Social Media is for People (Not Just Customers)

All articles | Social Media
Published Feb 15, 2013 | Written by Eric Swain
We’ve heard it before:  
  • Don’t focus on the tools in social media

  • The social web is about people connecting

Because of their size it is easy to focus on platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, when thinking about the importance of social media. But the real power is in the behaviour of people using those platforms to create and participate in communities around common interests. The value of social media is in people, relationships, and the meaningful actions between them.  

As Clay Shirky said,  

“These tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.”  

It is only after they become ubiquitous and taken for granted, once we stop noticing their shiny newness, that we begin to really do interesting things with social platforms.  

So, it’s about “communities.” As I said, most of us have heard this by now. However, I want to shift the focus a little: communities are made up of “people” not simply “customers”. Sounds obvious but many of us are guilty of thinking only in terms of communities of customers and that misses the bigger picture.  

Organisations need to realise that social media communities don’t recognise the boundaries between customers and the organisation; those communities are made up of employees, suppliers, shareholders, partners, and competitors as well as customers AND may overlap with other communities that may or may not be related to your company or its marketplace domain in any meaningful way. Seeking out and then treating these communities as made up solely of customers misses the richer opportunities emerging in the social web era.

This understanding, amongst others, is driving the move by savvy organisations towards new ways of operating. These new ways recognise that the rise of social technologies and the social web has the opportunity to radically change how we do business. Some are calling this area “Social Business” to differentiate it from Social Media. There have been a number of attempts to define social business but the one I like the best is from Sidera Works, a social business consultancy: 

“Social Business is the creation of an organisation that is optimised to benefit its entire ecosystem (customers, employees, owners, and partners) by embedding collaboration, information sharing, and active engagement into its operations and culture. The result is a more responsive, adaptable, effective, and ultimately more successful company.”  - SideraWorks  

I’ve heard some industry experts suggest that organisations that fail to embrace a social business approach will be out of business within 10 years. That may be a little extreme but it will certainly be difficult to survive, let alone thrive, while ignoring the realities of the social era.  

So what does this mean? What do we need to do? Here's a possible overview.

Steps to take:

  1. Deal with the internal first – establish a policy, deploy internal social platform/network, define communication strategy across departments and hierarchies. In essence, create infrastructure in preparation for organisational redesign.

  2. Next, address the external – while you are learning to be social internally, you can (re)plan your public facing efforts, defining your engagement strategy across multiple departments. Create content plans, enhance social properties, and identify influencers and communities.

  3. Harmonise – You will have already gone some way to connect internal and external efforts in previous steps but now they come together fully, with processes and tools in place to manage multiple social platforms and community involvement. At this stage stakeholders (suppliers, partners, employees, customers) are being involved increasingly in communications and programmes.

  4. Grow – Your previous efforts have bedded in and are expanding. “Social” is integrated into everything you do; intelligence from cross-stakeholder communications and collaboration is delivering improved process efficiencies, new product ideas, better marketing messages, supply chain streamlining, etc.

McKinsey estimates that organisations which adopt social communication and collaboration technologies could raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 - 25%. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, effort, cooperation, will and patience. But the rewards could be significant.

Image by: April Kyle


Published by Eric Swain February 15, 2013
Eric Swain