Stop Talking About “Social”!

Stop Talking About "Social"!I was talking to a prospect recently about an innovative social media program we’ve been delivering with great success for one of our clients.”That’ll never fly here,” he said, without even getting past the opening line. Why? “The VP who controls the budget is tired of hearing about ‘social’. Can you call it something else?”

I wish I could say that was the first time I’ve heard that, but fatigue with social media is definitely on the rise. It was inevitable. The bigger the trend, the bigger the backlash after it all goes mainstream. But, like the web, this isn’t some fad that will fade away–any more than web sites faded away after people got tired of the frenzy over web marketing.

We’re still early in the social media marketing trend. We’re still in the 1.0 mode of figuring out how to use and integrate the tools and the data. We haven’t even begun to internalize what social is really about, and in fact, those conversations are just getting started. It’s not about the technology–it’s not about Twitter and Pinterest and Facebook. It’s not even about social networks and forums.

In business, we’re only beginning to understand social media–the networked communications and flow of data available to consumers to inform and influence purchase decisions. Like businesses, people are now dimming in data, and how they filter that data–who they decide to listen to, what they deem relevant and credible–is largely a function of their social circles, both online and off. We no longer accept the company line; we listen to the network.

The revolution social media represents is the new reality that businesses no longer control the information that informs purchase decisions, and new data to inform consumers about every product they buy is growing exponentially. Where once consumers made decisions on function, quality and price, now decisions can be influenced by everything from the substantive to the seemingly irrelevant. Did it impact the quality of the product GoDaddy was selling when the CEO was filmed hunting big game in Africa? No. But it certainly affect sales and stock price. Consumers have more choices than ever before, and more data to inform those choices, irrespective of the quality, function and price of the product itself.

The challenge companies need to address in social media is not just how to join the conversation. The challenge is to begin to understand your market segments as customer communities, and then to understand what shared interest binds that community and informs the way it makes decisions. Once you begin to understand social media in that way, you begin to understand the need to move beyond positioning to participation. You need to understand your role, and the value you add to the community of customers you serve. That’s no fad that can be swept away by turning off the hyped up noise about everything “social”. It’s a long term trend that is reshaping the way we do business.

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