Brian Solis is an author, analyst, and a principal at Altimeter Group, a firm focused on disruptive technology. He’s one of the world’s premier thought leaders in new media. His blog is one of the world’s top resources for business strategy and marketing.
What I most enjoy about Brian is that he has the ability to take complex subjects and break them down so you can understand them. His latest book, What’s the Future of Business? accomplishes that in a very different way than his previous work.
Brian, before I jump into the latest book and the future, I want to slow down and talk about the past and the present. Because of the nature of your work, I imagine that you’re surrounded by social media experts most of the time. But there are still companies that are just now jumping in or maybe are still on the sidelines. With that in mind, what are the three biggest reasons a business should be utilizing social media today?
First, let me just say that I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you. While social media is part of what I do, it is true that I do have a unique opportunity to see how businesses are or aren’t using social media to reach connected consumers. We live in a social economy where social is an extension of customer engagement. Social media become the channels and mechanisms to listen, learn, engage, and adapt.
The first reason that social media is important to businesses is that it amplifies the voice of the customers, their expectations and questions, their touch points, and most importantly the experiences they have and share. There’s much to learn by listening and observing. It is a form of digital anthropology where you gain not only insights but empathy. Try to not let it intimidate you . . . if you’re human, you can feel what’s taking place and as social is a very human series of networks, you can understand how to glean and deliver value as a result.
The second reason is that having a notable presence in networks of interest allows a brand to earn relevance where the attention of Generation C (connected) is focused. This isn’t a channel for the same one-sided marketing as executed in other channels. Social media is just that, it’s social. It’s not all about marketing. It’s about engagement in the context of how people hope to interact with the company.
Last, but not least, is alignment. See, to build customer relationships requires that we see the customers for who they are and what they need to build relationships with the businesses they support. To do so requires a “social” philosophy where social media becomes an extension of a more engaging corporate mindset. Since social is bigger than marketing, key stakeholders from other functions and lines of business, or in the case of small businesses, other people responsible for the customer experience, need to come together to talk about the customer journey and the desired experience they wish to deliver. Today, businesses are aligned around the traditional funnel, but each department is responsible for its own portion. Whereas in connected consumerism, the journey is much more dynamic and experiential. And, since people have access to publishing these experiences in places of influence, these experiences contribute to a new reality. By rallying stakeholders together to deliver a consistent, meaningful and shareable experience, people come together around something that’s bigger than the team they represent. Alignment is powerful and required for the future of transformation and evolution.
Where are companies still getting social media wrong?
Charlene Li and I spent the better part of 2012 and early 2013 studying how businesses were using social media and how it affected the inside of each company. The biggest revelation was that businesses aren’t linking social media strategies to business objectives. For example, only 26% of the companies we surveyed approach social media holistically, where business units are operating in sync with the enterprise vision and strategy. And, just 29% of companies measure the financial impact of their social media efforts. This is because many jumped in the premise of social media and not its promise. Plus, social media was/is largely confined to marketing. It’s difficult if not impossible to communicate the greater value of social media to the entire organization if it is done through the eyes of only one part of the customer journey. This is why social media practitioners could benefit by learning to look beyond social media and embrace the overall customer journey. Additionally, they have to learn the language of the C-Suite. Executives don’t speak Facebook or Twitter, let alone Vine or Snapchat. You can’t make an argument for resources and budget from a tools perspective.
Your book Engage! is all about helping a business understand social media. The End of Business as Usual almost seems to pick up from there and examines changing consumer habits and how we all need to modify our business practices accordingly. This new book What’s the Future of Business? builds on your previous work and explores the customer experience. How did your earlier work influence this book?
Engage focused on helping businesses think strategically and holistically about how social media was additive to the business and marketing mix. It also showed the importance of embracing a social philosophy to improve every aspect of business. The End of Business as Usual took a darker but optimistic look at the social science of consumer behavior and the evolution of decision making and influence. Plus, I spent half of the book teaching champions how to focus on building alignment and bringing about change. With WTF, I decided to speak the language of the C-Suite by completely transforming the way I talk to place all emphasis on the importance of Generation C and the impact they have and will have on businesses. It’s iterative but each book is also helpful to wherever you are in the evolution of your business. I can’t say they’re timeless, but I did write them from a business, analytical, and philosophical approach to help them outlast the technology we get caught up talking about.
When I picked up this book, I noticed how different it was from all of the other business books out there. It’s graphic, visually appealing, an unusual size, the paper and the colors all grab your attention. It’s much more like a coffee-table book than a business book. How did you work with Mekanism, the designer of the book? What type of experience were you trying to create?
Everything is about experience. You share what you do, what you love, what you dislike, and everything in between. It’s a form of self-expression. The difference is that businesses tend to react to customer experience rather than define the experiences they wish their customers to have and share. When you begin with the latter, everything changes. From product design to language to marketing to service and support and finally advocacy, everything is different. It’s a bit more visceral and substantive.
This is why WTF is what it is. The subtitle of the book is, “changing the way businesses create experiences.” I needed the book to be a living and breathing symbol of what an experience could be. When you look at most business books, it’s the cover design and the words that separate one from another. The shape, the font, the paper, it’s all rather homogenous. To emphasis the importance of experience takes the definition of what experience could be and the reactions it can evoke. I believed that if I could create an experience with a business book, one that makes people opt for the print over the electronic version, then the extent of our imagination and our willingness to take risks would become our only barrier to success in anything that we do.
I practice what I preach. I studied how Gen-C reads, the formats that they prefer, the content that they share, the way they interact with screens. I then studied the elements of user experience. I took everything I learned and set out to create an “analog app.” The book is rich with shorter bursts of text, rich in imagery, balanced with art, and glued together with a virtual navigation bar that delivers the digital experience to print. I served as art director but needed the help of Mekanism to bring the idea to life. I also brought in the help of my good friend Hugh MacLeod and his team at Social Object Factory to convert the theme of each chapter into a clever cartoon the way that only Hugh can do. The result is not only an experience but something that inspires innovation and transformation.
This is our time.