To truly see opportunities within social media requires viewing the consumer landscape through a different lens…

Social media is enjoying yet another gust beneath its wings. Google Plus is rekindling the love affair of social networking among the early adopters and mavens who friended their way to higher Klout scores and also social network fatigue. The numbers of social network users are soaring well past 10 figures. Even celebrities such as Bono, Justin Timberlake, Ashton Kutcher, Lady Gaga et al, are not only living social, they’re putting their money where their cliques are by actively investing in emerging social technologies.

Can you believe that today, skeptics still remain? What’s most concerning is that many of them are primary decision makers responsible for the future direction and corresponding relevance of their businesses. Some of you either work for this leadership team or you are part of it.

“Social networks are where people share what they had for lunch. No one’s listening anyway. You saw what happened to Myspace, Bebo and Friendster. You see that Google+ is already killing Facebook. No one sees the point of Twitter. See what we saved by not jumping on the treadmill?!”

No, social media is not a fad nor is it merely a soapbox for inane, narcissistic or self congratulatory over sharing. And no, social media will not cower in the shadows of “what’s next.” We’ve reached the end of the destination web and are long past the attention rubicon. Social is now a fabric of everyday technology and digital engagement. It’s is only gaining in momentum and permeance. Those businesses that miss this opportunity will find a slipping point that may eventually give way to Digital Darwinism, the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than you.

Benchmarking Against the Opportunity

Many businesses realize the potential of social media and are savoring a seemingly compelling way to reach customers. Many are even boasting millions of fans and followers. But what they too underestimate is the power of people. It’s not so much about technology as much as it is about the democratization of information and the equalization of societal influence. People are now part of the equation and are willingly shedding their “audience” moniker and vacating the branded auditoriums of yore in favor of building their own stages, their own personal theaters. Consequently, customers are becoming influential as they fill the seats to their performance. They’re creating dedicated information networks and as a result, consumers have evolved into a connected and more discerning audience with an audience of audiences.

How businesses embrace this opportunity says everything about how they view customers and the relationships they’re shaping as a result. Equally, how businesses measure success in this new frontier also says everything about how they value customer relationships. Hearing it this way makes the measurement of Likes, followers, views or +1?s seem trivial. And, thinking about customer value and how to deliver it where attention is focused makes us rethink website traffic as a KPI. Instead, businesses must embrace a new perspective, one that takes the lessons rife within social media to build a more meaningful engagement strategy for building customer relationships and growing new opportunities.

Have you defined the customer relationship you’d like to develop in 2012?

Have you revisited the company’s vision and mission for the connected customer?

It Takes a Leader to Lead…Not Follow

eMarketer recently visualized the findings of Jive Software and Penn, Schoen, Berland study that examined how social media impact business strategy. 78% of participating executives believe that social media is somewhat or very important to the future success of their business. Amongst medium-sized businesses, this appears to resonate as 51%, the highest in the group, see social media as very important to business strategy and direction.

In aggregate however, 22% of small, medium and large businesses either don’t know or don’t see the importance of social media to long-term success.

Executives need help in understanding the significance of social networks in fostering customer relationships and how doing so affects the lift for sales and brand resonance. On average 27% of executives view social media as a top strategic priority and another 47% see it as necessary, but not necessarily as a priority. Again, medium-sized businesses lead the way with 49% placing social media as a top priority moving forward.

Surprisingly 26% of executives do not see social media as a necessary or strategic priority or they’re not sure either way. Are they wrong? We cannot measure what we do not know to value. Executives need help in understanding the opportunity. This is why we must leave behind the training wheels of social media 1.0 and graduate to a new era of greater social media significance, one where business priorities and customer needs and value coalesce.

The Future of Business is not Created, It’s Co-Created

Customer influence is growing and when they’re not focusing attention on one another, they’re focusing activity toward the things that move them. As we know, brands and organizations are the recipients of sentiment, both good and bad. It’s what we do with the feedback and insights that define the brand in the future. In addition to brand, competitive advantages will lean toward businesses that embrace customer engagement to shape and steer experiences and innovate future products, services and uses.

In a separate study, eMarketer learned that customers do indeed want deeper engagement with the brands and products they care about. At the same time, companies that embraced a culture and philosophy of co-creation are realizing that open collaboration is instrumental in keeping a competitive edge.

Companies also tend to restrict their co-creation activities to discrete moments in the product life cycle. But the greatest benefits can be realized when collaboration centers on building value that enhances a product’s daily use.

The study found that companies benefit from customer insights which in turn delivers customers benefit through product satisfaction. This in turn increases sales while saving customers time and increasing their productivity.  Of course, co-creation promotes loyalty and builds pride and a sense of recognition, which equally lowers customer service costs while building a strong community of customers and advocates.

As we’re learning, it’s not enough to be present on social networks. It’s not enough to engage in customer conversations. Leadership organizations, not just marketing departments, must realize that social media are not a cure for the ills of common business malpractices. The rules of relationships still apply and in fact are only amplified.  In social media and in the real world, the pillars of any great business must embody service, innovation, experiences, performance, value, and now co-creation. Remember, customers are not looking to build a community with your company simply because they can. Community rules require the cultivation of affinity and belonging through relevance, empathy and the consistent delivery of tangible and intangible benefits.

Companies must now be engaging and worthy of connection now and over time. And more importantly, businesses must embrace a culture of change to become adaptive and survive Digital Darwinism.  Social media will not save business, but it will challenge them to evolve, to adapt…to do better.

As a wise executive of a leading global company once told me, “If you come to me with a request for budget and resources for social media, to make it a priority for our business, you will lose every time. If you tie social media to our business priorities and objectives and demonstrate how engagement will enable progress, you will win every time. Social media must be an enabler to our business, just show me how.”

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Google+


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The New ENGAGE!: If you’re looking to FIND answers in social media and not short cuts, consider either the Deluxe or Paperback edition


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Image credit: Shutterstock

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/briansolis/~3/GObmQd77OTw/

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