Social Business is not Dead: New charts and data reveal the real evolution of social businesses

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In recent times, I’ve noticed a rise in discussions around the “death of social business” and also an increase in alternative “fill in the blank but don’t use the word social” businesses. Some of those discussions have been hosted here recently. There’s strong merit to the discussions of course, especially those I’ve hosted (be sure to read the comments). But as an analyst tracking the evolution of social businesses and equally the cause and effect of digital transformation overall, I’m learning that the most advanced organizations see social not as a technology movement but instead one of culture and philosophy. Openness, collaboration, transparency, communication…these aren’t buzz words. Among those leading change, these words represent a way of business and it all starts with vision and the ability to see how relationships and experiences with customers and employees can improve or accomplish new and greater goals.

Along the way, I’ve also learned that pushing for social adoption because of technology misses the point of change. The true catalyst isn’t whatever the latest trend in social media is this week. That’s reactive and almost impossible to leapfrog. The truth is that change is fueled by the affect that social media, mobile, and other forms of disruptive technologies have on customer behavior. Whether it’s B2B, B2C, B2B2C, or whatever model you prefer, as long as we’re talking about connected human beings, you can bet that social and digital in general are influencing discovery, decision-making, and impressions in every moment of truth.

The evolution of social business as we know it today traces back to The Cluetrain Manifesto in the late 1990s, where its authors predicted that markets would become conversations. Here we are at the cusp of 2014, and businesses, and the strategists who lead social efforts, continue to struggle with sparking executive understanding, adoption, and leadership. The real story is about what’s happening beneath all that we see or think we see.

So what’s obstructing the evolution of social business?

Part of the problem is that social media and how it differs from traditional channels remains largely misconstrued. As a result, new opportunities, and the strategies, systems, and processes that support them, are either nascent or overlooked.

A social business is more than an organization that invests in a positive global footprint to overcome the world’s biggest problems, such as inequality and poverty. The term has developed to now also represent companies that are more open, transparent, and participatory in conversations and activity that defines markets. But the challenge is that social media strategists may actually be hampering its potential by not helping executives see the bigger picture beyond the technology.

Last month, Charlene Li and I published our latest Altimeter Group report, “The State of Social Business 2013.” In our research, we were surprised that businesses were still unsure of the role social media played enterprise-wide, beyond marketing and communications. Many, we found, were limited in scope and not universal in engagement with customers, employees, suppliers, partners, community, et al. Specifically, we learned that…

- Only half (52%) of companies say that their executives are informed, engaged, and aligned with the enterprise social strategy

- A mere 26% of organizations self-describe as being “holistic” in their social media approach, where business functions operate against an enterprise-level vision and strategy

- Just 17% of organizations self-described as being truly “strategic” in the execution of their social strategies

This month, Charlene and I are releasing the data charts from our latest report, plus additional material, to help strategists learn how to amplify or accelerate their social business strategy. The charts are available as stand-alone images on Flickr or as a complete deck via Slideshare. As always, this information is made available freely as part of Altimeter’s open research program. Please feel free to use the images or slides at work, in posts, on stage, or whichever way that helps you make a point or case.

Along with highlighting major issues (and opportunities) through this survey data, the presentation includes perspectives and inspirational quotes from executives and strategists at Sephora, Adobe, ARAMARK, Ford, Fidelity, Royal Dutch Shell, Wells Fargo among others.

We hope that you’ll find the slides in this presentation useful as resource and background material, as you continue to make your business case for social business.

[Source: Brian Solis]

The Ultimate Moment of Truth and The Art of Digital Engagement

In 2012, Google along with Jim Lecinski published a fantastic book that explored how digital customers made decisions in what Google refers to as “The Zero Moment of Truth.” The ZMOT as it’s abbreviated, helps strategists discover relevant strategies and tactics on how to show up at the right place, at the right time and with the right content in a digital ecosystem.

In a world where consumers “Google it” to begin their digital journey, ZMOT revealed that brands need to re-think the connected experience and the resulting click path. But what happens when the web sites that appear in traditional Google search results no longer suffice for someone so connected that impatience becomes a virtue? This is after all someone who begins the journey on a smart phone or tablet tapping review sites and social networks to make information come to them before conducting formal research. Some call it the lazy web. Others refer to it as the social web. In the end, it’s just how people make information come to them. Once they do, it becomes the norm.

Even though web sites technically work on smaller screens thanks to adaptive and responsive design, they’re still web sites. In the very least, they go against the very nature of how someone interacts with the screen and what it’s designed to make possible. Here, it’s less about clicks and scrolls and more about pinching and swipes. That’s not all of course. The intention of a web page is called into question, or should be, in a time of connected consumerism. Step back and think about it for a moment. The information included on web sites isn’t written for you and me, it’s written for the person approving it. When you consider context in addition to the screen in the Zero Moment of Truth, you learn that people aren’t seeking marketing copy, they’re seeking the experiences of others to help humanize information and apply it to their state of mind, needs, and aspirations. Let that sink in because I’ll wager it’s not where a majority of your investments are allocated right now.

So, the truth unfolds…

In my latest book, “What’s the Future of Business”, I introduced the Ultimate Moment of Truth, that moment where people who convert an experience into discoverable content in any one of the countless social platforms people use to stay connected these days. And in this connected economy, the Ultimate Moment of Truth, or UMOT, becomes the next person’s Zero Moment of Truth, over and over again.

In addition to web sites, landing pages and corresponding SEO and SEM strategies, businesses now must consider how to create experiences in every moment of truth that aren’t just meaningful or remarkable, but also shareable. The future of brands now lies in how UMOT meets ZMOT throughout the customer life cycle. See, without design, these experiences are left to chance. Instead, marketers must begin to architect, foster and optimize positive experiences in each moment that’s native to each screen, efficient in steps, and tied to desirable outcomes.

When Google learned of my work around UMOT, the team reached out to consider how me might work together to help marketers better connect the dots to enhance the ZMOT. Our first collaboration resulted in a whitepaper that’s free to download, “Give Them Something to Talk About: Brian Solis on the Art of Engagement.” I’ve included parts of our discussion below.

Give Them Something to Talk About

What does engagement mean for you?

Engagement is really about Actions, Reactions and Transactions; something that I refer to as A.R.T. Engagement, for me, is something that locks in an interaction or exchange. Thinking about engagement in that way inspires a different approach for content creation; you want somebody to feel something, not just see it.

If you think about engagement in this way, is it measurable?

Absolutely. You define your desired outcome and that outcome becomes what you measure. It’s the relationship between cause and effect. Unfortunately, most marketers don’t consider the outcome to be more than some low-level engagement measure — a ‘Like’, a ‘Share,’ a comment — when in fact you could introduce an emotion. If you love something, you share it. This isn’t just about impressions; this is about expressions. You want people to share it and do something and that should be designed into your engagement strategy.

Give_Them_Something_to_Talk_About__Brian_Solis_on_the_Art_of_Engagement_–_Think_Insights_–_Google

How can you enlist ‘shares’ to support a campaign objective?

No content should be designed today that isn’t inherently shareable. Take the Jeff Gordon Pepsi MAX commercial on YouTube. It comes from that same thinking that goes into Super Bowl commercials, where you stop and go, ‘Oh my god, that is the best commercial I’ve ever seen!’ For some reason marketers only get that creative once a year, but YouTube and the social web are unlocking that type of thinking. Everything you introduce to the social web should have the same caliber of creativity that goes into a Super Bowl commercial.

Is there a tendency for marketers to feel so overwhelmed by technology that they lose sight of their basic instinct for how consumers behave?

Look, I’m a consumer, you’re a consumer. When we talk about the brands we love, it’s very human and natural. But when we try to talk to people like us, we blank out and turn into ‘Marketing Man.’ We lose that human nature, that empathy. If you take a technology perspective, you are forever reacting. The minute you take a step back and say, “What’s the bigger mission?” you start to realize what you are trying to do is change behavior. This relationship between cause and effect is very human. Once you articulate that vision, technology becomes an enabler. It starts to work for you.

Consumers share brand experiences, whether the brand is listening or not. Do brands listen enough to those conversations?

Author Maya Angelou said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Take Twitter, Facebook, YouTube — what is shared is experiences. Somebody is eating a delicious dinner; that picture is published and shared. Somebody spots a product that makes them feel fantastic; it too becomes a shared experience. There are shared experiences that represent every step of the customer journey. These conversations existed before technology, but now they are searchable, retrievable and building on each other. Shared experiences, in aggregate, become the brand.

What happens when a brand’s marketing doesn’t reflect its image among consumers?

You may say: “This is our brand, this is what it represents, this is what we want you to feel, say, share.” But always ask yourself: “What is the collective experience that is published across the social web?” If you compare the two, many times there’s a disconnect between promise and real world experiences. I refer to this as the ‘experience divide.’ In many experiments I’ve found the brand promise and the experiences that are felt and shared are not even close to being aligned. That’s a problem.

How can brands close that gap?

If we spent less time ‘talking’ about our brand and brand promise and more time designing how we bring it to life, the experience divide would naturally narrow.

What can brands do when online consumers’ first impressions are being shaped by other consumers’ experiences?

These conversations — these shared experiences — they don’t self destruct. They build upon each other, creating a collective index. Search engines plug into this cloud of shared experiences and that Ultimate Moment of Truth, or UMOT for short, of shared experiences becomes the next person’s ZMOT. Experiences form impressions. Impressions become expressions as they’re shared. Expressions form new impressions. The link between UMOT and ZMOT is the future of branding and relationships.

This is a new way of thinking. As a brand you have to create the experiences you want people to have and share, and reinforce that through positive conditioning, so those are the things people find — over and over again. To get people to share more positive things, you have to first make sure they have a positive experience. This is a renaissance opportunity for brands to look back: ‘Why did we start this company? What are we trying to do?’ Because in the social web, it is those experiences that become your brand.

[Source: The Ultimate Moment of Truth and The Art of Digital Engagement - Brian Solis]

The Conversation Prism v4.0

What’s different from 3.0?

Well, version 4.0 brings about some of the most significant changes since the beginning. In this round, we moved away from the flower-like motif to simplify and focus the landscape. With all of the changes in social media, it would have been easier to expand the lens. Instead, we narrowed the view to focus on those that are on a path to mainstream understanding or acceptance.

The result was the removal of 122 services while only adding 111.

This introduces an opportunity for a series of industry or vertical-specific Prisms to be introduced so stay tuned.

ConversationPrism_2880x1800

[Source: The Conversation Prism]

Influence vs Advocacy: Which Rules The Digital Kingdom

In the world of social marketing, digital influence is akin to saying holy water. It is sacred, mysterious, and purportedly carries with it healing properties. Influencers speak and the world stops to listen. Almost as prestigious in the new world of conversational marketing is the word advocacy. Advocates are the disciples of brands. They are customers or fans and they live to join branded communities and also go out of their way to tell everyone they know why the brand is so special.

I am exaggerating, of course. What is not an exaggeration, however, is the importance marketers place on influencers and advocates without understanding the role each can play in word of mouth or engagement programs. If you were to spend any time in a conference room full of brands, agencies or social software vendors, you would quickly realize that the words influence and advocacy would be used interchangeably.

What’s the difference between influence and advocacy? The differences are quite notable but the answers aren’t often sought.

Influencers are individuals who’ve earned authority on any given topic and have built a community or series of communities around their body of ideas or work. They have the capacity to cause an effect on the character, actions or behavior of someone or something.

Advocates are champions (and/or enthusiastic customers) who align with or embody the tenets or the mission of a thing (in this case a brand) or a cause. Advocates may or may not carry influence individually. When advocates unite, the concerted group can wield influence.

On the subject of influence, Technorati recently released its 2013 Digital Influence Report. In it, I discovered some interesting stats about the various ways that brands are approaching influence.

Influencers become part of the mix

For years, I’ve studied the art and science of digital influence, especially what it is, what it isn’t, and how it works (and can work for you.) As a long time blogger, I found it fascinating that “influencers” are most active on blogs with the likes of Facebook and Twitter supporting their efforts according to Technorati.

Their efforts don’t go unnoticed. Not only are they building audiences and communities, brands are actively seeking to work with them. Technorati learned that 65% of brands participate in influencer targeting as part of its digital marketing mix.

I was equally fascinated by how brands measured the elements of “influence.” In an interesting twist of cyber fate, brands appeared to calculate influence, or at least the semblance of it, using a myriad of popularity-based metrics rather than studying impact or the capacity to cause effect or change behavior. Ironically however, Likes, followers, friends, audience size, and views ranked higher in terms of weight than those very platforms designed to measure “influence,” i.e. Klout, Peer Index, Kred and even Technorati Authority.

Is it quantity or quality? In this case, when it comes to influence, less can be more. Similar to an influence studyI conducted a few years ago with Vocus, Technorati Media found that most brands, in this case 54%, believe that individuals or groups that boast concentrated communities carry greater influence. Please repeat, influence is not popularity and popularity is not influence.

Influence is relative, however, if it can’t be attributed to cause and effect.  Technorati learned something quite profound. When it comes to decision-making, consumers turned to blogs in droves when making a purchase. Blogs were found to be the third most influential digital resource at 31% behind retail sites (56%) and brand sites (34%).

When it comes to services most used, blogs ranked in the top 5, ahead of noteworthy destinations and networks such as Twitter, news sites, Pinterest and even brand sites. YouTube and Facebook respectively ranked as the first and second most used online services.

Which online services are most trusted by consumers? Technorati’s study revealed that news sites are by far the most trusted followed by Facebook. YouTube and blogs also made the top 5.

The report overall makes it clear that brands will miss important consumer touch points if they do not employ either new media influencer and/or advocacy programs as part of the greater marketing mix.  As consumers research products to make informed decisions, published experiences and impressions in social networks and blogs become the peer-driven digital equivalent to Consumer Reports.

3 strategies for cultivating advocacy programs

To succeed here requires distinct strategies aimed at cultivating influence and advocacy programs over time.

1) Identify, learn, brief, and support influencers based on what’s important to them, not what’s just important to you. It’s important to build relationships before you need them.

2) Recognize advocates and what it is they love about the brand. Develop online and social programs that allow them to connect with other consumers where touch points and decision-making intersect.

3) Reward advocates for asking and answering questions and for sharing experiences and passions.

Genuine influence and advocacy initiatives will only help your customers discover your value in key moments of truth. How are you using advocates and influencers in your overall strategy?

[Source: AT&T Networking Exchange Blog]

What Your Business Needs to Know About Facebook’s EdgeRank

Facebook recently introduced the ability for brands to increase reach for important posts and updates, but that reach comes at a cost. The prices varies depending on how many fans you have in your community. This new feature coincided with changes to the company’s Edgerank algorithm, which is how Facebook automagically filters posts in and out of your stream. Similar to how Google’s PageRank sorts results to better match your search intention, Facebook uses Edgerank to ensure that engagement is optimized and spam is minimized.

Following these events, many marketers and business executives have claimed a sharp decrease in unpaid post reach. Naturally, accusations of greed and corruption were hurled at Facebook as marketers believed that Facebook’s sole motive for this update was to force brands into a paid position to guarantee reach.

The controversy hit new heights when billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban launched an offensive charging Facebook with a shakedown and thus threatening to move all of his community efforts to other social networks.

“FB is blowing it!” Cuban howled in a Tweet. He continued with a warning Facebook, one that he’s pursuing, “This is the first step. The Mavs are considering moving to Tumblr or the new Myspace as [sic] primary site.” He shared a telling screenshot in his Tweet of the Mavericks’s Facebook page showing a cost of $3,000 to reach one million of the team’s 2.3 million fans. If you do the math however, you’ll see the potential PPM of that equation is more than reasonable at $0.003 per person. Unfortunately, many experts missed this point.

The pile on continued though. We Are Social, a social media agency, and Socialbakers, developing of social network monitoring and tracking tools for analysis published findings that showed the average, organic post reach had dropped by 40% following the update to EdgeRank.

So, is overall organic post reach down?

Yes.

Is overall spam down as a result?

Yes.

Did Facebook purposefully change its EdgeRank algorithm to reduce reach and sell more ads?

Hardly.
If everyone reacted in similar fashion to Mark Cuban, not only would the business lose, fans lose as well. This is something I examined at length following GM’s famous pullout of its Facebook advertising budget earlier in 2012.

EdgeRank Explained

It’s important to understand how EdgeRank works before passing judgment or sparking fruitless debates. Whether you’re leading a paid, earned, or owned strategy, making informed decisions about goals and proper metrics starts with knowing the real challenges and opportunities.

In all honesty, Facebook should do a better job helping businesses understand not only EdgeRank, but how to better leverage the network as a whole in ways that are more meaningful for businesses and the community at large. But, we have to start somewhere.

In a post entitled, “News Feed, Engagement, and Promoted Posts: How They Work,” Facebook Ad Engineer Philip Zigoris aimed to bust myths while educating marketers. It tells the story of engagement and optimization:

Monitoring what types of posts are getting good responses is key, and always has been. UsePage Insights to determine what types of content – videos, posts, questions, etc. – are getting good engagement versus what types aren’t. Take a look at our Page Publishing Guide for posting best practices, and make sure to use our Page post targeting features so that you reach the audiences most likely to respond to your messages. And for posts that you see are getting a lot of responses, you can promote them to extend your reach to more news feeds.

What are the underlying EdgeRank factors that define whether or not someone sees a post in the news feed?

1) Facebook looks at whether or not you’ve previously interacted with an author’s posts or whether or not your friends are engaging around those posts.

2) If content is or isn’t engaged by your social graph and the network at large affects what you see and what you don’t see.

3) EdgeRank also examines whether or not your have interacted with similar types of posts in the past, i.e. photos, videos, polls, etc.

4) If content or page hosts have received complaints by other users, chances are that you will not see it.

Social Media Optimization is the New SEO

Engagement is the key to amplifying reach.

The debate unfortunately masks a much more important and productive discussion. Businesses confuse Facebook as a utility or service that’s there to help broadcast messages much in the same way businesses pay wire services to distribute press releases or brands buy advertisements on TV or radio to reach as many people as possible. Facebook is a social network to help people communicate, share, and discover. With over one billion people calling Facebook one of their digital homes, a social economy is a natural byproduct. Therefore, businesses must learn that relationships are earned and earned again and communities are built upon a foundation of mutual value, entertainment, and empowerment.

A like isn’t an opt in or subscription for marketing spam. It is an expression not a representation of a captive audience. Regardless of your community size, people are not idly waiting for your marketing messages. The reality is that only a small fraction of your overall community will see your posts. People may have Like’d you, but they’re also following friends, family, other brands and important organizations and events. With everyone publishing content, you’re competing for attention in real-time. Instead, consider competing for attention with the right content at the right-time.

Approach EdgeRank with a philosophy of contributing relevance to merit resonance. You can increase reach by optimizing posts, whether paid or organic, through social media optimization (SMO). If engagement drives reach, then design content to not just be consumable, but also shareable. Likes, comments, shares, tags, et al, spark a social effect and extend the life and volume of your updates. Simply publishing or paying for each without considering shareability or SMO is done so in vain.

This is true for any social network.

Whether you pay to play or you invest in organic engagement, the intention behind each strategy must be the same. Be relevant. Make it count. By striving for relevance, you will increase probability for resonance, which will over time contribute to your EdgeRank significance (R-R-S).

[Source: Brian Solis]