For many 2012 was a tough year. Budgets, timescales and opportunities were tight. For others it was their best year ever! Several of the organisations I work with have reported their best ever sales figures, growth and profits. Others that I work for have not been so fortunate, and sadly, a couple of companies are no longer with us.
Looking at all the clients I have worked with over 2012 – is there a pattern? Well yes, I think there is.
Those that have grown and done well really value their customers and work as hard at their business relationships as they do on their personal relationships. And I am serious about using the term “work” here – they really do put the effort in to ensuring that they understand their customer’s needs, problems and requirements and then set about building an appropriate solution. That’s not always a quick and easy thing to do. It takes time, effort and great questioning & listening skills. In business, as well as your personal life, building great relationships is a long term activity.
This approach is rarely shown in social media spaces. Still there are “brands” who are “transmitting” most of the time and they haven’t realised that no one is listening or cares. Few are actually using these social spaces as a complimentary communication channel (alongside the phone, email and – oh yes – actually meeting people) to develop strong relationships.
If you’ve played and dabbled with social media – and it hasn’t worked out for you – chances are your business didn’t do too well last year. At least, that’s what I’ve observed with several of my clients. I think it might be down to the attitude and approach to real life situations just as much as on-line social situations? If social media isn’t working for you, chances are commnication inside and outside the business isn’t great either?
Last week was Social Media Week in the UK. As part of this I went to a very interesting Social Media conference in London. Now and again it’s worth stopping and taking time to stand back from a trend and try to get things in context. I took a couple of days out from the sales coal face to do just this and have some interesting discussions before, during and after the conference.
My observations – for the business person – that I have after all these interactions and downloads are:
1. Social Media is still being considered more of a B2C (business to consumer) tool, with very few case studies from the B2B (business to business) world.
2. After a few years of marketing departments using social media as another ‘channel’ to send out their ‘messages’ to ‘consumers’ they are starting to realise that the real opportunity is in listening and understanding the customer in more detail.
3. The main challenge in adopting a social media strategy is internal. Large (older) organisations are starting to face up to the problem that their staff may not be motivated, happy and enthusiastic. So, when customers attempt to engage with them a) marketing are not used to talking back and b) there is often a gap between the brand that marketing have invented and the reality of the organisation.
4. Newer, smaller companies are better placed to exploit the potential of social media as they do not have the hierarchical structure and control baggage of their larger competitors
5. There is a whole generation coming through who do not use email and do not believe what companies say about themselves on their own websites. This is the customer of the future and you need to be active where they are active. You need to go to them as they are not going to come and find you.
6. People may go on-line to buy, but they do not go on-line to be sold too. So you have to be creative in engaging with them. 50% of content (minimum) should be to entertain.
7. Average spend on-line (and donations to charities) are increasing. There is a direct relationship between this and petrol & parking price increases.
8. Marketing (and there close collaborators the agency and PR company) are very scarred that they are losing control of the image / brand that they want to project. It’s almost as if they are nervous about a future board meeting where they are confronted with the true facts of what the customer thinks / feels / believes.
9. It makes increasingly little sense to talk about ROI for social media in isolation of other ways used to engage with the customer (such as the telephone or email) and perhaps ROI is Return on Involvement (or ROE = Return of Engagement)
10. As we no longer have ‘jobs for life’, creating a personal presence on the internet which helps define our views, expertise and value increases in importance and will replace the CV in recruitment and collaboration decisions.
So. just my take on a very interesting couple of days in ‘that London’.
I have this view of the world: marketing is focused on pixels and print and sales is focused on people. It’s a bit of a simplification but the point I am trying to make is sales is about people:people interaction and marketing is mainly people:non-people interaction.
So, when it comes to integrating social media into your business what strategy do you adopt? Over the last few years we’ve seen a significant increase in social media uptake by businesses – and for the most part they are failing. To me it seems that a lot of these businesses hand over social media to the marketing department, who then start to think in terms of ‘messages’ and ‘channels’ and see social media as just another channel to pump their messages down. But here’s the problem – most marketing departments aren’t used to the customer answering back – which is the whole point of social media. And they panic.
On the other hand sales folks are very happy to engage and converse with customers, prospect, well just about anyone in fact. So doesn’t it make more sense if the sales people are on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or whatever? But marketing get concerned about how this type of interaction may ‘dilute the brand’ or ‘not be consistent with our core values’. So in the end, the customer speaks and few are listening. And those that do listen are often worried about engaging.
Ideally get your sales team involved in social media – but not to push your product – but to grow your contacts, your influence and help people on-line with your knowledge. This will create far more of a buzz and help the business define its area of expertise and value to the market place.
Social media is best when it is used across the entire company to communicate. From stores, to dispatch, from finance to HR – social media is just another communication tool that can be used across the business.
Would you consider limiting the use of the phone, or email to just one department?