Holistic Common Sense and Social Networking

I enjoyed reading my friend Amber Naslund‘s post recently entitled The Taboo (but critical) Community Skill. Essentially, what Amber says is that we should not neglect the importance of selling skills – after all, all of this community engagement needs to lead us to some kind of business outcome.

As Amber put it:

When we talk about community or social media people in business roles, we talk about a lot of things.

Their ability to communicate, to interact. To be helpful. To be a diplomat and a conversationalist and a steward of the brand. But because it’s so often a taboo subject in social media, we miss talking about a pivotal skill that I think community professionals need to have. Sales skills.

Now I happen to agree with Amber. We cannot be fastidious about the reality that we are promoting, selling, seeking to grow business. I think we need to look at social media, and those who are tasked with putting it to use, under the very holistic umbrella of Business Growth. In fact, just swap out “social media” and put about anything in its place. The very broad category of Communications. A sub-category, On-line Communications. And a sub-category of that, Social Networking. How do each of these functions contribute to the things that contribute to the “Big Thing” – business growth?

Instead of overly simplistic questions like, “What’s the ROI of Social Media?“, business people should move backward from the “Big Thing” – business growth (more sales, new customer acquisition, better efficiency, great hires, etc.), and then look back to those elements that contribute to it – see the bullet points in blue above.

Now, in order to accomplish those tasks, what long-term strategies need to be in place? You can swap out Communications with IT or Management or various other disciplines – all of it should be geared toward business growth.

Now, think about social networking as part of the larger bucket of Communications. Don’t get narrowly focused in on the ROI of Social Media. Instead, use Holistic Common Sense. Will involvement in these communication approaches help create awareness, build a fan base, build a pipeline of prospective customers, sell your offering, serve customers, position you as a thought leader, influence a market, and provide marketing intelligence?

If social media (or anything else – fill in the blank) will significantly help accomplish these goals, leading to business growth, then come up with a good plan and make the commitment to employ a workable strategy. If not, then don’t.

You may be able to calculate some ROI on specific tactics and approaches over time. But look, first and foremost, at what will lead to business growth. That’s your ultimate goal – right?

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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.

17 Responses to Holistic Common Sense and Social Networking

  1. Tom Martin says:

    Steve,

    Couldn’t agree more. SocMe is a part of a strategy not a strategy in and of itself. And Amber is right. If you’re being paid to curate a community, the business goal is to drive more business out of that community. And frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with that as long as the community manager is ensuring the community is getting value from their participation, and that value is equal to or greater than the value the company/brand is receiving from the community then everyone wins.

    It’s when the unwitting community manager or company attempts to shift that balance in their favor that you begin to have problems.

    Good stuff man.
    @TomMartin

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  3. Jesse Luna says:

    Hi Steve,
    Glad to see a continuation of the discussion from Amber’s blog. My point is that once you put “ROI” on the community manager’s job description, the goals of newly forged relationships start to shift. Job performance will be measured in dollars profit only, and not on the service provided to existing or potential customers. This will happen more and more as resources shift to social networking away from traditional online methods.

    On these two posts, I think about Tony Hsieh from Zappos and his question, “What’s the ROI on a hug?” It sounds like a strange question but he does not have any ROI measures tied to Twitter activities. How can he do that? I think it’s all about focusing on service.

  4. Jason Falls says:

    Don’t mean to rock the boat, but isn’t this a chicken-egg argument? Business growth happens with increased sales or investment. It takes money to grow. If you don’t have it, growth stalls. If your goal is to grow your business, you have to make money to do that. If your goal is to make money, you can’t do that optimally unless you grow your business (as opposed to just selling crap with no mind on the long term).

    The literary positioning is nice food for thought, but it sounds like the same argument to me. Thoughts?

    • Beth Harte says:

      Jason, try explaining your argument to the thousands of companies out there today whacking sales and marketing professionals… I’d be curious to see what happens. ;-)

      Beth Harte
      Community Manager, MarketingProfs
      @bethharte

  5. Tom Martin says:

    Jesse

    Agree with you IF the definition of ROI is short-term. Let’s say ROI from Twitter this month, quarter or even this year. But if a company looks at ROI from a longer term — say over multiple years and understands that it takes time to nurture relationships, listen to members of the community and then properly determine which ones are and are not appropriate persons to try and “sell” — you can use ROI as a metric and not pollute the pond.

    Jason — not sure it is chicken and egg. Given Amber’s POV which I agree with, community must come first otherwise, you’re just “that guy.” I think (and I might be wrong here) that both Amber and Steve are saying that while Community must come first, something has to follow it which is where a number of folks seem to get their feathers ruffled. But again, I may be misstating.
    @TomMartin

  6. Whitney says:

    You need to identify Who you need to be talking to and about What in order to generate additional community members, which can be seen as “qualified leads” you can then turn into customers. These are people opting into your messages already, and once they become customers, are the ones likely to become your evangelists as well, spreading the word if you meet their expectations as customers.

    To convert community into customers means having the right product or service at the right time, at a competitive price. This means positioning yourself to be there when you’re needed- ie. marketing ketchup and mustard near hotdogs, for a ridiculously simple example. This can be the tricky part, but the fun of social media in strategy is constantly redefining and tweeking where those leverage points are located.

  7. Beth Harte says:

    Morning Steve,

    As a community manager I don’t equate my position to sales, per se. Rather I liken it to business development (which, yeah, I know, people will say is ‘sales’). To me sales is the action of ‘closing the deal’ by which one is incented and rewarded.

    I don’t know too many sales people who are involved with marketing communications, awareness, building a pipeline, nurturing brand enthusiasts, building a pipeline, etc., etc. because there isn’t any incentive or reward (other than a weekly paycheck, knowing you did a good job or helped a customer, partner, etc.). Marketing typically does that for the sales team. Perhaps that’s why marketing and sales never seem to play nicely? There’s always that inherent struggle for credit and reward.

    Someone one told me you never tell a sales person ‘there’s a new lead’ because that implies they don’t know their territory and makes them look bad. How’s that for an archaic statement?

    In today’s world, I would think it would be virtually impossible for a sales person to have a handle on everyone in their territory. So, isn’t it about time we break down those silos and allow things like marketing, community management, communications, social networking, etc. help move us all closer to business growth?

    Great post Steve!

    Beth Harte
    Community Manager, MarketingProfs
    @bethharte

    P.S. I love what Tom said here “…as the community manager is ensuring the community is getting value from their participation, and that value is equal to or greater than the value the company/brand is receiving from the community then everyone wins.”

    He’s such a smartie! ;-)

  8. I think my wording in the post could lead to a bit of confusion, but I’ll blame it on old age. Here’s my train of thought:

    – We’re not doing any of this stuff just for fun. The big end point is: we’re looking to grow the business (includes increased sales in most cases)
    – We need to identify those activities which will grow the business (including selling)
    – We have to evaluate how/if each initiative or method will impact those activities positively or negatively (might include social media, or fill-in-the-blank-whatever-else)
    – If something looks like it will help increase sales, give better customer service, etc., then we should venture forth – not because we can precisely attach a short-term ROI to it directly, but because it’s a growth driver.

    In other words, use common sense and big picture thinking. If it’s going to tend to grow the business (including positively impacting sales over the long haul), then it’s likely worth doing, even if you cannot demonstrate precise ROI in advance.

    Make sense?

    • Great post, Steve. It all made sense to me, but this explanation makes it even more clear. Not forget that EVERY person in EVERY company is in sales in some way or another regardless of what your business is. If you have convince anyone to do something, you’re selling. You may not like the word, but sorry, you’re a “sales guy.”

      In the end, we can talk about social media and communities and how it makes sense to communicate using these channels, but if you can’t sell more product, you can’t justify doing it. You may not sell more now (as it may be a long-term investment), but at some point (soon) you need to sell more than you do today. If not, you are wasting your company’s money just as if you lit it on fire.

      True, there may not be a DIRECT connection to sales (e.g., this tweet got us 2 more customers) in some cases. Your objective might be to improve the company’s reputation. Okay. Fine. Why though? Answer: to sell more product. Is your objective to better understand your customers? Great. Why? Answer to sell more product.

      Social media is still just another channel that you can use to reach your business objectives. We got along just fine without it and sold a lot of stuff. Perhaps we can sell more, in more effective ways by ADDING social media to what we do (i.e., not replacing what we normally do), but that remains to be seen. There’s a reason why social media always seems to get cut when budgets do. It’s because some people aren’t talking about it as a way to sell more product. To the exec who is responsible to the board (and then shareholders), it’s an easy choice when it comes time to trim. If you talk about social media differently, do you get a different result?

      How do you do that? Sell it.

  9. Yes, these comments make sense, and possibly show how I’ve been doing it wrong, however, as my Linked In profile will attest, I’m an above the line guy in a below the line world, therefore, as a freelancer, how, or better, where do I start to grow my brand? My theory so far has been to get my name out there, and create awareness for what I do, however, that hasn’t been enough. I still don’t really have the type of network that will fully support me and my vision.

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  12. Melva says:

    I am a small business owner, and I have been trying to decide if social media work is worth my time. Amber’s article and this one have helped me decide just how important it is to my business growth . But I need a plan, because it is very time consuming. I plan to follow this post and this blog. I will be looking for more about this subject.

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