win_win 2

My friend Niklas Myhr, the “Social Media Professor,” recently blogged about something I’m very passionate about, Social Media and Quality Management. In his post he discusses tapping your social advocates early on in the product and/or service development phase, listening to what they have to say and learning more about what they want and how you can deliver it to them.

I think there’s room for much more of this type of thinking. The old concept of keeping things close to the vest until they’re launched is not only short-sighted, it puts brands at a severe disadvantage in today’s hyper-competitive world. And yet, if you look around, there are still many brands that stubbornly refuse to change. I think that’s because they’re not thinking about advocacy from the inside out.

The socially nimble company tasks its employees with “opening their listening ears” and tapping into community intelligence (both the company’s and the employee’s communities), then acting on what they’ve learned. This can put you in a much better position than your competitors in two ways: 1) getting a well-focused product to market much faster, and 2) earning a higher level of marketplace trust and identification with your brand.

Everybody knows that the faster you can innovate and get things moving, the better—and every brand wants to build trust—but identifying and listening to social advocates is still not considered a “best practice” in much of the corporate world, much less empowering employees to take advantage of opportunities outside the company’s social community. Instead of looking at social advocacy from a “win-win” standpoint, brands would be much better served to adopt “learn-learn,” as their social philosophy.

This isn’t the same thing as crowdsourcing. Some big brands are investing and experiencing success in crowdsourcing. PepsiCo increased its initiatives by more than 300 percent in 2014, and Reckitt-Benckiser (a leading pharma brand), bumped theirs up by 200 percent. But you don’t have to invest in crowdsourcing platforms in order to listen and learn from your communities. It can (and should) be done on the individual level, because companies aren’t faceless business machines—they’re made up of individuals—and in any community, people like to interact with other people.

I think it comes down to changing your brand’s social goals and habits from the top down. Everyone from C-suite execs to customer service employees can practice listening and reaching out to individuals to expand conversation and deepen relationships. There’s no substitute for this. While there are enterprise advocacy platforms out there (just Google the term and you’ll get around 1,500,000 results), anyone can invest a few minutes a day practicing focused listening on any social platform. We’re just not making it a priority. Why? It comes down to the old ROI argument, and that’s where I think many brands are falling short. They’re still trying to silo social listening within marketing and sales departments (and measure effectiveness in terms of sales, versus relationships), when it should be a company-wide practice that envelopes all business functions.

Every business function depends on the quality of the human relationships needed to perform that function. The more we practice using social to learn more about who makes up our communities and how we can serve them better (at every level), the more in-tune we’ll be and the more harmony we can create both inside and outside our companies.

Want your brand to be more successful? Wrap social around every business practice. And while you’re doing so, ditch the win-win mentality, which denotes an ending—not a continuation. Embracing learn-learn increases the value of relationships for all parties.

This post was originally posted on Inside CXM, April 20, 2015

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