what that means to your bottom line, what is your return on that investment, and the same holds true for social media.

    The simple truth is, having 10,000 fans will not improve your bottom line, but connecting with 10,000 valued customers probably will.

    Great article.

    Blaine Transue, Co-founder, WildFireWeb Inc.

    • I tend to agree with some of what you say Blaine, however not everybody has the same Facebook and Twitter profiles and Twitter and Facebook are developing their platforms to encourage a certain amount of individuality on a daily basis. The problem is a lot of people only know the standard formats and haven’t bothered to look any further. It is absolutely true however, that having 10,000 Facebook fans will not automatically increase the bottom line, but what better, more cost effective way to connect with 10,000 valued customers that are on Facebook than via Facebook? How else would you do it?
      It seems to me that with many Social Media platforms it is in fact MUCH easier to see what kind of results you are getting with your ‘audience’ that with many types of traditional advertising. Every day I can see which post on my Blog has had the most interest, which of my posts on various Social Media related sites have encouraged people to visit my Blog and how many people have connected via Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook etc. I can also see via my Wibiya toolbar who is currently looking at my Blog and what countries they are in and if they want to, these people can translate my Blog into their own language. I can also see what other Blogs are using my posts as syndicated copy and see how many people click through to me via these sites in Germany, India, American and other various countries. It’s wonderful (to me) to have other people marketing my Blog for me free of charge and improving my site traffic. I have found Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Behance etc, etc to be immensely useful in promoting my brand and increasing my network. Business has come as a result of my Social Media activity and as a new(ish) company, I expect this to increase and to an extent, it is still quite hard to determine the true Social Media ROI, because it is not an overnight phenomenon and it is a new and constantly changing dynamic.
      I spend long, long hours involved in Social Media and I still find it amazing, I have been introduced to 14 new Social Media platforms today alone and I love this, to people still negotiating Twitter and Facebook; I can understand that it’s quite a challenge. As you will see by my earlier post, I fully understand that some people have not had the time, nor the inclination to get so involved with Social Media.

  5. anthony says:

    Nicely said. I have to agree with you on what you said, I have consulted for few companies in Social Media and I always find that there is a disconnect, they want to have a presence but they don’t know why. So the job is always hard because you have to find out what they really need rather than just getting them a social media presence. The problem is exactly what you mention the client feels that they are in a race and will be left behind if they don’t have a presence. My last client was a good example they had no idea, no strategy and didn’t even know why they wanted social media, but after 3 months we came out with an additional package for their clients, we boosted sales, and increase revenue, not to mention that we created a strategy that work. So yes it is very important to put some sense into it.

    Thank you as always very informative.

  6. Danny Blair says:

    Large organisations tend to be a bit slow off the mark in many new technological developments – especially one that’s come from the ground up. But I think the car industry (as a whole) is really leading the way and in Scott Monty The Ford Company have a real social media leader.

  7. Thanks for sharing this interview. It’s true that lots of businesses still don’t really understand what to do with social media. Some think that all they need to do is set up a page, but that won’t do anything. In order for social media to have any successful outcome it’s important to have a strategy in place.

  8. Yinka Olaito says:

    Like Peter maintained, social media is the future and so we must contiouosly learn to adjust our perspectives as we swim through the ocean. There is need to embrace the risk and ignite the enthusiam of the management in this direction

  9. shanemiller says:

    Actually your business and social media are inter-related to each other.The more business you do the more name your company is gonna earn and if the company is not visible on social media then it is of no use.So to increase the visibilty of your company page on social media,you should participate in this and do as much social networking as you can.

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