Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

The rise of Generation-C…and what to do about it

I recently had the privilege of presenting at the GDOL Digital Talkfest in Istanbul. The focus of the event was very much in line with my current work. GDOL tracks the new generation of consumers who do everything online and the impact they now have on popular culture, society and ultimately business. I refer to this generation as Generation-C.

Prior to my trip, I met with Capital Magazine for an in-depth interview. They asked some very important questions, questions that you may be pondering now. Not only did I answer them, I over answered them. I did so to help provide clarity and guidance for those seeking substance and not fluff, or as my colleague at Altimeter Group Charlene Li likes to say, “meaningless platitudes.”

Here’s the full interview, unabridged…Sit back. Buckle in. Let’s go for a ride.

1-What is the formula of success in social media?

There is a great myth that a winning formula exists for success in social media. If we can introduce the right viral content we can get more views or friends. If we can maintain a rhythmic editorial calendar we can spark conversations that create a social effect. If we can develop the most amazing app, we can rise to the top of our customer’s attention span! And, my personal favorite, if we get our company in social networks, we can build better relationships with our customers.

Perhaps businesses should ask another question…what do successful customer relationships and experiences look like in social media?

The formula for success in social media begins with first defining what success is and how it will be measured. This is one of the most important steps in any social media strategy, yet it is the first step that many businesses miss. The truth is that there is no formula for success. It requires something special for each strategy and it’s dependent on the people you’re trying to reach, their expectations, your business objectives and how this engagement ties specifically to your organization (sales, marketing, service, products, etc.)

To help, there are 5 Ways to develop a strategic social media presence

1. Listen, Search, Walk a “Daily in the Life” of…
2. Define Your Online Brand: What do you want people to see and appreciate?
3. Develop a Social Media Strategy: Make your presence matter and tie it back to key business objectives
4. Build and Invest in Your Community: Participate and earn affinity to become a trusted resource
5. Learn: Repeat steps 1-5 over time to stay relevant as technology and behavior evolves

2- Which companies are successful in social media in your opinion? And why?

I pay attention to any company that pays attention to their customers and stakeholders to inform social media and social business strategies. Social media is more than marketing, but it’s hard to tell when the industry celebrates campaigns, not business transformation. Real success is about developing new business models around a different type of customer and this is the point that makes finding a series of success stories difficult.

I can share an long list of companies that run amazingly clever and creative campaigns in social networks such as Nike, Red Bull or Old Spice. I can point to businesses that understand the importance of rapid customer service in social networks such as Comcast and AT&T. I can applaud advanced customer loyalty programs that employ gamification, social graph data, and connected experiences across Facebook, web sites and mobile phones such as American Express. But for the purposes of this article, I want to celebrate the companies that are looking at how social media requires a complete transformation of the business from the inside out. It is companies such as ARAMARK, Dell, and Tyco that realize that the culture of the organization, the vision of the company, the brand itself, must adapt to earn relevance among a new generation of connected customers and employees.

The headline literally translates to “Follow Generation C!”

3-Where do you think companies are mistaken in their social media applications? What should be taken into consideration to not make mistakes in social media?

I believe that most businesses are actually anti-social in their social media approaches today. Anti-social is defined as anything that goes against the norms of a society and certainly Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and every social network out there created more than just engaging platforms, each host a unique culture thus becoming a unique digital society.

Many businesses are still broadcasting. Even though they’re active in some of the biggest networks and building notable communities within each, they really are taking old school marketing techniques and dressing them up in new “social” disguises. Customers are only intrigued now because all of this is so new. But, we’re already starting to see the beginning of great unlike and unfollow movements where customers are opting out of brand engagement because there is no value in keeping the connection. In fact, not only is there no value, customers can’t run away fast enough. Remember, they joined social networks to get away from the spam that plagued their inboxes or traditional mailboxes. And, they’re starting to realize this…

A majority of social media efforts are already siloed in the marketing department. As such, businesses are placing an inordinate investment in campaigns and not necessarily in orchestrated efforts to improve customer service, experiences or sentiment across multiple fronts. The new consumer journey is not relegated to a traditional funnel. The customer journey is now dynamic and it introduces new touchpoints that social and mobile media can now reach—and it’s constant. It’s what we put into these channels, it’s how we listen, how we learn, and how we adapt to meet or exceed customer needs and expectations that defines how customers make decisions for or against us. It also defines the role customers play in shaping and steering the decisions of other customers.

The Dynamic Customer Journey

4- Before, there was neither Facebook nor Twitter in our lives. What could be the most important social media channels in the future?

I think we need to take a step back and figure out the need to ask and answer this question. I receive questions now about what social strategy should look like for Pinterest, Highlight, and every other new network that generates buzz. The reality is that you only need to be in the networks where you can earn a notable return based on the concentration of your customers, prospects and stakeholders.

Now that’s not to say that new networks aren’t important. Your social media strategy will of course evolve. Networks or their value will shift. It’s critical that you embrace innovation as part of the culture of your organization. The goal is to have a process and a supporting system for recognizing opportunities and piloting them as they arise. The trick is to understand the difference between emerging and disruptive technology to only focus on those that will deliver and not distract.

5-Many companies publish social media guidelines for their employees. And among them there are companies, even media companies, that ban the individual use of social media. Why do some prefer to ban it?

Most companies have a history of undervaluing new technology as it relates to employee productivity. For example, over the years, the telephone, PC, email, the Web, cell phones, were all at one point either banned or significantly restricted. Social media is just the new kid on the block. As in every technology that’s come before it, studies show that providing access actually increases productivity rather than hinders it.

Social media guidelines and policies serve as a good start. People can benefit from a formal set of guardrails and do’s and don’ts to frame engagement, what to say and what not to say, and also how to use these tools to do their job better. The key is for leadership to define how to use these tools to improve customer and employee experiences and relationships. That takes a vision for doing so and thus sets the stage for a new era of engaged and connected businesses…but it starts with a new vision.

6-How can social media activity increase the revenues and profitability of a company? 

I’m a firm believer that everything begins with the end in mind. This means that if increasing revenues and profitability is important to your social media strategy, then it should be designed into the program. However, attempts to sell directly in social media is not without its risks. It requires a delicate balance of value, exclusivity, and relevance. No one wants to be sold. But, people are willing to engage with businesses in transactional relationships if there are benefits in doing so.

To activate social commerce requires that you define an experience around the transaction where the outcome is of course the sale, but the journey is in its own way engaging and fulfilling. Here you must define a click path from a social network to a destination that facilitates a transaction but is also in alignment with the expectations of a social consumer. Too often, businesses take the customer experience for granted, without intention, because it’s easier to group all digital consumers together. However, with a social consumer, they’ve made it clear that they do not prefer to go to websites. Yet, studying many social media initiatives, businesses tend to not provide a “click to action” where consumers are provided with an experiential click path toward a desirable outcome. And when they do provide a click path, it leads to a static or undesirable landing page that’s not optimized for social or mobile. It’s time to think of the connected customer as a different breed of customer. And nothing in your arsenal today, not even social networks, will have an impact with them unless you can design a complete end-to-end experience that captivates and guides them to a mutually beneficial result.

7- What is the future of social media? Do you think it will pull ahead of classical media?

Social media has given birth to a different type of customer, the connected customer or otherwise what I refer to as Generation-C where “C” represents “connected.” Gen-C is not bound by age. They’re not defined by income or education. They live the digital lifestyle and traverse across all demographics. These consumers do not surf the web like other customers. They don’t learn nor make decisions like that of their traditional counterparts. They live and breathe in social networks and rely on smartphones or tablets as their windows to the world. And, when you compare the size of the market for traditional consumers vs. Generation C, only one of the two segments is growing while the other is shrinking over time.

If you had to invest in the future of your business to earn attention and ultimately relevance, the greatest ROI is tied to the connected customer. So, you ask, what is the future of social media. Right now it’s about a balance between reaching the traditional and the connected consumer. And, that balance right now is different for every company. Traditional customers still find value in classical media. However, social or connected customers want a more engaged, enriching, and efficient relationship. You must design for both and monitor the performance of each for optimization and also insights. Eventually, new media will become the new classical media with something new arising that will eventually disrupt it.

8- What kind of a social media strategy should be designed in different social channels? Why does a certain strategy work in Twitter’ but doesn’t work in Facebook?

I like to think of Facebook as the web site for the social web and Twitter as the pulse of the business. Facebook serves the role of a dedicated presence with a hosted community that offers a digital archive of the company’s activity in one central repository. The timeline within a brand page is there for those who appreciate going back in time or to provide customers with greater context. Facebook allows for richer, more interactive experiences hosted within the confines of a branded and captive environment. The more interaction you can spur, Likes, Shares, comments, app installations, etc., the more your business can benefit from the social effect.

Twitter is a bit more fleeting in design, but no less valuable as it serves as a your window to real-time relevance. It’s just different as it boasts a unique culture and also requires a divergent set of rules of engagement. Its brilliance lies in the ability to listen to conversations involving your business or your industry in general to translate that activity into intelligence and ultimately actionable insights.

This is why I often say that social media is about social science and not technology. We must first study customer behavior in each network to get an idea of what they’re saying, what they expect, how they communicate and connect, and why. At a minimum however, we can assume three basic roles for connected customers in Twitter, Facebook and perhaps even Google+. The roles typically span 1) Marketing, 2) Sales, and 3) Service. How you execute these strategies within each network is different though.

What’s common across the board is that your business requires an infrastructure that can support each initiative within the respective network. Meaning, that you must design inputs, outputs and supporting systems and processes that connect people within the organization to customers on the outside to efficiently deliver solutions, experiences, and mutually beneficial outcomes. To do this however, takes more than technology, workflow and guidelines. It starts with reexamining the view of the customer and a vision of what the ideal customer experience and relationship looks like in these new networks.

Finally, only a culture of true customer-centricity will allow the business to connect with customers in a meaningful way and in turn, earn support and loyalty as a result.


Please consider ordering The End of Business as Usual today…

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38 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The rise of Generation-C…and what to do about it”

  1. Ever see one of those pictures online where everyone is sitting at a table at a restaurant and everyone has either a phone or a tablet in their hands. That is what I think of as a illustration of Generation C.

  2. Dave Doolin says:

    Good point about businesses being anti-social. Apparently, businesses get the legal privileges of being “people” without many of the onerous social responsibilities. Such as “Don’t be a jerk.”

    Dead on with Gen-C not being age delimited. I have a hunch, though (based on my own experience), that many (ok older) people evolve away from venues such as Twitter, FB, etc. and towards smaller online communities with narrower scope. Not surprised if I’m dead wrong on that, would indicate an interesting observational bias. 

    • Anonymous says:

      Dave, I agree–Generation C is not limited to one age group, but it’s not only “older” folks who aren’t embracing the digital life. I teach college students and have several every semester who resist all things digital, fear the technology, and don’t want any part of it. Some resent having social media assignments required in course work. Considering they are journalism majors–news, advertising and public relations–it’s ironic, but that’s the way it is. We can give them the tools and teach them how to use them strategically, but if they don’t want to do it, they’ll suffer the effects of natural selection and go the way of the dodo bird.

    • Kgiuseppe says:

      I fall in the “older people” category, and was an active user of Twitter when my college aged niece was saying, “what’s Twitter?” If you look at the more current demographics on FB users, the 50+ age group is the fastest growing segment.  They are not typically early adopters, but will follow trends in order to stay connected.

  3. Another amazing post,

    So good to hear that Gen-C is not bounded by age. Was getting tired of the digital native thing. Also really good to see that “studies show that providing access actually increases productivity rather than hinders it.” Both of those ideas need to be promoted more often.

    Start with the end in mind – Yes! In so many ways social media and connecting, building relationships online is the same as anywhere else. Good business plans begin with a vision, the end that you strive for. Relationship building in person means showing up, listening, attending, sharing, adding value, telling the truth, being genuine. Online or off. 

    Same for the differing environments. Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Quora, Pintest, are environments that have their own unique feel. If I’m at conference I behave a little differently than I do in an office or behind the counter at a store. I’m still me but as the environment changes so must I – adapt or die 🙂

    Gen-C folks expect the same treatment online as off. Simple as that. The challenge for business is that the the speed of engagement is super fast and always on. That’s why infrastructure matters more now. It’s like the business world BSM – before social media – was akin to driving a car at the posted speed limit. As long as you stayed in your lane, obeyed the rules of the road, you’d get where you were going. Now you have to be in super sonic fighter jet. Fast and maneuverable is the minimum. 

  4. Guest says:

    you’re an idiot. in fact, you were and idiot years ago when your ego and following were the same size as it was then. thought leader? in your own mind.

  5. The way that many companies use social mirrors the way that markets use to be created instead of served:

     “We have this thing we can produce at cost and scale, now let’s go out and create demand for it.” 

    “There’s this new tool/network. Let’s use it and try to create some demand for our content and presence.”

    Except that neither approach works anymore. What about creating the things, and the social presences, that people are actually asking for? 

    As is often the case, a comment on your blog will become a blog post of my own. That’s a success metric if I’ve ever seen one, Brian.  

  6. Terence Chan says:

    Good point on sharpening the defining company culture, must-have customer experience and C-segmentations as a top priority for leadership in the face of business unusual Brian. Technology, workflow and guidelines are just natural offshoots from this.

    But let us not forget that the biggest hurdle senior management faces in doing this is how to align staff structures and compensation packages with these new expectations and higher servicing standards i.e. how does this affect and measurably define both shareholder value and operational KPIs?

    Looking forward to your next book The End of KPIs As Usual, Brian 🙂

  7. Taylor says:

    I found the “5 Ways to develop a strategic social media presence” to be helpful and accurate. It is so important when a company develops their online life/presence they understand their customer and their image. People of all ages are moving to the Internet to accomplish most tasks/purchases/find information/get reviews, etc. that an online presence is necessary and a company must be very thorough and strategic when building theirs. I know that when I go online looking for a certain product – if there are no reviews, no FB page, no Twitter account I am less likely to trust the product and company. It’s as if they are hiding.

  8. Adam says:

    Brilliant post. I particularly liked “The Dynamic Customer Decision Journey” graphic…not seen a graphic this good since “The Conversation Prism”. So thanks again!

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