14 Jul 2011

The Number One Least Asked Question in Social Media…Why?

The number one least asked question in social media is also the most important…

Asking “why” in all aspects of business and life in general is unexploited. Day in and day out I help businesses understand the opportunity that lies within new media, not because of Twitter or Facebook. I do so because opportunity is pervasive in the hearts and minds of consumers everywhere. We just have yet to really understand for what reason.

Report after report, post after post, conference after conference, I am inundated with examples of social media success. Except success is difficult to assess, unless we look at the numbers, sentiment, clickthroughs, and outcomes. Rarely do I see studies, although they are out there, that ask the socialcustomer what they value and why.

In 1964 Marshall McLuhan proposed in his book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, that the “medium is the message.” His observation was that the medium, not the content it disseminates, requires attention and study. He believed that the medium shapes society based on the characteristics of the medium itself. As Twitter, Facebook, et al. cultivate a dedicated egosystem and supporting culture, McLuhan’s theory is still valid. In an era where information is democratized and influence is equalized, the message is now also the medium. There are prevailing cultures unique to each social network. What you create for Twitter is different than what you might say in Facebook and certainly not at all how you would say it in Google+. That’s the point. What you say defines not only who you are and what you represent in each network or medium, but it also influences the society at large.

What does your profile or presence say about you? What does it say about who you are in each network? How does it signify the value you introduce into your networks?

The Anti-Social Business

I’m often asked to research systems and processes to make social media participation cost efficient and scalable. When I ask why, the response is not necessarily a surprise nor is it a real answer, “we need to operationalize social media. we need cost efficiencies.” In reality, many businesses syndicate rather than engage. A Tweet could find a new home on the Facebook Brand Page, which is then linked to Tumblr, and, well you get the idea. There are management systems that facilitate one-to-many publishing and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. One update to rule them all right? Only when the update is deemed valuable by the community at large.

Social channels do not represent syndication opportunities as much as they offer unique touchpoints to engage with different groups of stakeholders. They’ll tell you what they want, in fact many already have. But, are we listening? Are we asking the right questions? Are we introducing what we learn into our strategies moving forward?

I want to come back for a moment to the question of why.

Why are businesses engaging in social media? Let me ask this question again because it’s important. Why are businesses trying to be social when to date, most have made a business out of being anti-social? The voice of the consumer is in risk of falling upon deaf ears as businesses explore operational efficiencies before they can get the answer to why customers want to engage with them in social networks. First and foremost, it’s not “to get information” nor is it to build “a community with the brand.” Customers are far too practical and distracted to invest their time in the long-term for such reasons.

It starts with asking customers what they want now and over time so that we can answer why we’re investing precious time, resources, and passion into social media.

It comes down to value. It comes down to experiences. People appreciate when they’re heard and in turn, when businesses intend to deliver exceptional experiences.

Why do you think it is that people line up for Apple products when they’re released? Let’s take the iPad for example. What is it about that iPad that people must have over all of the other tablet alternatives available? Why is it that people pay 2-3x more for an Apple Macbook than those running Windows or Chrome? Why do customers buy from Zappos instead of Amazon.com? Or, why do people love or go out of their way for Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts over every other brand?

Each question has a unique answer, but many share a common theme, each company delivers an experience that’s worth having, investing in, and sharing over and over again. It comes down to people, the 5th P of Marketing. Knowing who they are and what they want is enlightening as it affects not just the other 4P’s of product, place, price, and promotion, but also defines the user experience. It brings the “why” to life.

Truth be told, we can’t have meaningful discussions about becoming a social business if we don’t know why doing so is advantageous to customers and ultimately to the business itself.

So, let’s start with a simple exercise to get us on the right path. Try taking the place of your customer for a moment. Take some time to think about and answer the following questions, then revisit your social strategy for the year and see what it is that you would change and why. At the very least, you’ll have the reasons to justify a new pilot, direction, or plan.

The Top 10 Questions Customers Are Asking You in Social Media

1. Why should I like you on Facebook?

2. Why should I follow you on Twitter

3. Why would I value the experience? What would I take away?

4. Why would I want to stay connected over time?

5. Why would I choose to engage your updates in my social stream over those of my real friends?

6. Why would I tell everyone I know to follow you?

7. Why would I share your content with my audience of peers?

8. Why would I decide to invest my time and express loyalty in your network and not mine?

9. Why should I care if you don’t care about my needs, experiences, or questions?

10. Why should I come back?

Answering these questions will also help you answer an important question to move forward in any meaningful, long-term direction. This exercise unlocks an important ingredient in any customer-facing business strategy…empathy. Once we truly hear our customers we are inspired by the empathy that develops simply by being human.


Why are you investing in a social presence?

Why are you trying to become a social business?

Why will you succeed where others can’t?

Certainly brand affinity plays a significant factor in all of this. But, what if brand affinity was an hour glass. Taking it for granted suggests that time could run out. Continually monitoring and turning it when needed ensures longevity. And that’s what this is all about. Social is not a means, nor a means to an end. It is an enabler to do something purposeful, meaningful, and valuable. Your customers will tell you. The reality is that attention is what it is. And as a result, brands must earn relevance today and every day. And it starts with answering a simple question…why?

This article was written by Brian Solis.

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