The Forces Shaping What’s Next in Social


This morning I'm addressing the topic of rethinking business in the age of the social customer in conversation with a group of professionals at re:think in Oslo.

Despite the globalization of digital and commerce, especially with the help of social, people still live and make things locally.

The other day I was buying vegetables and cheese at the open market in Modena, Italy. At first blush many of the stands have similar products. Quality and convenience, with a smile. When that happens as a shopper you look at price, don't you?

Until you meet Massimo.

A kind word for everyone, Massimo will sell you only the best. It's a day old and he's steering you to another item. He sets aside the apple bruised only a little for the old man who's barely scraping by, because he doesn't take payment from him.

The old man accepts the bounty, pride in check, because of the mutual understanding. The merchant would not want to sell the item with the small blemish, and he's happy to make use of it. How is doing business that way sustainable?

There's always a line in front of his stand.

Massimo sells out. He's not TV- or Internet-famous, nor wishes to be entertaining. In fact, he's quite discreet about how he conducts business. He has developed the most practice in keeping his promises by keeping the faith in what he's doing and demanding proof that he's doing right by customers — every day, with enthusiasm, and a smile.

You know his produce is fresh, he serves it up with the most confidence, and a brand of kindness not easy to imitate, yet irresistible. You actually wish everyone copied him; nobody does, because he is the connective tissue to all those simple gestures and relationships that make him who he is.

A couple of days in European cities, where proximity is prized and sought, and I'm filled with examples of how much getting the small things right matters.

This is part of the conversation we never had and desperately need to have about social media, to make sense of what works and what doesn’t. As a construct to understand how to think about what we're doing, we'll look at three forces that are shaping what's next in social.

The lessons:

  1. Get the people right and you put the proper meaningful actions in place.
  2. Build an adaptable framework for your business, and you can deal in better promises as change occurs.
  3. Mind the gap between promises made and promises kept, and gain the ability to make better promises, earning referrals from more customers in the process.


Accelerated rate of change

People see connection as imperative, and connected as a choice.

At a tactical level this means using a combination of inbound marketing and word of mouth to build a solid foundation for social — pull technologies for humans. The passage of time matters as much as getting the timing right.

It's not enough to automate and optimize. To step ahead, you need something else.

When change is too fast, as it is now, the benefit for individual thinking and doing is not apparent and it is expensive to go that way. Which is why people watch what everyone else is doing even more closely. In this environment, copying and maximizing is preferable to reinventing the wheel.

Despite being especially cautious on spending, organizations are still not mapping their buy strategy effectively. For example, when it comes to individuals, they buy high and sell low — get a big agency and hire junior staff. In essence buying cheap collective strategies in the hope to gain some purchase over their competition.

When it works, this still comes at a high cost for the potential promise of replicating past success. What matters little when why and how are not focused and part of a strategy.


Return to influence

Plenty is still being said about influence in social networks.

Partly due to the news-ification of business, which is extending the public relations as media relations-only misunderstanding into social, making sure organizations get bloggers coverage and links. It's easy to fall for this tactic, until you experience public relationships through network-making power with teeth.

Partly due to the desire to re-create mass appeal in social networks as misunderstanding for message control at scale. The truth is "at scale" in social is possible reliably with the help of paid media — Reach Generator on Facebook and Promoted Trends on Twitter, for example.

Organizations are made of people, and while people are susceptible to the impact of something new, they find it hard to estimate risk, thus seeking security in what used to (or they think will) work.

We fear the things – and people — that we do not understand far more than the things we do, even if the latter are much more risky. For this reason, it's not surprising that people fear technology. Its newness is confusing and no one's quite certain what to do with the promises it offers, says Danah Boyd. 

Our fears are amplified when they intersect with our insecurities and challenge our ability to be in control.

Figuring out how to influence outcomes in this environment is tricky.


Mind the gap

Organizations buy social networks at a very high cost, too. Constantly changing terms, conditions and formats, questions of who owns the data, brand association with privacy issues and brand as network or technology monetization model are among the costs.

The cost can be justified when, through the adoption of a rigorous process designed to come up with the right brand direction to make money from IP and business, organizations utilize social to continuously close the gap between promises made and promises delivered.

Minding the gap means leveraging social to keep an eye on things, continually monitoring the brand delta.


Remember to focus on the things you actually make and do while you're making and doing and the end results multiply.

This is just direction — the conversation will depend very much on the energy in the room and the stories and examples that will be part of the narrative. 

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