CONTEST: Social Business or Social Bullshit?

bull riding
Image by Emmett Tullos III

The sales pitch for social business (see IBM’s definition) has spread from the technology industry to the social media echo chamber. Social media tools will bring a promised evolution of business, but how much of this buzz is bullshit?

Recently, Jason Falls and I visited Dell’s social media command center. We were both impressed with the company’s deepening commitment towards social as a means to facilitate better relationships across the enterprise. Clearly social-media empowered business can become a reality.

At the same time when you start seeing social media experts across the blogosphere setting up social business shingles, you have to wonder. Am I being sold the real deal or just another dose of unicorn powered super conversation?

In that vein, I’d like to invite you to sound off. Is social business a great thing, or yet another overhyped promise from social media experts looking to break into the enterprise? The best five comments pro or con (as judged by me on Friday afternoon) will win a copy of Jason’s book, No Bullshit Social Media.

No Bullshit Social Media

C.C. Chapman holds a couple copies of No Bullshit Social Media

To get you started, I’ve listed three reasons for and against social business. Good luck!

Three Pros

1) Perhaps the best argument for social business is speed. Watching Dell’s team respond to situations by integrating communications, legal and more was impressive. By empowering and encouraging interactions through process and social technology, businesses can better respond to customers and situations. Speed is a competitive advantage in any market.

2) One of the best comments from the Customer Is Not Your CMO came from Ben Kunz, who noted there are three ways to become a great business. One of them is to become completely customer centric. Social business empowers widespread dialogue across enterprises all the way to customers and other stakeholders. This in turn creates the opportunity to become completely customer centric, from sales to operations.

3) While companies like Walmart are leading the innovation wave amongst traditional consumer enterprises, technology players like, IBM, Atos and more are acquiring social technology companies, changing their cultures, and moving towards the social business ideal. The technology industry is eating its own dog food and leading by example, just as it did with blogs and other initial social media a decade ago. History is repeating itself.

Three Cons

1) Social media experts are beating this drum loudest, and that triggers a big red flag. Many social media experts don’t know marketing basics, and in some cases refuse (or can’t) to deliver return on investment. Now they are suddenly telling the business world how everything must change. So, someone who knows how to game Twitter suddenly understands how to run a multimillion dollar enterprises? Social business sounds like the pedantic ramblings of middle managers ad consultants trying to justify a bigger piece of the pie.

2) Businesses still struggle to integrate social media into marketing, yet, in large part because they don’t see the value. According to a survey of the CMO Council, 66 percent of marketing organizations are not integrating social media into their full marketing outreach.

Facebook Marketing Q5

Social media’s best chance of becoming a part of the regular business mix is through the auspices of the marketing department. But don’t expect it to change everything and transition the CMO’s office into social marketing. Social will only play its role within the larger multichannel experience.

3) The word social doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s gone the way of other cliched technology and media terms, like “2.0” and “.com”. So what are we really talking about here? Widespread social media throughout an organization revolutionizing business structures?

Isn’t this the revolution of email and intranets argument again? Sorry, but while those technologies facilitated better communications and workflow, and evolved businesses, silos stayed silos. Why will commenting faster and quicker change power dynamics between departments and people? Will social technology fundamentally change people? It hasn’t so far. This argument lacks substance.

What do you think?

Coalition Marketing for the Common Good

Image by jdhilger

Just as individual web site owners use affiliate marketing, small and large companies and nonprofits are engaging in teams — coalition marketing — to reach common stakeholder groups. Modern Internet tools have made coalition marketing incredibly simple. It’s easy as setting up a web site and providing the common offering or cobranding.

Coalitions take several forms. Often joint marketing initiatives are fielded where both or a group of brands are co-promoted (almost like a large summer music festival with multiple headliners). For example, consider how your grocery store may be affiliating with a gas company to provide loyalty programs. Also consider how Zoetica and RAD Campaign co-market the Nonprofit 2.0 Conference.

Another form is traditional channel sales, where a brand builds a great product or service and the other markets it to its customers. Cause marketing relationships take this form, with the nonprofit offering the service and the consumer facing business selling it as part of a package to its customers. And of course, many parts of the technology industry are driven off the channel model.

In fact, if you consider the Google-Motorola acquisition this week and the issue of patents, Google acquired one of its Android coalition partners to protect itself from lawsuits. The intellectual property had become too distributed. In marketing “Droids,” Google was both using Motorola as a channel partner and co-marketing within a coalition.

Given how companies and nonprofits increasingly fill niches, and customers need more than just one product or service type, this trend of partnering will continue. There simply isn’t enough individual brand capital to grow in a desired fashion. Teaming provides the collective might needed to succeed in broad marketing initiatives. This is particularly true of smaller players competing with large established companies. So partners who naturally operate in the same space, but don’t necessarily compete head on will start gravitating towards each other naturally.

There are strengths and weakness to coalitions. Some considerations for partnering are mutual benefit to both organizations without costing or sacrificing too much capital on one side or another. When business relationships become lopsided, they tend to disintegrate or become one-off opportunities. In addition, trial deals are helpful, too, to see if the chemistry works between brands.

Obvious Bonds Are Needed

An Enemy of the People
Image by Shehal

Finally, a word on authenticity. Consumers are not stupid (see forthcoming Journal of Consumer Research article), and they know when a brand is faking it, or partners with another entity that seems out of sorts with its core mission. This is almost always true with cause marketing and the marriage between corporation and nonprofit. There needs to be obvious synergies.

But it is also true of corporate partnerships, too. The primary criticism of Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility is the unnatural tie forged with an Internet company owning a mobile phone manufacturer. The stretch is too much. Similarly, if Warner Brothers were to suddenly co-market Bugs Bunny with Playboy, there would be obvious issues in spite of the common rabbit icons.

Some marketers will tell you authenticity does not exist, that customers don’t want it. While this may be true for your worst individual personality defects, customers have expectations of behavior and delivery for a corporate brand. Note the difference. Frankly, personal identities that have evolved into real going concerns online need to adjust to this reality, too. When a brand is in place — regardless if it is named after a person — people have expectations of what the brand stands for, and the product/service that they will receive.

When you supersede those brand expectations in a partnering stretch to make money or paint a better brand image, customers balk. This rejection takes the form of less or no sales! It is important to be mindful in your marketing actions, and to be true to your brand’s core identity. That is authenticity, and practicing conscious awareness in business. Choose your partners well.

Civility, Tonality and Manners

Piazza della Repubblica police
Image by Friar’s Balsam

Civility: 1. Formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech. 2. Polite remarks used in formal conversation.

Society needs the civility movement online. Recent use of phrases like “blood libel” in speeches or outright threats to someone’s physical well being show that line after line is being crossed. Yet on the other side of the civility argument is a demand for contrarian voices to watch their “tone,” to ratchet back criticism. At their heart these cries may find their basis in a need for better manners online, or simply a desire to silence opposing views. In that sense, cries for civility represent a real danger towards freedom of speech online, a critical element of 21st century democracy as shown by recent events in the Middle East.

The well-meaning “civility police” ground arguments in tonality, which makes it easy to dismiss them as vein attempts to stifle uncomfortable differing views (see PRSA post on this topic). Tone deals with sound and color. Sound is not just the actual words, but the inflection of the voice, the shade of orange.

Printed words — the stuff of most blogs and social networks — does not convey tone as easily as sound or color. In fact, in order to convey tone a writer needs to use bold emphasized statements with punctuation that underscores emotion, or worse, use dreaded emoticons. :D

Criticism based on printed tone finds its basis in imaginative interpretation. Internal emotions and experiences cause the reader to conceptualize tone. Imagination and print have a long relationship, a primary reason why novels capture our minds and hearts. Printed words allow us to imagine the story within the context of our own lives.

Yet, when enforcing civility online citing tone often fails because it can be grounded in imagination. Offended parties and their friends raise the flag of hurt, but one is left wondering why? Did the criticism hit the mark too closely? Was the statement in opposition to the offended party’s belief system? Only in the most direct cases of threats, sexual abuse or attacks can civility be painted as a black and white issue when it comes to print tonality.

Consider that the gay rights movement is considered obscene by a vocal minority in this country. Thank God voices past and present have refused to be held back by those in power and continue their fight for gay rights — even when individuals continue to be abused and die because of their sexuality. Because some find homosexuality obscene, they will find this post and the underlying inferred belligerence to be uncivil. The continuing progress of the gay rights movement is a testimony to the very real power of free speech.

Manners: a. the prevailing customs, ways of living, and habits of a people, class, period, etc.; mores: The novels of Jane Austen are concerned with the manners of her time. b.ways of behaving with reference to polite standards; social comportment: That child has good manners.


Judith Martin, a.k.a. “Miss Manners”

Unlike tone, manners are not as subjective. Throughout the history of civilization, manners have existed. Every culture and sub-culture has its own unique customs, but there are formal guidelines available to people. In the past we had Miss Manners, and today we have How to Be a Gentleman and How to Be a Lady (hat tip: Techcocktail).

Arguments for civility based in politeness and manners have more weight. It gets back to the roots of civility, and its very meaning. Saying, “she has a right to her views, but I wish she was more polite,” holds water. Note that freedom of speech is not questioned, rather a simple request for more mindful language.

It’s ironic to see bloggers discussing the need for tone-based civility finds in the face of the 2.0 conversation revolution, which sought to free society from the shackles of formal business parlance. Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far, but you won’t see bloggers asking for more formal, polite language. That would require an admission of error, an acknowledgment that the 2.0 revolution went too far. Further, it would mean that these bloggers would have to practice what they preach and elevate their own level of “polite” civility. Teflon revolutionaries continue their course.

It’s OK to admit we are wrong. Humans err (only politicians are perfect). In this context, last Tuesday’s post title, “Kick Your Competitor’s Ass” was in poor taste. It failed to meet the standard of polite discourse this blog seeks to maintain. That doesn’t mean the message would be any different: Cries for kind agreement amongst competitors on positions make no sense. Companies should seek to best their competitors through differing views, increased value and better approaches.

Civility grounded in politeness is just another way of asking for mindful discourse while empowering the right for free speech and opposition. It may not always be met either. Freedom of speech supersedes politeness. Free speech is what differentiates open societies from totalitarian regimes like Libya, where dissidents are shot for voicing their opinions.

Let’s not use civility as a way to shut down strong, opposing views. In all aspects of life, the minority opinion should be heard and personal grievances should receive careful consideration. How many times has the rightful majority found itself wrong in the annals of history? Even the founding fathers — our first Presidents — allowed for error and corrections with a structure for constitutional amendments.