“Social Media” and Business, part 1

Earlier this week, I enjoyed a robust Twitter conversation with a few folks (thanks, @lizscherer, @kellyferrara, @lindabeth!) on how “social media” fits into the pre-existing business silos that we all know and love (Marketing, PR, Sales, Customer Service, etc.)

Instead of putting out 140-character fragments of thought, it might be more valuable to sketch out some big-picture ideas about how this all, perhaps, fits together, and continue the discussion in the comments.

First, I’ll freely admit that I don’t much care for the term “Social Media.” I think it’s limiting. I tend to prefer either Community Networking (more on the inter-personal level), or Networked Communications (more on the business level). Take your pick; we’re talking about person-to-person or organization<–>person communications and connections mediated through on-line tools.

Let’s think about business. I think a lot of these legacy silos are not particularly helpful, so let’s imagine for a moment that they are swept off the table and everything is encompassed under one umbrella term: Communications. PR, Marketing, Social Media, etc. – it’s all about communicating to the world at large (people unaware of the company; prospective customers; imminent buyers; existing users; other stakeholders). These communications take various forms, including direct advertising, word of mouth (on- or off-line), press, or what have you, but it’s all communications, and it should all be strategically tied together.

For a business, then, let’s take this practice of communication and view it through the prism of the main goal: increased uptake of offerings and therefore, increased revenue. Business growth. From the perspective of the business, and using rather sterile terms, there are three main stages of this: Customer Awareness, Customer Acquisition, and Customer Retention.

What is the process – the pattern – that occurs to reach this goal of business growth, and how does the discipline of Communications fit? Here’s a suggested way to view it:

Awareness Communications – strategies and tactics that elevate some level of understanding of the company’s existence, offerings, and value. An analogy: this is walking into a party with an attractive, attention-getting outfit.

Qualification Communications – think pre-sales marketing here. Expressing, at some level, what the nature and benefits of the offering are. But this need not be one-way anymore – through networked communications, businesses can much more readily understand the needs and desires of potential customers. Ongoing analogy: chatting up at the party and gauging if there is interest in more than just a polite chat.

Commitment Communications – assuming that the potential customer is seeing genuine value, now the parties discuss how they might get together to meet mutual goals. This is a deeper dive into needs and offerings, and gaining a comfortable feel for overall compatibility. Ongoing analogy: entering into a committed dating relationship.

Satisfaction Communications – the company realizes that its best hope of gaining new customers is by keeping current customers not only pacified, but satisfied to the point of being advocates. Time and two-way communications are invested to build the relationship and improve the offerings. Ongoing analogy: the diligent care and feeding of a marriage relationship.

This is the typical linear process of how business is obtained and grown, and if we range our Communications options and methods along these lines, we can see how a strategic approach to the various legacy disciplines (PR, Marketing, Advertising, etc.) can now be achieved. Each stage of the continuum requires different types/mixes of communication, with differing levels of two-way exchange. “Social Media” plays a role throughout, not as a separate discipline, but as an integral part of two-way communication that should mark an entire process.

When you look at this continuum, ask yourself: does your business have a consistent message that is woven throughout the entire communications landscape? It should.

Oh, and for an interesting twist, swap out the word “Customer” for “Employee”. Sorta makes sense on the recruitment/retention side of things, doesn’t it?

Kind of a mind dump here and lots of loose ends. What do you think? Speak your mind in the comments!

:: So far, we’re attempting to define the landscape of business communications – but in a follow-up post, I want to take something implied here and make it more explicit. Successful business will increasingly be marked, not by a transactional view (I am using communications to persuade you to buy my product so I can make money and you can, maybe, gain a benefit), but by a more holistic relational view. That is, customers and companies will increasingly seek out ways to determine if they are right for each other, something networked communications truly helps enable. My consulting business is built on a “matchmaking” network model and I’ll share a few thoughts on why I think there is tremendous value in this approach…

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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

22 Responses to “Social Media” and Business, part 1

  1. Liz says:

    Great post Steve! i like the fact that you’ve redefined that landscape so that SM becomes the leveraging tool and not the ultimate goal. When we were tweeting about this the other day, I didn’t find the multifaceted/multidirectional foundation that I see here now.

  2. Mike Arauz says:

    Great post. I’m certainly a big proponent of using digital social tools across all communications disciplines. And this is a good foundation for doing that.

    Commitment Comms seems a little skewed towards services. How does it apply to products, especially consumer packaged goods? I think that when it comes to this negotiation phase between brand and consumer that consumer motivations operate on a fluid spectrum from logical to emotional. And with complex services, your far over on the logical end; but, for certain products you skew more towards the emotional end.

    So, I’m wondering how your definition of commitment comms could be broadened slightly to include that range?

  3. Jason Falls says:

    Dude. If we could only sweep all the silos off and start with your model … the world would be a better place.

    Excellent thoughts. I think eventually we’ll see that social media strategies will blend into traditional disciplines. You know good and well I believe social media to be an online extension of public relations with a healthy blending of customer service mixed in. One day, maybe the world will see it our way … or mine … or at least better.

    Great stuff.

  4. Alan Wolk says:

    Social media (or Community Networking) should never be an end in and of itself – there’s not much value in it (for corporation) if it’s not tacked to actual business goals. And that’s not all that difficult to do either.

    To Mike Arauz’s point: Finding an online purpose for CPGs, especially FCPGs (Familiar Consumer Packaged Goods) has always been a challenge. Why does Cheerios need a website? Ditto for their social media effort – I know what they are, why I might want to eat them, etc. so it makes the challenge much harder.

  5. againmobile says:

    Great post, Steve — clearly stated. As discussed, the lines between marketing and PR grow blurrier through social media (or networked communications), and customer service gets blended in as well. We do need to rethink these old silos and apply a more holistic approach to communications in businesses where this is appropriate. In some cases, the old model may work best, but in businesses where social media is an appropriate channel, a “communications team,” speaking in the language that’s right for the brand, may be a far more successful strategy. The campaign becomes a conversation, and the communicators need to be able to address where in the relationship each participant is, and how best to persuade them to continue the pairing.

    I like it.

  6. Linda Russell says:

    Great post, Steve, as I expected from the Twitter exchange. I agree wholeheartedly with the focus on *communications* as a holistic approach instead of divided functions. The term communication hits instantly on the two-way approach to me, whereas many of the other terms have a one-way feel. Also, thank you for making the point both on Twitter and in this post about swapping “customer” with “employee.” As someone who works in marketing/communications with both external and internal communications responsibilities, it’s great to see discussion of the similarities and what can be learned by thinking about them interchangeably.

    ~ @lindabeth

  7. A key question for companies here is how much time and energy will they want to spend “chatting” to qualify, and then “discussing how they can get together” – which essentially is a form of negotiation.

    Then it becomes one on one, often a time waster.

    Companies are going to have to learn not just to qualify, but how to bridge the negotiation stage relatively quickly. Brand managers will want this, especially in a sales-driven/numbers demand recession economy.

    To me, that’s often the missing piece. Marketing managers may enter this scenario almost like they’re the stereotypical car salesman. The idea is to engage to make the sale as opposed to satisfy a customer’s needs.

    Getting companies to accept this is a challenge.

  8. @Mike @Alan – very good point. It’s going to take some creativity for companies in CPG to communicate in such a way as to rise above the commodity aspect of the product, and show/add/find value at a higher level with customers.
    @Jason @Aimee – there’s no doubt that it will all merge. I just think it doesn’t make sense to try to pigeon-hole SM into one or the other existing disciplines (is it PR? is it Marketing? – um, yes), since they’re all part of a greater whole.
    @Linda – the aspect of our Twitter conversation that touched on one-way vs. two-way language was most helpful in crystallizing all this.
    @Liz – the back and forth was very valuable – hopefully we’ll continue to sharpen each others’ thinking
    @Jonathan – stay tuned for part 2!

  9. Deirdre says:

    Steve, great thinking! Really enjoyed your post. I agree completely that communication is the umbrella and businesses have to rethink their silos to create engaging conversations and meaningful interactions that result in new relationships or growing existing ones. I believe that communication touches every department in the company (from marcom, PR, customer service, sales, R&D, product development). Good networked communications results in the flow of valuable information (feedback) into the company, which feeds the cycle and produces better products and services.

    I like the breakdown of the silos as they pinpoint the type of communication and the commitment of information/sharing that leads to the end goal, which is the marriage. I do however, think there needs to be some decisions as to how the information is funneled back into the company through a central point and then filtered through to the departments (via a community or social media manager). If you get the silos right, and you have the feedback mechanism in place then you will find the true benefit of networked communications!

  10. Shannon Paul says:

    Steve, you and I are in definite agreement. I tend to think that a lot of what we call “social media” is really just word-of-mouth. The technology simply greases the skids to enable what Gary Vaynerchuk calls “word-of-mouth on steroids”. I love that you suggest changing “customers” to “employees”, too — what a concept! We may have to thank technology for the paradigm shift, but more technology will not help us navigate the changes to culture and philosophy that the new paradigm demands. Becoming better humans in our communications and business practices is definitely the key. Thanks for such well-honed thoughts around this. :-)

  11. Jane Chin says:

    I like the call to swap “customer” for “employee” but then I think about how our companies are treating our employees.

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  13. Tom Martin says:

    Steve

    Boy you’ve bitten off a mouthful with this topic. So much to cover – you could frame an entire series of posts on this.

    First, agree, hate the term Social Media. Prefer Conversational Marketing myself as that is what I think we really do. Monitor, participate in and if possible stimulate conversations.

    And agree with @JasonFalls – I’d love to blow up all these silos in our agency and just have three departments. Strategy, Content, and Communications. Strategy folks, the people who create things and the folks that plan and execute the communication of the content. But even in that model, still not sure where I’d see SM fitting as it crosses content/communication.

    I think I like your thoughts re: transactional versus relational the most. To me that is the game changer. When you stop viewing the consumer in a transaction based mindset (getting them to spend more or more often) and instead think of them in a relational context. How can I make my brand more valuable to them, how can I get them to extol the virtues of my brand to their friends– in short, thinking of consumers at ambassadors versus customers. In that world, SM flows through all of your “stages” but plays a different role in each stage.

    Kind of a train of thought comment but hope it helps stimulate your thought in some manner.

    @TomMartin

  14. Steve,

    I like your thinking around this topic, and am similarly aligned on many of the points you made. Particularly around the terminology as I think semantics are where most people get hung up in trying to compartmentalize the concept into a singular department or function.

    Social media is just a term of engagement. Whether it be with customers, co-workers, employees et al, it is merely a set of tools for facilitating interaction. So, the decision — and business use — should be centered around, not which department (or silo) should be managing those tools, but which tools are appropriate for reaching objectives cross-functionally.

    The fact of the matter is that social media touches ALL areas of your business from strategy through customer service — even internal sharing/collaboration and human resources. Its utilization may be different based upon end goals, but trying to retrofit it into any one discipline is in direct opposition of the power and agility of the technology in achieving multiple, customer-relevant objectives [via multiple, customer-relevant touch points].

    In other words, set an objective, select the right tools (which is tantamount to your “matchmaking” stance), and implement them accordingly. For customer support, that could be a two-way communications presence on a social network. . . for human resources, it could be engaging prospective candidates in a job forum. . . for corporate, it could be an interactive intranet to communicate with employees; but the bottom line is that these are vehicles for transforming transactions into meaningful experiences.

    So rather than getting hung up on the terminology or technology, focus on the human on the other side of that interaction and deliver on their wants and needs (fluidity) vs. the roles and responsibilities of your organizational structure (rigidity).

  15. Yeah. What @Tom and @Gennefer said… :>}

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