Just about every business owner recognizes the importance of using social media. To that end, they arrange for web sites to be built, have accounts on all the major social networking sites, and regularly post information about what their businesses are offering and doing. While that’s fine, these efforts are still relying mainly on pushing information toward consumers and attempting to treat their responses like data. That’s where things need to change.
Social Empowerment and Relationships
Whether brands want to admit it or not, consumers already have social empowerment, and they’re using it every day. They do more than read what brands post on their Facebook pages or their Twitter accounts. They also decide whether to comment on those posts or share them in some manner with their friends. In short, the very nature of social gives consumers the power to take the information and use it any way they see fit.
For many executives and business owners, this is difficult to face. They’re used to being in control of their information and deciding what is done with it. They’re used to traditional advertising campaigns and using focus groups to develop products—doing things the way they’ve always done them. Digital disruption has thrown a monkey wrench into everything they’re familiar with, and many are unwilling to let go of that control.
But you know what? It’s time to stop complaining, to stop being afraid and to learn to make the most of it. There’s no going back to business as usual. Rather than fighting it, innovative companies have seen this coming and are acting on it—shifting their mindset from controlling the conversation to listening and facilitating the new social conversation. It’s a shift every brand will need to learn to make, both internally and externally. Doing so will make it easier to see consumers as people rather than data, to empower your employees and advocates to share your story, and to create a return on relationship that’s greater than anything you’ve ever experienced.
A Return to a Small Town Approach
In many ways, the modern world of social networking is a lot like doing business in a small town. In that environment, people are buying from their friends – their neighbors – people they see every day. They know each other’s spouses and kids; they go to the same restaurants, and they remember each other’s birthdays. The selling process is all about relationships, and how those relationships work to provide benefits to both parties.
With social empowerment, this return to listening and learning–getting to know customers as friends and not simply statistics—takes a lot of effort. Since new people come into the circle of friends constantly, and the opinions of old friends are subject to change, it means that brands must be willing to change with them. It means listening to what they have to say, asking questions to clarify what they mean, and then taking what they say to heart. That’s not easy, especially for anyone who has for years been used to working with impersonal data and using it to design everything from packaging to mass media campaigns.
Let Go of the Fear
To my mind, true social empowerment means recognizing the fears you have regarding social communication and learning to overcome them. Admit you have some fear of a changing business landscape. Admit that you fear relationships will change over time. Admit that all the control is no longer in your hands. Once that’s done, it’s much easier to step back and begin to ask the really hard questions:
– How do I fit in to this different way of thinking?
– What can I do to build relationships that last?
– How do I empower my employees to really listen and make connections with our customers?
Adjusting to this brave new world takes guts. It means getting beaten up a little. Even so, I believe it’s essential if you want your company to move forward. Get out of your own way. Start going where people talk, and start listening to what they have to say. Use that knowledge to write a strategy for delivering more value and better customer experience, as well as create a more collaborative internal environment. The tools are out there—and if you’ll step out on faith and use them, you can build relationships and make your brand stronger than ever.