I am really starting to get concerned that with all this talk of SocMed, many people out there are losing track of its actual value: Creating and growing relationships.
The point is really to help people connect better. From a personal standpoint, it’s about the exchange of ideas opinions and information. It’s about helping people find each other and stay connected. From a business standpoint, the idea is to re-humanize relations between companies and the public at large in such a way that everyone involved benefits (customers gain more value from their relationship with a company - better info, faster service, friendlier touchpoints, etc. - and companies have the opportunity to reach more customers and give them reasons to develop a stronger sense of loyalty, for starters).
I think Olivier raises a good point. Back in 2005 and 2006, the majority of the talk around social media on blogs such as this one was about the theory of how social media could help a company better connect with its customers and build lasting relationships with them. At some point, the tone of the space changed to 'we need to move away from talking about what COULD happen, and give companies case studies so that they will see the benefits of social media'. Thankfully, we started getting case studies in 2007 and 2008, and the discussion shifted in that direction. But I think along the way, we have perhaps gotten a bit too far away from discussing the real benefits of social media.
There's a reason why I constantly talk about certain examples of companies using social media, such as what Fiskars/Brains on Fire are doing with the Fiskateers, and what Tim Jackson is doing with Masi. Because these companies and people are using social media as a channel to connect with their customers, and build relationships with them.
Olivier has nailed it, at its core, social media are communication tools that allow us to connect with one another. Companies should realize this, and leverage these tools as a way to start building relationships with their customers. And remember, the better you understand your customers and they you, the more effective your communication efforts will be, which leads to more efficient marketing. Which means your marketing costs go down.
One of the first posts I left on this blog back in 2006 included this thought, which is still relevant today:
That's the power of being a part of the community. And it goes beyond the obvious; that being a part of the community means you better understand your customers. What happens when you better understand your customers is that you can better serve them by anticipating their wants and needs. And the best part? As we correctly anticipate the consumers' wants and needs, and fill them, a trust is developed, which leads to the consumer lowering their defenses and letting us interact with them on a deeper level. This leads to a greater understanding of their needs, which means we can more quickly and effectively meet these needs, and thus the cycle is created.
Extra point: With that higher level of trust comes the creation of a barrier to entry for your competitors.
Don't focus on using social media to 'create' community, focus on using social media as a way to connect with your customers and join them in THEIR space. Willie Davidson was once asked if Harley Davidson does any market research to better understand their customers. Davidson responded "Oh sure we are in constant contact with our customers, we ride with them all the time".
Forget using social media to sell more stuff. That's small potatoes. Think about the ability that social media affords you to connect with your customers, to build relationships and to create evangelists for your company. People that are so excited by the interactions they have with you, and the direction of your company, that they will go out of their way to promote you to others. These are literally FANS of your company.
Your goal should be to use social media to create as many FANS of your company as possible. Forget being a better marketer, it's time to be a rockstar.
Pic via Flickr user Anirudh Koul