Rethinking Business in the Age of the Social Consumer: Social IRL Insights

I had the opportunity to attend a Social:IRL event recently in Kansas City put on by our friend Ben Smith.  The conference "Rethinking Business in the Age of the Social Consumer" has definitely been a hot topic lately. The bottom line the main speaker, Valeria Maltoni, made was this: our business objectives overall have not changed. Instead of letting social media intimidate you, find a way to integrate social to achieve these goals.

There were a few themes I saw throughout the conference that resonated with me. The main topics were relevant content, brand integrity, and influence.  And an amazing fact that was shared to prove how important social has become (as if we didn't already know) Coca-Cola's budget for social media 5 years ago was 3% of their marketing budget. Today it's 20%!

Relevant Content

One of the things Valeria opened with was "TGiF". Everyone puts so much emphasis on social channels like Twitter, Google+, and Facebook being perfect. But people often miss the most important letter there. I is for information and what you are actually sharing. A lot of people like to say that your content needs to be relevant. Relevance can depend on a variety of factors including your audience, industry, etc. Valeria was able to boil it down to some points that can work for any company.

- Give the customer the kind of content they need, where they will want to talk about it with their friends.

- Make sure you give people all the information they need to make decisions.

- Give your customer enough information to make them feel like they were the one with ideas and were influential.

To put it into context, Valeria quoted an old Chinese proverb. "Tell me and I'll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I'll understand."  Funny how an ancient Chinese proverb is still relevant in 2012.

Brand Integrity

Brand integrity is not a new concept. But getting your brand's integrity to come across in social media requires a bit more innovation. Consumers are fed up with brands pushing messages down to them. They want to be heard and feel like there is actually a human behind the brand.  It"™s important for brands to figure out their point of view and personality and let that come across in their social voice, something Jake from Garmin has done a great job with by cultivating a personality that people have responded well to.

As I mentioned earlier, customers don't just want a more personal brand presence, but also want to be heard. An important distinction was made between listening and monitoring. Monitoring is a passive act. You want to make sure you're listening to what customers are saying and actually engaging with them.

 Valeria also touched on best business practices for working in social media:

- The more you close the gap between saying you do something, and being sincere and actually doing it, the more you meet expectations.

- The post-sale conversation is still important, even on social. Make it a complete experience for your customer.

- Commerce and execution are all about relationships, especially online.

Influence

You don't have to look hard to see how important influence is in social media. We have measures like Klout and Kred, or go to any conference and it will at least be the title of one panel. There are so many factors that can be considered when thinking about how to define an influencer at your company.

Larry Levy from Appinions gave one of the most simple, and spot-on definitions I"™ve heard to date. If the sheer gravity of what a person says, thinks, or feels effects you enough to cause you to take some kind of action, they are an influencer.

Larry also spent some time talking about the "tension in the room" between marketing and PR organizations when it comes to social media. Traditionally, marketing has been great at broadcasting, but inept at listening (his words, not mine!). Marketers knew everything about paid media. But PR professionals are experts on earned media. They know all about how to build relationships and use them to get media coverage. If you can take the skills of the PR person who knows relationships and audience, and marry them with marketer's skills of broadcasting, that is the future.

So what do you think? What other areas in the business world can we rethink and integrate into our social media efforts?

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