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The Number One Least Asked Question in Social Media…Why?

The number one least asked question in social media is also the most important…

Asking “why” in all aspects of business and life in general is unexploited. Day in and day out I help businesses understand the opportunity that lies within new media, not because of Twitter or Facebook. I do so because opportunity is pervasive in the hearts and minds of consumers everywhere. We just have yet to really understand for what reason.

Report after report, post after post, conference after conference, I am inundated with examples of social media success. Except success is difficult to assess, unless we look at the numbers, sentiment, clickthroughs, and outcomes. Rarely do I see studies, although they are out there, that ask the social customer what they value and why.

In 1964 Marshall McLuhan proposed in his book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, that the “medium is the message.” His observation was that the medium, not the content it disseminates, requires attention and study. He believed that the medium shapes society based on the characteristics of the medium itself. As Twitter, Facebook, et al. cultivate a dedicated egosystem and supporting culture, McLuhan’s theory is still valid. In an era where information is democratized and influence is equalized, the message is now also the medium. There are prevailing cultures unique to each social network. What you create for Twitter is different than what you might say in Facebook and certainly not at all how you would say it in Google+. That’s the point. What you say defines not only who you are and what you represent in each network or medium, but it also influences the society at large.

What does your profile or presence say about you? What does it say about who you are in each network? How does it signify the value you introduce into your networks?

The Anti-Social Business

I’m often asked to research systems and processes to make social media participation cost efficient and scalable. When I ask why, the response is not necessarily a surprise nor is it a real answer, “we need to operationalize social media. we need cost efficiencies.” In reality, many businesses syndicate rather than engage. A Tweet could find a new home on the Facebook Brand Page, which is then linked to Tumblr, and, well you get the idea. There are management systems that facilitate one-to-many publishing and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. One update to rule them all right? Only when the update is deemed valuable by the community at large.

Social channels do not represent syndication opportunities as much as they offer unique touchpoints to engage with different groups of stakeholders. They’ll tell you what they want, in fact many already have. But, are we listening? Are we asking the right questions? Are we introducing what we learn into our strategies moving forward?

I want to come back for a moment to the question of why.

Why are businesses engaging in social media? Let me ask this question again because it’s important. Why are businesses trying to be social when to date, most have made a business out of being anti-social?  The voice of the consumer is in risk of falling upon deaf ears as businesses explore operational efficiencies before they can get the answer to why customers want to engage with them in social networks. First and foremost, it’s not “to get information” nor is it to build “a community with the brand.” Customers are far too practical and distracted to invest their time in the long-term for such reasons.

It starts with asking customers what they want now and over time so that we can answer why we’re investing precious time, resources, and passion into social media.

It comes down to value. It comes down to experiences. People appreciate when they’re heard and in turn, when businesses intend to deliver exceptional experiences.

Why do you think it is that people line up for Apple products when they’re released? Let’s take the iPad for example. What is it about that iPad that people must have over all of the other tablet alternatives available? Why is it that people pay 2-3x more for an Apple Macbook than those running Windows or Chrome? Why do customers buy from Zappos instead of Or, why do people love or go out of their way for Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts over every other brand?

Each question has a unique answer, but many share a common theme, each company delivers an experience that’s worth having, investing in, and sharing over and over again. It comes down to people, the 5th P of Marketing. Knowing who they are and what they want is enlightening as it affects not just the other 4P’s of product, place, price, and promotion, but also defines the user experience. It brings the “why” to life.

Truth be told, we can’t have meaningful discussions about becoming a social business if we don’t know why doing so is advantageous to customers and ultimately to the business itself.

So, let’s start with a simple exercise to get us on the right path. Try taking the place of your customer for a moment. Take some time to think about and answer the following questions, then revisit your social strategy for the year and see what it is that you would change and why. At the very least, you’ll have the reasons to justify a new pilot, direction, or plan.

The Top 10 Questions Customers Are Asking You in Social Media

1. Why should I like you on Facebook?

2. Why should I follow you on Twitter

3. Why would I value the experience? What would I take away?

4. Why would I want to stay connected over time?

5. Why would I choose to engage your updates in my social stream over those of my real friends?

6. Why would I tell everyone I know to follow you?

7. Why would I share your content with my audience of peers?

8. Why would I decide to invest my time and express loyalty in your network and not mine?

9. Why should I care if you don’t care about my needs, experiences, or questions?

10. Why should I come back?

Answering these questions will also help you answer an important question to move forward in any meaningful, long-term direction. This exercise unlocks an important ingredient in any customer-facing business strategy…empathy. Once we truly hear our customers we are inspired by the empathy that develops simply by being human.


Why are you investing in a social presence?

Why are you trying to become a social business?

Why will you succeed where others can’t?

Certainly brand affinity plays a significant factor in all of this. But, what if brand affinity was an hour glass. Taking it for granted suggests that time could run out. Continually monitoring and turning it when needed ensures longevity. And that’s what this is all about. Social is not a means, nor a means to an end. It is an enabler to do something purposeful, meaningful, and valuable. Your customers will tell you. The reality is that attention is what it is. And as a result, brands must earn relevance today and every day. And it starts with answering a simple question…why?

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78 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Number One Least Asked Question in Social Media…Why?”

  1. Ray Vellest says:

    Brilliant article Brian! While I was reading it, I start to brainstorm about how to make my own business more social, and got an interesting idea to implement. So, I think must thank you for that! 🙂

  2. Courtney Wohrman says:

    The 10 questions about what your customers want from you are great reminders for companies. They should continually be revisited as we attempt to engage with our audiences. I also agree that social media platforms have different audiences with different interests. It’s important to recognize these preferences and how to tailor your goals for each medium.

  3. Luis London says:

    Why is the beginning, is the question to ask to understand the other person’s reasons.
    I always ask my clients why they want to do a website, a design, logo or branding. Asking why leads to lots of more questions, and interesting answers.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Solid piece, Brian. Now please add a +1 button to your article template so that it’s easier to share this insightful content with my Google+ circles : )

  5. Randy Thio says:

    Refreshing post, Brian!  I especially liked #6 above as it forces me to evaluate my social inventory and identify which areas are most valuable to my potential followers.  Thanks & cheers!

  6. Wilton Blake says:

    I’m currently revamping my professional service’s online presence. Thank you for reminding me to consider why I’m investing in social media in the first place, and to consider the questions my future clients are asking me.

    Because my services help nonprofits achieve sustainability through telling engaging stories, I quite naturally see storytelling at the core of “The 5 P’s.” The stories I tell to the “People” will authentically answer every “Why” question they may have. I expect the result to be genuine long-term engagement, and steady growth in new clients.

  7. Great article Brian. Too often that question remains unanswered, or it is “You have to do it because everyone else is.” I can hear my Mothers voice saying “if all of you friends jumped off a cliff …”

    The gem for me? “Try taking the place of your customer for a moment …  then revisit your social strategy for the year and see what it is that you would change and why.” Spot on!

    Mark Chambers
    CEO, QSpike

    • Maxroujeon says:

      Hi Mark, glad to see that some «old old old strategy» has survived the times. Yep, best way to know if what you do is right is to live it as a customer.
      Note a word of wisdom: only take the place of your customer if you can behave live and feel like him.
      I’ve heard and seen people say: I’d never do that, it won’t work. 
      They were «zillionaire» selling to the «average Joe».
      Only if you can get out of your own «you» and be the customer do it , otherwise you’d be worse off.
      Bravo Mark.

    • Well put. And also on point. I have come to recognize that it is a definite gift (or talent? I can never remember the difference) the ability to do so. Thanks …

  8. Alicia Vaz says:

    So true. There’s so much to be discovered when you ask Why. You begin to question and drill down into the reasons Why for most everything. And with those answers, you can then begin to find your true purpose. Thanks!

  9. Renee says:

    So many great points! I especially enjoyed the 5 P’s, a refreshing and brilliant change from what was drilled into me in college.

  10. Dave Doolin says:

    “Social channels do not represent syndication opportunities as much as they offer unique touchpoints to engage with different groups of stakeholders.”

    Brian, this is perfect. When I see people syndicating their stuff across so many channels, I just get burned out. I *love* hanging out on line. In fact, I can easily be found on Skype of all places. Pure signal, no noise, and the chat histories are awesome. 

  11. Chengang says:

    So true. There’s so much to be discovered when you ask Why. You begin to question and drill down into the reasons Why for most everything. And with those answers, you can then begin to find your true purpose. Thanks!

  12. A Zechmann says:


  13. Ryan Jones says:

    Love the idea of egosystem.  I went back & read your Sept. 10 article on this.  The 1st generation of social tools and social actions (likes, check-ins, etc.) are incredibly tied to ego.  I’m hoping this will evolve over time…I also love the idea of putting people in the center of everything we do in marketing.  This is really empowering.

  14. I love your work Brian, but notice your own Twitter feed doesn’t show great evidence of engagement with your network. It’s largely one-way messages. Few replies, RTs, conversations.

    Quite a contrast, for example, with other social media thought-leaders like Gary Vaynerchuk or Chris Brogan or Liz Strauss who seem in perpetual conversation.

    I have no doubt that your audience values your output highly, but I wonder if they feel engaged? Or perhaps you don’t care?

    • briansolis says:

      Luke, of course I care…
      I’m not sure I can keep replying to this question. I might have to do what Chris Brogan did and write a post to link to in the future. It’s true, I’m not in perpetual conversation. I run 2 companies and am in the middle of finalizing my next book, plus travel quite a bit for work and speaking. I do Engage however on Twitter through my @mrsolis account and attempt to answer every question or comment. I’ve been running a test on @briansolis for the last year + where I limit engagement, hence the other account, to see how conversation levels affect resonance and “influence” scores. I’ve some very interesting findings by the way, which I’ll publish as soon as it comes out of editing. Additionally, I engage as actively as I can here, as well as Google +, Facebook, and on outside blogs that are looking for responses. Hope that clears things up.

    • I didn’t realise about @mrsolis or the experiment. Thanks for engaging with me!

  15. Ryan Crowe says:

    Arggghhh why can’t I +1 this!

  16. Titaniumrunner says:

    You have captured something that many brands fail to understand. I’m a brand ambassador and I’m thankful that the marketing team believes in the power of social media and that people who use their products ate the most effective people to share their experiences. And I believe you in the hour glass concept. Nobody should rest on laurels. That’s why they invented the phrase — 15 minutes of fame. Or is it 15 seconds?

  17. Titaniumrunner says:

    You have captured something that many brands fail to understand. I’m a brand ambassador and I’m thankful that the marketing team believes in the power of social media and that people who use their products ate the most effective people to share their experiences. And I believe you in the hour glass concept. Nobody should rest on laurels. That’s why they invented the phrase — 15 minutes of fame. Or is it 15 seconds?

  18. Eric Wittke says:

    Fictional storytellin

  19. PamMktgNut says:

    Brilliant Brian. I love this article. There is a big difference between doing social and being a social business. I don’t think we can truly “be social” without asking WHY. 

    We work with many clients who at first *think* they want to *be social*. Yet when you get down to brass tacks they don’t know who their customers or even partners are. Since they don’t know them they have a difficult time having a relevant conversation with them.  

    Traditional marketing and advertising has brainwashed them into the one way dialog for so many years I think many biz leaders are having a difficult time accepting the fact that it simply won’t work that way anymore. They get ahead of themselves and think time to market of each random act of social media is more important than an integrated approach that supports a relevant conversation and value at every touch point. 

  20. Eric Wittke says:

    The importance of asking “why” was drilled into me in a storytelling workshop, and I’ve seen its influence everywhere since. In creating a story, it’s important to communicate motive and intent behind every action a character does. Equally for social media, it’s important to know the motive and intent behind everything we ourselves do. Asking “why” allows us to find these answers. We are the characters of our own story, and thus it’s important to know why we do what we do.

    “Why” is such a powerful word, so bravo in calling attention to it!

  21. Jorge Felix says:

    Hi Brian! I enjoyed reading this post! Its’ a bit weird to say that I really wish professors would teach these things. We got taught as a marketing major the “4P’s” but you are definetely missing the “PEOPLE” component. 

    Thanks for being an inspiration to marketing students all around the world!

  22. Mari Smith says:

    Brian, what I love about you is your thorough, thought-provoking articles, new concepts and new paradigms you so readily share with your audience. Truly a stellar post, again. Love the list of ‘why’ questions! 🙂 

  23. reese ramos says:

    Excellent ONE MILLION DOLLAR question!!!

  24. Nice post. I like your 5 p’s. But in this day and time people still make the world go around.

  25. Great list of “why’s.” Think why is probably the most forgotten word, especially in our language (where I come from). We don’t use the word why that much. So as a result we don’t ask why – that much – either. Good way to start my day. Why am doing this? LOL.

  26. James Fisher says:

    the “why” question is uncomfortable.  but it does get at the “meat” of things, eh Brian?

    excellent thoughts.  and thank you.

    Mtn Jim

  27. Ryan Connors says:

    My marketing professor told me if I forget everything, remember the 4 P’s (or however many depending on the day) and STP for segment, target and position.

     Great read Brian. I’m a intern at TRA360 and I’ve been tasked with growing the social media, engaging the customers, blogging and engaging experts in the field. It’s no easy task especially for a company with a narrow B2B market segment. Any tips on that?

    I’ll be sure to add your on the social networks by the time you read this. Keep the good stuff coming.

  28. Mark McGee says:

    Spot on article and it is definitely the most unasked question there is. I fielded a meeting yesterday where a group had been told by someone that they needed a Facebook page. I was the only one how asked the magic question and as a result, the meeting went on for quite a while afterwards while they tried to answer it! Made them think about it which is a good thing! Mind you, people now dread me coming into meetings as I always ask “why?” lol

  29. Agreeable especially w/cause &heffect bm.

  30. Michelle Carvill says:

    Reading this post took me back to 1996 when I was writing my thesis for my MA in Marketing in Consumer Behaviour. 

    Over the years, whilst companies have ‘toyed’ with understanding consumer need and listening – social channels now enable businesses to truly engage. It’s no longer just ‘talking about it’ and keeping an arm’s length from actually doing anything about it. Technology has now enabled what all companies have professed to want ‘understanding consumer needs’.The social feedback floodgates are now well and truly open for those that genuinely want to learn about consumer needs. The key question of course is the challenge of actually really learning and listening, taking on board and then of course, ultimately, dealing with all the feedback – and managing expectation. This is where I believe nimble businesses have a huge advantage, they’re not wrapped up in process and politics – and are likely to be more attentive and responsive to need. It’s a great opportunity for those nimble businesses to gather momentum, listen and deliver what consumers are looking for. Great article.  

  31. Great points! To truly succeed in the social networking war, one must determine what they want to say and spread through these various mediums. Once the questions are settled, it will be easier to form a solid social structure.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Nice post, Brian. I specialize in marketing to Baby Boomers and beyond, and we ask WHY a lot.
    Last year we asked a whole bunch of “social, silver surfers” about liking/following/getting connected with brands on social media and they gave us a whole bunch of reasons for WHY NOT.  They had to do with place (“This is mine, not yours” said a Boomer); promotion (or rather a fear of over-promotion); and people (“I want my social time to be with my friends and family”).
    Sharing this data & insights with clients has sparked meaningful discussions about WHY (and HOW) they are investing in social media.  I’ll now be sharing this post as well.

  33. Adminitrack says:

    Great post!  Definitely plenty of food for thought here.  I have used Social Media for years and never questioned the relevance of it until now.

  34. To engage in meaningful relationships with customers is why businesses should be in social media.  Traditional businesses tend to be distant and aloof of customer complaints and wants.  Social media brought customers and businesses to interact unhampered by distance, time and place.

    Somehow, social media gave a human face to businesses through their empathy towards their customers’ concerns.
    Businesses should use their social presence to reach out to their customers and make them feel appreciated.

  35. specialmoves says:

    Why – the only real justification for spending cash. Good stuff

  36. Why – the only real justification for doing anything…. nice article. 

  37. Thaks for this posting. The above 5P’s are very important in marketing & promoting the social media. I want such useful topics in future too from you. Keep It Up !!

  38. Matt Hixson says:

    Brian – it seems that the larger why is first. What is th business objective. The current situation, which you outline, has shifted which requires different strategies and tactics but this seems to be the first why businesses have to come to grips with.

  39. Jennifer Gibson says:

    With all
    the buzz around social media and its power to reach the individual consumer, it
    is nice to see a blog that emphasizes that this is a two-way relationship.  Many of the companies that I see using
    social media are intent on using social media as an “advertisement” that only
    goes one way, toward the consumer. 
    Many don’t appear to realize that the power in social media comes in the
    ability to engage with the consumer. 
    The ten questions that are laid out here are essential to making the
    investment in social media pay off for a company.  It comes down to making it worth a customer’s time to
    connect and giving them an answer to “Why should I come back?”

  40. Pali Madra says:

    Thanks Brian for sharing your findings and observations. 

    This post can be a base for creating a social media marketing checklist. Maybe I will do it (of course Brian will get the credit, appreciation and linkback) on my blog post.

    @QSpike:disqus has hit the nail on the head when he says that “Try taking the place of your customer for a moment … then revisit your social strategy for the year and see what it is that you would change and why.” 

    It also seems that if you really think the strategies are old but they are implemented in new ways.  What do you guys think?

    Brian please keep posts like this coming as they are food for thought and also ignite discussions like these.

  41. This Article really helped me… I have 4 followers on twitter… And I didn’t know how to start… But now I will define a strategy relying on this article!

    Thank you Brian!

  42. This info is worth everyone’s attention. Where can I
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  43. I had been honored to receive a call from a friend as soon as he found the
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    Examining your blog posting is a real fantastic experience.
    Thanks again for thinking of readers much like me, and I wish
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