Social media has changed the way we do almost everything.  We make buying decisions, find jobs, play games, listen to music and learn socially.   But for business it’s clearly been a more challenging shift.  Engaging in social media requires a fundamental change to the way businesses function and think. No wonder so many are slow to embrace social media and devote budgets to it.

The challenge is that most businesses are stuck in traditional thinking and marketing that doesn’t translate well to a social atmosphere, on- or off-line. While many people are advocating the evolution of businesses to becoming, “social businesses,” few people are outlining specific changes that will help them.

Here are some ways traditional business need to evolve to become social:

1. The concept of an audience is outdated.

People are not out there with their hands in their laps listening intently as your company gives a speech, issues a press release or announces the new service you are excited about. They won’t wait for the 15-minute question and answer period at the end of that speech. They are commenting on your Facebook post on Saturday and looking for your answer to their tweet on Monday night. You may be able to start a conversation, but like real life conversations, you can’t be sure where it will end up.  Your only hope is to develop a community and then behave in a way that respects the members.  You’re going to live or die by that community.

2. Size (alone) does not matter.

Touting audience numbers is a holdover from the days when all businesses had to evaluate their advertising expenditures were magazine readership and Neilson T.V. viewership. The number of visitors, subscribers, likes and followers is not the most important fact.  Anyone can get 15,000 Twitter followers.  That’s why you see a Twitter handle with 300 followers that has a higher Klout score than one with twenty times that number.  Your hundred thousand Facebook “likes” is irrelevant if no one comments or clicks on your links because your posts won’t be shown in anyone’s feeds.  Even a million visitors isn’t really a big number if your bounce rate is 95%. Engagement is measurable and it’s far more important than the top line number.  The difference between the top line number and engagement is the essence of what it means to be social.

3. Empathy and caring trump strategy.

Strategy conjures up images of battle — you against the consumer. In the evolved, human form of marketing that is social media, empathy should inform the decisions you make. If you can empathize with the people you want to reach; if you can sense what they need, because you care about them, you’ll be better off than if you set out with the idea of making moves to force them into a position. How can you do that? They are talking to you and you are talking to them every day. You measure the results of the content you offer.  You listen. The studied, carefully crafted approach may have worked 15 years ago but it is devoid the feeling that is part of social interactions.

4. You can’t get people’s attention with marketing messages.

Marketing messages fall on deaf ears. There’s just too much noise out there.  No matter how nicely the message is wrapped up in a bow and placed on a blog or Facebook page, a marketing message is still a pitch, and people have become immune to the pitch.  We earn the right to market in the context of a relationship that has been built over time.  The most effective marketing doesn’t come from your business anyway.  The most effective marketing happens when influential people choose to share your story. This concept may be well known but judging by the actual behavior of brands, it may be the last of the dinosaur ideas to become extinct.

5. Writing is more important than copywriting.

The goal of copywriting is to convince someone to take an action. Copywriting is a holdover from the days of broadcast style marketing. It aims to manipulate and drive people to act. Writing brings people into your world, tells your story, and engages them. Then they decide to act. Copywriters, please don’t take offense. Good copywriters are good writers. Even if you only have six words at your disposal, you should be writing. Hemingway famously told a story in six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” That’s not copywriting.

6. It’s personal.

Some individuals at your organization will need to come out from behind the corporate curtain and speak from the heart. People connect with people.  People buy from people.  Who at your company is going to get comfortable with that?

7. Speed matters. A lot.

Big corporations tend to move slowly.  There are committees and meetings and chains of command. The legal department may want to get involved.  This process only offers the illusion of control and is the kiss of death in social media.  Solve this by creating social media guidelines and policies and carefully hiring and training customer facing employees.  There is no time for bureacracy in social media.

8. Results require patience.

So, they may ask, where’s the bottom line here? If your company is used to measuring the results of a campaign, they may have to shift their thinking.  Campaign thinking is antithetical to social media.  You may have a campaign to bring more people to your Facebook page but it’s what happens with them over time that matters.  Campaign thinking is short sighted. Social media is about creating relationships.  Relationships and trust take time. You may have to act quickly on social media, but look to the longer timline to measure results.

9. Influence is the new power.

The old media had centralized power.  They had the power to say, “No,” to your company’s article or press release. They had the power that came from being “it” for information. The new media has influence.  A  single mom blogger may only have 1,000 readers a month, but those readers check in every day, and they care deeply about the person blogging and what she thinks.  When that little blogger expresses love for your product or concern about your product’s ingredients, she might be able to change the behavior of a large portion of her readers. Multiply that times thousands of mom bloggers –some with scores of thousands of readers.  Of all the opportunities for brands to engage in social media, connecting with bloggers and building content-rich blogs to be the least universally adopted.

In this scene from Mad Men, replace the word “television” with “social media.”  When Harry, a media buyer at the agency, tentatively proposes that there should be a department devoted to this up-and-coming new media form called television, Roger Cooper anoints him head of this new department of one. That seems to be where some companies are right now with social media. It’s hard to blame them. Who really wants to step whole-heartedly into something that will require them to change the entire way they do business?

Related Articles:

The Twenty One Rules of Engagement (Brian Solis)

Social Media Can Change The Corporate Culture (Mitch Joel, Six Pixels)

The 3 Teams You Need To Organize and Scale Social Media  (Brass Tack Thinking)


 

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About Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.waxcom.com Michael Sherman

    Great Post!  Completely True!  

  • http://www.sayitinshirts.com jbledsoejr

    Great post.  I love your last point.  The ability for almost anyone to become highly influential has leveled the playing field and has resulted in somewhat of a power shift.  Thanks for this post!

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      The fact is that a small business may have an advantage over a large business because large businesses are entrenched in their ways of doing things and small businesses can be nimble and flexible. As you say, that levels the playing field. Thanks for your comment.

  • http://twitter.com/socialamateur Melissa Reyes

    Fantastic post. I was just having a conversation this morning with a group of marketers about many of the points you mentioned. For those who “get it,” it is often a battle to convince those who don’t. Your article explains the new media philosophy simply, and in terms that even non-marketers can understand and relate to. I will be passing it on to many. Thank you!

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thank you Melissa. The reason I wrote this is that I was trying to explain these concepts to people I work with and was having trouble verbalizing them.  Thanks for passing it on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MorganBarnhart Morgan Barnhart

    Yes to the power of 9! Ilana, you really hit the nail on the head with this post. It’s like you took the words right outta my head and put them in this article. :)

    Now…I propose we all print this out and send it out to all our clients! :D

    Cheers for the awesome post!

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thank you Morgan! I’m glad it was helpful.

  • http://twitter.com/brittanybotti Brittany Botti

    So many great points Ilana, thank you for sharing. Social media rewards the businesses who are open, feeling, genuine, and have a heart. 

  • http://blog.adminitrack.com/ Adminitrack

    Another fabulous post!  Every business needs to read this, especially if they are engaging in any type of social media!

  • http://twitter.com/neicolec Neicole Crepeau

    One of the things I think is most interesting about your post, Ilana, is the suggestion that our language should change. I just a lot of the terms you mention such as audience and strategy. You make me want to rethink the language I’m using. Thanks!

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Neicole, it is amazing how the words you use influence the way you think. I’m glad you articulated the point that this is partly a language issue.  The hard part for me is communicating concepts like empathy and caring to business people.  That’s a shift that may take time.  Thanks for commenting.

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  • http://www.smsproducts.com SMS Products

    I have read about a formula for social networking posts for businesses
    and wanted an expert opinion on it. Product or service + benefit + call
    to action = Higher click throughs.  Would you consider this valid?

  • http://www.shirleywilson.com Shirley Wilson

    I agree, all businesses should read this. My favorite point you make: “Social media is about creating relationships.  Relationships and trust take time. You may have to act quickly on social media, but look to the longer timline to measure results.” So true but so many businesses are looking for the quick fix, magic pill and quick result which is the wrong approach with social media. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Shirley, it is a gift when a ceo understands the fact that relationships take time and doesn’t look for an immediate reward.  I’ve been fortunate in working for one that gets it and over a long period of time we have been able to build our own media that has served us well. Thanks for commenting.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10618874 Chase Sherman

    Great post, Ilana.  I especially appreciate you illustrating the point of numbers not being the sole factor in someone’s capacity to influence a large group of people.  As you framed the example of mom-bloggers I realized that the need to find the ‘right’ audience over any audience is what’s most important.  Then when you have the trust of that audience, they may have the power to help you spread your message far and wide.

    6 degrees of separation can be shrunk drastically when you consider what blogging and social media can do for your company when you’ve inspired people to act on your ideas.

    It all comes down to developing ideas that matter to your audience.

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Chase, I really had my eyes opened when I went to BlogHer.  I previously didn’t realize that a small community could be so powerful.  Thank you for your comment.

  • http://www.outsellyourself.com Kelly McCormick – Biz Expert!

    Ilana, this is one of the best posts that I’ve read in a long time! Your take on engagement verses numbers is right on. I meet business people all the time who want to focus on ‘the numbers’. From a marketing perspective, I quickly talk about ‘quality’ verses ‘quantity’ and what that really means for a brand, product and/or service. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this important topic!

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Hi Kelly.  I’m glad it was helpful.

  • http://www.awakeningbusiness.com Kaya Singer

    Excellent points. I am constantly telling my clients to create empathy before anything else, to develop community and to write their web pages themselves with their own heart and soul. You have just reinforced how I feel.  Great article. I have re-posted it on my Facebook page:
    http://www.facebook.com/awakeningbusiness

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks Kaya.  I’m sure it’s not easy to tell a business to create empathy and write with their heart and soul. I appreciate your reposting it.

  • Glafitte

    Excellent article…well stated.

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

    Wow, lots to digest. Thanks for generously sharing this useful info.

    Online Business
    Virtual Assistant

  • http://www.webdesignerjay.com

    Too good article Ilana :)

    Nobody can deny the importance of social media these days and for people like me in the web design business, not having any social identity, is suicidal. You are very right that the concept of business schools are becoming outdated as web is creating opportunities to earn from new avenues like never before. Guys like me working as freelancers from home are increasing day by day and our social identity whether through our website or through twitter or Facebook is a reality. Joining social media creates networking and networking means more links and even if some of these links become your clients then it means more earning. Social media is also a great tool for learning. Twitter is a great example. Follow learned guys and experts and become expert.

    And I liked differentiation between a writer and a copywriter :)

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Appreciate the comment, Jay.  I agree that social media is a great learning tool.  I am always experimenting with it. 

  • Jfrenier

    Fantastic, great post I can not wait to share this with my colleagues. We are working now to integrate social media and the points made in this post are extremely helpful

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Although a lot of readers of SME do understand this stuff, I thought it would be good to have something to share with readers.. Glad it helped.

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  • http://www.beavershred.com Document Destruction

    When size doesn’t matter, are we overlooking the “just starting out” tiny entrepreneur with only a Facebook because there is no budget for marketing yet? Having the resources to have a full time blogger or a Social Media Guru is not something every company has the luxury of and that is what is killing the economy.  The best way to get your business more exposure may be the one thing your company can’t afford to take part in.  Sad but true.  Great post though. Kudos.

    • http://www.MarketingWithoutAnet.com Ilana Rabinowitz

      Thanks for your comment and I understand the frustration.  There are several ways to get into social media with no out of pocket cost but it does take time. Facebook is free and it’s a good start.  Twitter is also free but with a bit more investment of time. Blogging is the most time consuming but shouldn’t require someone full time.  I think that every business, especially small businesses should be engaging somewhere. As for hiring a consultant, it’s not likely in the cards for a small entrepreneur but you can get started without one.  If you think about how you would talk to your customer if you were standing face to face–what you would ask them and how you might help them with content that shows you understand the problem that your business solves, you’ll have a good sense of what to say in social media conversation.

  • Stephanie

    This is great information and helped me to put things into perspective. 

  • http://twitter.com/ExtremeDream Laurie A. Santos

    Friggin’ fantastic article! I really enjoyed your straight-up approach. I’ve had my business for about 11 years now and while I’ve got a great subscriber list with faithful folks, I’ve made some changes this year in the way of rebranding and redevelopment that have required constant and ongoing connecting in my Social Media networks.  I do believe the time and dedication to these networks are worth every amount of effort you put in. I hated Twitter up until this summer when I attended a free course with Constant Contact where they explained even simple techniques I was not previously doing that once implemented immediately landed me 500 new followers in 3 weeks time along with 2 radio interviews and 1 tele-summit. Now, I’ve had to RT a lot, thank others for RT’s, DM, reach out, connect, stay on top of these connections but it’s all paid off. I’ve also gotten on average about 1-2 new subscribers to my list from Twitter because of the special attention I pay to it now because I NOW enjoy it; that makes a big difference ;) Now, I am hopeful there will be some movement to my newsletter list that hasn’t been happening as much during my business redevelopment. I guess what I’ve learned is that we must as entrepreneurs remain persistent, create systems that we honor, be ourselves (funny, cheeky, honest, candid) and do what we need to do to be effective while still having a good time. Thanks again for this article! Cheers to you :)

    • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

      Hi Laurie,
      Thanks so much for that very nice comment!  As you learned through your class, social media isn’t complex, it’s what you probably know to do well in your personal life.  Be grateful, recognize others and support others.  And frankly, I think women have a bit of an advantage here.

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    Campaign thinking is antithetical to social media.  You may have a
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  • Sarawriter

    Your emphasis on a change in thinking is so right on! We copywriters have learned to adapt to a more interactive approach – something I’ve always longed for and advocated, even when print and broadcast was the only media available. I’m re-Tweeting this one!

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