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STUDY: Social Business Strategy – Vision, Purpose and Value drive a new era of digital engagement


In an era when media is largely created and broadcast by the few to the many, social media emerged to facilitate the co-creation of media in addition to creating it. While difficult to trace its origins, the philosophy of social media dates back to the mid-1990s. It wasn’t until the mid 2000s however, that businesses would encounter the idea of a new medium where brand democracy prevailed over brand dictatorship.

Suddenly the voice of the customer took on an entirely new meaning and the promise of customer-centricity and engagement was thrust into the spotlight. But after all these years, businesses remain confounded. Even though most are experimenting with social media, how it improves relationships while impacting important business metrics is persistently elusive.

Here we are in 2013, firmly planted in the notion that social media is critical to business and customer relationships. Yet, experts to this day wrestle with the ability to tether intuition with data and creativity with business acumen. [See The 7 Success Factors of Social Business Strategy.]

In a connected economy where information becomes a powerful currency, social data will only help you benchmark where you are to help visualize where you could be. The relationship between aspiration and reality now become a more informed set of goals and objectives driven by benchmarking against the industry and more importantly, benchmarking against possibilities.

Each year, the Pivot team studies the evolving social landscape. For our 2012 -2013, “State of Social Marketing” report, we surveyed 181 social marketers and digital strategists who represent agencies and brands. What we learned is that the fundamental drivers for social media have radically transformed.

What’s clear however is that social media and the allure of conversations matter. At the top of the list, brands and marketers agree that conversations lift both brand and relevance. It’s the new stimulus and relevance is appropriate to the matter at hand.


When asked of the benefits for social media, 2013 goals largely matched 2011 expectations with the exception of sales and lead generation.

As you can see, primary goals fluctuated over the years, shifting toward a more customer-centric approach. Customer engagement, awareness, influence, satisfaction, and service top 2013 social goals whereas sales was off the charts in 2011.

Over the years, social marketers took a publish first ask second approach in social strategies. Assumptions outweighed intelligence. But in 2012, businesses started to realign customer expectations with social media strategies. In 2013 planning, social strategists now believe exclusive content is more important than customer service (2011).

The Top 10 Assumptions of Social Consumer Expectations

  1. Exclusive content
  2. Insight to make decisions (Moments of Truth)
  3. Customer service
  4. Be part of a community
  5. Deals/Promotions
  6. Learn about new products
  7. Ability to provide feedback for improvement (Influence Loop)
  8. Inclusive experience in social absent of websites
  9. Loyalty/Rewards for engagement
  10. Social commerce

So if we know social is important, what’s holding social marketers back this year? Planning for 2013 based on 2012 and 2011 hurdles remain close to constant.

Top 7 Planning Hurdles for 2013

  1. Budget
  2. A clear vision on outcomes
  3. Executive skepticism
  4. Lack of metrics
  5. Lack of understanding of benefits
  6. Lack of cross functional support
  7. Absence of vision and overall strategy for the brand

Part of the planning challenges reflects a fire, ready, aim as opposed to a ready, aim, fire philosophy around social media. Planning is often campaign or engagement centric without a deeper understanding of needs, expectations and of course customer behavior. Even in the absence of clear and present business objectives and outcomes, executive buy in has risen.

In 2013, businesses will evolve from a more skeptical or cautious view of social into something that explores rhyme, rhythm, and reason.

The lineup of usual suspects in social media hasn’t changed much in the last year with the exception of Pinterest rising into the fourth spot in the top 5 social networks brands are paying attention to. This move comes at the expense of Google+.

How will organizations measure social media success in 2013? The answer is engagement.

Social media however is only part of a larger digital movement that’s impacting business from the inside out and the bottom up. This is perhaps the most important part of this study and here it is buried. Regardless of your opinion regarding the word “digital,” the bigger trend is digital’s disruption on business and overall consumerism. When asked what keeps marketers up at night, the list was great.

At the top of the list was the mobile experience. At the core however, every trend was related to customer engagement across all channels. I dare not say omnichannel as that assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality. Channels and screens relate to the context of the individual within the dynamic customer journey. As such, those trends that scored “5s” signify the great impact of digital disruption.

Top 10 Disruptive Digital Trends

  1. Mobile experience
  2. Content management
  3. Digital customer experience (The Experience)
  4. Brand journalism
  5. New metrics/ROI
  6. Integrated experiences
  7. Business intelligence
  8. Big data
  9. Social CRM
  10. Social media optimization



A prescient pillar of leadership takes more than intuition. It takes research balanced with a human algorithm. You can’t make decisions about technology and behavior if you are not part of the very culture that’s disrupting your business. Nor can you open engaging touch points if you’re unfamiliar with the new journey of decision-making. Yet even today, businesses are largely making assumptions based not on the expectations or behavior of customers but instead the best practices of their peers.

In 2011, 77% of brands believed they understood their social customers, yet only 35% did the work to better understand them.

In 2012, the number of businesses that had a clear picture of their social customers dropped to 62%

In 2011 and 2012 businesses largely ignored their customer’s digital needs and actions with 53% and 54% respectively not attempting to explore the differences between what they think they want and what they really want.

When in Doubt…Begin!

Charlene Li and I published an Altimeter Group report earlier this year that found businesses simply weren’t aligning business goals with social media objectives. To realize the promise the promise of social media however, strategists will have to make the effort to demonstrate business value, consumer trends, and the ability to use disruptive technology to disrupt competition rather than be disrupted by it.

This year, realize that your greatest assets are both humility and aspiration. Your ability to see things differently will in fact drive you to do things differently. By applying a new philosophy and methodology to your digital approach will naturally make your business and your overall strategy…meaningful and social. This is after all, about experiences now more than ever.

  1. Benchmark against best in class, not just the competition
  2. Research customer behavior and expectations
  3. Consider existing and potentially new business objectives – align business and digital strategies accordingly
  4. Apply needs and expectations within engagement and content strategies
  5. Design dedicated yet united experiences across digital channels considering the context of behavior within each screen
  6. Create a path of least resistance that maximizes the capabilities of each platform and screen
  7. Re-imagine your vision and value for how disruptive technology enables a more meaningful mission and purpose
  8. Embrace data science and digital anthropology to stay ahead of customer trends and the competition
  9. Plug in to your customer experience as it exists and uncover points of friction…then fix it to provide a seamless journey from the inside out

10. Listen. Learn. Engage. Adapt.

Join us at the Pivot Conference this year in New York on October 15th and 16th

24 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “STUDY: Social Business Strategy – Vision, Purpose and Value drive a new era of digital engagement”

  1. Mike Wise says:

    Excellent data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. My feet-on-the-street observations inside insurance companies and agencies support all of these. I’m finding that the difference maker is executive understanding and influence, hands-on experience, leading by example,
    and avoiding the cliches such as “I have people that do that…”. Those executives that have taken the time to Blog, Tweet, and update their statuses, as well as read their Rivers of Information, on a regular basis, are today being handsomely rewarded – on several levels. Most importantly, they are able to read article like this and immediately translate the data-points into action items for their organizations. Those executives, and by extension their operations, that haven’t are like deer in headlights on the Interstate. And we all have seen the results – Blockbuster, Borders, etc. #SocialTech has become a chief differentiator.

    Favorite line: “You can’t make decisions about technology and behavior if you are not part of the very culture that’s disrupting your business.”

    CEO’s: GET YOUR HANDS IN THERE. Get out of email and into Social. Get the right gear and tools. It’s critical.

    CIO’s: STOP YOUR OBSESSION WITH MICROSOFT PRODUCTS. It’s killing your enterprise’s ability to engage in Social Tech.

    As someone in my network said recently: “It’s way past ‘early adopter phase’ and quickly moving to ‘you’re getting left behind’ phase.”

    Do you agree?

  2. KriszR says:

    WOW! Awesome data! Thank you Brian!
    The 2 most interesting insights to me are:
    1. Fewer think they understand their social consumers than last year.
    2. Most have not asked social consumers what they want.
    This translates to: not mastering the fundamentals. If you don’t know your target audience and more importantly, haven’t taken the time to ask them what they want – how on earth do you want to market effectively to these people?
    But there’s a bit of hope too as 85% are experimenting and testing on a regular basis.

    Mike, you’re right. CEO’s shouldn’t ignore the power and importance of social media!

  3. Dr. Rae says:

    Great presentation Brian… Your study, last paragraph with 10 guidelines keep “social business” going, and growing! Thank you for encouraging by sharing, and showing what I know is — as you do — to be intuitively correct, known, and meaningful.for the future of business.

  4. Good stuff, Brian! Even though fewer feel they understand their social customers, I feel this signifies we are actually getting smarter about not making assumptions and understanding how important it is actually find out. Egos and assumptions are getting smaller, as awareness grows of the gap grows.

    And even though the status quo is basically the same for percentage of those asking, it is bound to increase over the next year or two as more executives buy into the importance.

    I’d love to include one of these charts in my book, Digital Haystack (Career Press, 2014). It will be hitting shelves this Spring and the expectations/hurdles piece of this research is highly relevant to one of the chapters. Would you/Pivot be open to this? If so, please email me at morgan (at) rockthestatus quo (dot) com with contact information for the appropriate person to work with regarding permission and credit.

    Many thanks! ~ Carrie

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