Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Is Your Business Antisocial?

I ask with sincerity, is your business antisocial? Take a moment before you respond. I understand you may have Facebook and Twitter presences. Your business may broadcast on YouTube. Perhaps your executives are blogging. If you’re among the more sophisticated organizations, the team is probably subscribing to elaborate monitoring services to listen more effectively. And, with all of the social objects produced inside the organization, it’s come to the point where a content management system or social media management system is necessary to scale.

Social networks usher in a era of transparency and authenticity and these two elements represent the hallmark of your corporate social media program. You are walking the two-way street and you’re already successfully building a community rich with the 3F’s (friends, fans, and followers). How can your business possibly be antisocial?

Antisocial is defined as anything that goes against the laws and customs of society. Facebook, Twitter, and social networks of all shapes, sizes, and focus are thriving societies in their own right. Each produce a unique culture, one that you’re more than familiar with. You are after all a citizen of one or more social networks before you’re a corporate citizen. At a minimum, you as an individual contribute to the culture of each of the societies to which you belong. These are your networks and as a result, you create a personal egosystem. You are at the center of your experiences and as such, the information that finds you, the information you share, and the people with whom you connect are yours to define. These actions contribute to the lifestyle and value of the network and you take pride in the relationships, community and stature you earn.

But when we take a step back to examine many of the leading business examples in social media, it’s clear that many are in actuality, illustrations of traditional marketing masquerading as genuine engagement. Are brands acting as good citizens? Are they contributing to the customs of society or are they taking away from the experience?

If you were to run a quick study of your social activities or those of your favorite brands, you may find that marketing at communities rather than investing in their usefulness is clear and present. Contests, polls, promotions, news releases, and events are balanced by impassive updates or questions.  The activity that fills the space between marketing updates are questionable or unconvincing reinforcements of why people are compelled to connect in the first place. The missing value of why people should stay connected creates a void that only expands with every day that passes.

While brands engage with customers in social networks, customers walk away with an experience that is the ultimate judgment of value. Here we are presented with an incredible opportunity to strengthen customers ties. We’re given a well of insight to put into action. We’re presented with a stage to show brand empathy and earn relevance through our actions and words. Are we embracing the opportunities before us or in the end, does our investment equate to traditional marketing in a new interactive design?

The reality is that a significant percent of businesses run social media from the marketing department. According to my Altimeter colleague Jeremiah Owyang, almost 50% of brands he surveyed house social media in marketing. Another 30-40% place social in corporate communications. In these cases, social media is relegated to just that, a function of marketing. Any other corporate approaches to social media are most likely siloed within other business units and as a result, the customer is not offered a holistic brand experience.

New media channels represent a new highway for driving messages and brand stories to desired audiences. But what many fail to realize is that the social consumer represents an intelligent audience with an audience of audiences. They are in control of their experiences and while they may connect with their favorite brands in their network of choice today, without providing value or a constructive engagement, attention spans will wander. Much like banner blindness in digital advertising, individuals will eventually tune-out their favorite brands that fail to demonstrate relevance in their social stream. What’s worse is that eventually they may take the unfortunate action of an unfollow or unlike as they realize that they are in control of curating the quality of their stream. With one click, they will bid farewell to the brands, even those they love, if they don’t introduce value. This is a harsh reality that Andrew Blakeley recently attempted to spotlight. Of the 40 brands he followed on Facebook, only one gave him a reason why he should

The question is, do you know what your customers want from you? It’s an important question to ask. If you’re not contributing to the value of these digital societies, you may unintentionally take away from it.

With all of the excitement around creating a social business, we can only benefit from knowing how to improve the experiences of existing and prospective customers. Otherwise we may be talking more than we really are listening.

It starts with knowing the “why.” Why would a customer Like or Follow your brand today and tomorrow? This “why” should be front and center of all that you do taking into account that customers may expect different approaches from you. Some may need customer service. Others are looking for promotions and deals. Certain individuals prefer access to exclusive content or information. Many are looking for insight, leadership or occasional entertainment.  Whatever the reasons are, it’s time to know what your customers want and design social programming around a meaningful engagement. Think about it. What’s the value or the return of showing customers that you’re listening, that you care?

While each network boasts a unique culture, your organization too is home to a distinct culture that defines the brand. The corporate culture should adapt to coalesce with the way of life in each network. Business units should work together under a common goal of earning customer satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty. This is about earning relevance. This is about demonstrating why someone should connect with you not just today, but every day. Give people a reason. Give people something to talk about…something to think about. Give people purpose, sustenance, and direction. This is not about engagement, but being engaging! In the process, you’ll find that becoming a social business is a function of design, collaboration, and reinforcement, but ultimately it’s a measure of how customers view your brand within these digital societies.

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70 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Is Your Business Antisocial?”

  1. T_marsh83 says:

    That truly is the hurdle.  Understanding the difference between “marketing to” and “marketing with”…

    Fantastic insight as usual…

  2. Al Pittampalli says:

    Awesome post, Brian. You’ve raised an issue that needs to be raised NOW, as the future of social media is being determined every day. I believe, that organizations don’t engage well with people (via social media), only people engage well with people. You speak about a holistic brand experience. I would argue that the best brand experiences would be driven by a company who relegates one individual, a human, who lives and breathe the brand to be the voice. The reality is this person may not have all the expertise and awareness of all the facets of the brand, but that’s fine, because at least they’re human.  As long as they represent the brand with heart, that’s what social media wants. Organizations seem to just naturally have a hard time being authentic and, but the right individuals, the ones who truly care, are great at it. 

    • T_marsh83 says:

      I couldn’t agree more Al.

      Marketing in and of itself is virtually impossible to by committee.  When you take that next step into social media, and make multiple people responsible for maintaining the message, content, and voice of a company, it will be easily spotted as disingenuous, at least to my eyes

      A sales force doesn’t sell, a sales man does.  To take your analysis backwords “people buy from people”, just like they engage with “people”, or more accuratly, “persons” rather than a company.  More important than anything when engaging with a company or entity as a consumer I want to see some consistancy of voice, something that I can identify with as being human.  The message may be perfectly crafted when coming from a panel of marketing gurus, sociology gurus, and product specialists, but if it sounds like it came from that panel, I get “message blindness”…its as easy to spot as the big advertising banner next to the post…

      Give me the individual who has a true voice, and even if they don’t have the answers, will make an effort to find someone who does.

      As the social media manager for my small company, that is what I strive for, because as a consumer, that is the message I want to see when I interact with companies…

    • SEO Guide says:

      Future of social media is being challenging every day. So it is must to work on social networks regularly and good manner. 

  3. Andrew says:

    I always enjoy your commentary Brian. Have you encountered any small businesses that you feel are handling their social media extremely well? I manage social media for several restaurants and sometimes struggle to “market with” instead of just providing information about daily specials, menu options, etc. and

    “marketing to”. I want to be more social for the businesses I represent.  I would love any input or insight into how you feel about restaurants  and other entertainment-like venues that depend on customers spending disposable income. 
    Too often I feel like the candy by the checkout counter in the store….I”m trying to entice the customer and acting more like a commercial than being social. Although I do ask questions and look for input, on a day to day basis I feel like I’m struggling to keep it fresh and provide meaningful content. Which restaurants do you see doing it the right way. Thanks Brian!

  4. Excellent article Brian! Well put. Knowing “why” a customer would Follow or Like your business/brand is very important. Once you determine the “why,” it helps mold, shape, and develop your business media strategy, contact plan, and social voice. Thanks for the valuable insight, info, and perspective @briansolis:disqus!


  5. I think you should claim “Post-Marketing World” as your tagline Brian – if it works for Jobs, it should work for you 😉 Really liking this whole “why should I follow/like your company?” meme, extremely important question.

    • briansolis says:

      Chad, it’s funny…I’ve toyed with that term a bit, but then realized it might be a bit pre-mature, hence this post. I’m not ruling it out just yet though!

    • Kavita says:

      You just followed the advice and your own thought Brian, with your tweet on 27th Good Post!

  6. Great post! I agree completely with Al Pittampalli – we are in a normative stage with social media marketing. What we do today will shape the future of social media and could make or break it as a tool for marketing. And the reality is that people are not comfortable interacting with a brand the same way they would with a human. It is so important that brands learn to humanize themselves in order to make social media work for them. 

    We talk about this topic all the time. Let me know what you think!

  7. Always thought provoking, Brian. Thank you for another conversation starter!

  8. Digipendent says:

    This is GOLD. 

    It’s surprising how many organizations forget to segment their contextual customer database…    

    I feel like this may be the lead in for brands to now think in terms of trans-media storytelling & immersive experiences that stimulate the 5 senses. (AR, HCI, GIS )

    Very early days, but exciting times indeed!

  9. Digipendent says:

    This is GOLD. 

    It’s surprising how many organizations forget to segment their contextual customer database…    

    I feel like this may be the lead in for brands to now think in terms of trans-media storytelling & immersive experiences that stimulate the 5 senses. (AR, HCI, GIS )

    Very early days, but exciting times indeed!

  10. Digipendent says:

    This is GOLD. 

    It’s surprising how many organizations forget to segment their contextual customer database…    

    I feel like this may be the lead in for brands to now think in terms of trans-media storytelling & immersive experiences that stimulate the 5 senses. (AR, HCI, GIS )

    Very early days, but exciting times indeed!

  11. Brian–

    Fantastic post.  As you can imagine, we work with brands regularly to help them continually ensure their engagement with the communities out there is not only genuine, but adding value to their customers.  Attention spans wander and loyalties wane when it’s not genuine, and as a consumer, I definitely follow the same pattern.  It will be interesting to watch as social strategies mature to see where, ultimately, social business will live in organizations.  As you point out, it’s important to not lose the holisitic brand experience for the consumers. 

  12. Great post! You mention contact management and social management systems. Not a day goes by without a pitc from the latest and greatest. Do you have a suggestion? I’ve tried a couple systems and have not been impressed. A suggestion would be great. Thanks

  13. Anonymous says:

    The headline of your post made me laugh, really.  Then, I remember some group calling themselves ‘antisocial media’ or something close.  What’s disturbing in the graph you shared here is that the customer service/support part has the smallest percentage.  Shouldn’t brands be all about enriching customer experience?  Though I’m a social media enthusiast myself, I think that brands should take out the marketing and be more engaging – in the simplest way I can explain it.  I wonder what your definition is of a ‘holistic brand experience’… Love your insights, by the way.

  14. Hans Den Dulk says:

    Hello Brian,
    Thank you for a great article. I think it shows we are moving into the next phase of innovation, namely the early majority phase. In that phase, we start thinking about our corporate responsibility and our own personal responsibility/ethics. Secondly, it is understandable that companies are struggling to find the right approach in this as these societies of egosystems are so diverse and complex that ‘traditional’ segmentation tools no longer apply. Also, they are so fluid or constantly in flux that it seems difficult to define a common denominator for them. Are these people cosmopolitan? What values are they sharing? Are we not putting our Western cieties cannot be identified by 1 culture. As a result, I find that calling companies antisocial a bit harsh. They are in a transition phase and with our support they will find the right track.
    Yours sincerely,

  15. Tara Husband says:

    Hi Brian,
    LOVE IT!  You are so right.  I just went through the #SMSS11 and hear you and other speak.  Now I know how to make a perfect post: timing, size, photo, etc.  
    Just recently I noticed, my  housekeeper who can barely spell, has a massive amount of engagement on Facebook.  When I reviewed her work, I realized – she hardly ever creates her own posts, just goes and adds content on everyone else’s page.  She’s the one that told me – I want to see what everyone else it doing!
    Ahh…now I’m trying a different approach that I launched today.  Making 10 comments a day on other people’s sites.  I start off my saying:  “LOVE IT”.

  16. To be fair, changing to an open culture, even a slightly open culture, was a huge first step but now it is time for personality to play a role and for metrics that deviate from that purpose — like raw follower counts — to go away. Too much focus is being put on saying the brand is at X or doing A,B and C rather than, as you put it, asking why someone would follow them in the first place.

    Every time I see a brand run a TV spot to “LIKE” them I wonder — why would someone follow you at the research stage? How will you treat them versus the existing customer who already knows your business?

    The question of “value” is often overlooked in promoting social but given the limited segmentation tools and the increased diversity of those following us, it’s time we go back too it.

    From what I see there is often a gap between the message the brand wants to give and the approach of their updates. Companies talk about where they are going, but often forget where they are at and leave us with boring posts, one way dialogue, and a marketing / ops / sales only approach that rarely reached the heart of the service or company,

    There are a few brands who seem to get this and while I’m not sure how integrated or widespread their campaigns are within the organization, their ability to speak with a single voice is proving very successful. HotTopic is perhaps my favorite example as they’ve allowed their facebook admin (“the hottopic guy”) to post outside the walls. Opinions on a movie. A photo from a concert. It’s what their brand wants to be about so it’s only logical their social should be there.

  17. mark ivey says:

    The problem is that social media is often housed in the marketing group,and sometimes PR vs being practiced organically across the organization. They’ve merely replaced what they were doing before–traditional marketing- with social media marketing. But it’s as artificial and forced as before. Corporations by their nature, despite what the social media advocates would like to think/dream, are not social. But employees are, or at least potentially can be social. That’s why we have this classic tug of war between what I’ll call the new SoMe elements and traditional marketers, trying to unleash the human genie out of the bottle. 
     When I was managing editorial for HP, part of our mission was to work with the social media enablement group (a web COE model) and facilitate social media activities across their organizations. We provided some content, social media training and some hand-holding assistance, but eventually it was up to those groups to run with it. Some were actually social–their individual bloggers engaged as they should. But many didn’t. I view that experience as a microcosm of a bigger picture. It’s going to be a lot of this hit and miss until companies finally get it.. don’t hold your breath waiting on Nirvana. 

  18. Great post, Brian. You have such a knack at pinpointing a crucial disconnect between many businesses and how they use social media platforms. Thanks for the reminder that real, sincere engagement trumps broadcasting every time. My favorite line: your description that several leading businesses are doing “traditional marketing masquerading as genuine engagement.”

    So true, so true.

  19. JEBworks says:

    This sums up what it should be all about. It starts with WHY and the culture. This shows how tough it is to be a truly social business and most are not ready. The social web is used as another tool to get the message out and while it might work for a short while, it won’t be sustained. Too many short cuts, not enough effort at being truly authentic. The usual bean counter demand for ROI is evidence of this behavior. As you write, what’s the return on showing customers that you care? A question, of course, that the CFO usually doesn’t ask. It will be fascinating to watch how this transformation continues and who the real winners will be.

  20. Extreme John says:

    Another thought-provoking post Brian. If we love our business, we should also love our customers and the people who support it by becoming part of their journey and that is through real and genuine engagement. Marketing is not all about making money, it’s all about sharing information and providing high-quality products and services which aim to be customer-oriented and not profit-oriented. 

  21. Extreme John says:

    Another thought-provoking post Brian. If we love our business, we should also love our customers and the people who support it by becoming part of their journey and that is through real and genuine engagement. Marketing is not all about making money, it’s all about sharing information and providing high-quality products and services which aim to be customer-oriented and not profit-oriented. 

  22. gmjameson says:

    I love this post. “Much like banner blindness in digital advertising, individuals will eventually tune-out their favorite brands that fail to demonstrate relevance in their social stream.” … I feel like an antisocial ape every time I use HootSuite to schedule posts. I get the practicality, I do. BUT — I am also struck by how impersonal it is … and I despise that. 

    At a recent event last week, I encouraged participants to embrace social spaces like they do real time engagement … and yet I am guilty of talking at, not to. For instance, (and I recognize the improbability of this) isn’t it odd to have people “following” you on Twitter who you’ve not taken much time to really engage?

    At any rate, thanks for the post, Brian. As always, you raise the standard for our own philosophical approach to the field – and that always improves us.

  23. excellent post – nailed all of the points

  24. boom says:

    Lose the word engage is my view. IMHO High-end brands and those geared to luxury maket do NOT need social it isn’t their market. Anyone who thinks otherwise has absolutely no understanding of how marketing and advertising works to the top 1%. One a high-end brand goes mass there is no return. Once standards are lowered they lose their share and will never get it back. There are a number of brands who have stayed away form social and have saved their reputations by doing so.

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