Potential for Beauty in Business: Social Beyond Marketing

papineau lake sunsetNot only did I survive being off the grid for a week, I personally feel refreshed and had a chance to put some old things into new perspective. It’s why I am coming back to an old proposition that I think still has merit.  Social media is about more than marketing.  The attractiveness of “social business” makes for an amazing, maybe even beautiful future for business.

Nature, solitude, quiet contemplation or at least time to be in “another space” breaks our routines and can be helpful for bringing perspective and creative inspiration to things we do every day.  Often our daily routines take over and guide our thinking, as opposed to letting our thinking guide us.  Some of those routines include looking around us on the social web for ideas; reviewing what is trending; making sure there are no emerging issues; or making sure tomorrow’s content is ready to go; the daily meetings; and, of course, getting through the omnipresent email.  All those “must do things” often take over our time and can infringe on the chance to reflect on a larger perspectives.

streamAn article at Salon notes the value of time away from social media and points out that “nature is the original creative inspiration.”  Getting away and soaking in the world around us can be something we bring back to work with us and apply it there, in different ways.

The photographs with this post are little reminders to me that in nature everything is connected and never completed.  There is a certain beauty to it all– even in the sometimes apparent randomness and messiness.  I have often thought about beauty and art or beauty in the world or creating beauty in photographs.  I never really thought about beauty in business but am now thinking there is something sort of “beautiful” in the visioning of truly connected social businesses continuing to morph and change with the enhanced use of social tools, always getting better.

Businesses using social tools as a new way to connect with customers is certainly different than how business connected in recent history, and we seem to be partially down this path as social marketing gains traction.  However, the larger opportunity for business is the potential for using social tools/social media across virtually every business department/function.  Adoption of social media across a business, beyond marketing, has significant potential for moving from a business organization that has “customer-facing” departments to a business that is more than “customer-centric”, it becomes a complete “customer-touching” organization.

The chance to be more deeply connected with other human beings with an interest or stake in you business, the real people who love, hate or simply use your products and services is immense.  Those connections can also be made with people who are invested in the business and /or care (good or bad) about what the business does and how it does it.  Every business has 4 groups of stakeholders.  These include:

  1. Customers and potential customers
  2. Employees and suppliers-the people who help a company do its business
  3. Shareholders/owners
  4. Communities in the broad context of the place you do business, but also groups and public organizations that can impact your business, or government regulators, etc

Social connectivity, best operationalized through individual employees, can deliver information and perspectives you never asked for in a focus group. Maybe you didn’t even know that a particular process or product feature irritated customers.  It can help strengthen key customer relationships that are critical to your bottom line or can be used to move transactional customers into relationship customers.  It can be used to help pay attention to a customer that you are at risk of losing.

The information from across the social Web can deliver new context and early warnings for troubling issues.  More generally, the use of social tools ensures that the outside perspectives and perceptions about your business can be used to inform the inside of business, every day.Some of the outside perspectives might be misinformed or the basis of misunderstandings.  Some may have merit.

Whether it is a misinformed view of your business or an accurate identification of something that “does not work”, the chance to connect and engage in those matters keeps a business in touch with the world beyond its offices.  These are the building blocks for constantly building stronger relationships, while also constantly improving your business. Understanding and openness to external views does not diminish any business’ area of expertise or the hired and trained professionals knowledge. We can always benefit from others’ perspectives, even if after contemplation or discussion you agree to disagree.  There is something nice about knowing you at least had a chance to share perspectives.  And in doing that, you put a human face to your company instead of just a nameless, faceless organization with implied “brand value”.

papineau late ducksThere is something amazing in knowing that every part of your business is connected directly to customers and other business stakeholders — and in a meeting when asked, “what do our customers think?” employees from any part of the business have both traditional numbers, maybe social data, but also social commentary that adds real perspective.

foggy view

Using social media beyond marketing is only achieved if a business chooses to dive deeper into being more fully connected with all of its stakeholders on the social Web. At times, it may look a little murky or unclear, but over the long run a business choosing to do this is opening itself to a dialogue in virtually real time across all of its areas of interest– proactively and re actively with all the people who can potentially help or damage your business.

The internal deployment of social tools can also break down barriers between departments, support interdepartmental sharing of information, while also leading to faster collaboration across departments.  Internal social tools also facilitate direct communications not just across departments, but also an open and ongoing dialogue among the staff and leadership.

moss rocks-3If a business thinks about and proceeds to broaden its social efforts and direct connections then matters of scale, global considerations, and the utility to the business (or the misused short hand of “social media ROI,” subject of a more detailed blog post one of these days) all become more manageable and workable, rather than being the rocks you cannot seem to move.

In seeking to find a way down this road, large business organizations may need to look at ways to train staff and consider changes to business processes.  Moving from a hierarchical command and control operation to externally connected, empowered teams can be a cultural shift or at least require new openness to changes in some business operations and management practices (many of which are based on constructs from early in the last century). As a microcosm, look at how marketing departments are facing significant operational changes as they move from primarily advertising in mass media (a one-way megaphone to everyone) to producers of their own content on the Web and a world of mobility where the customer experience is critical.  The marketer today may find themselves in one- to-one communication with customers they previously only knew as a demographic or psychographic data point.

These sorts of changes are about building a business that is agile and flexible and ready to compete in today’s world rather than hoping to exist based on yesterday’s business practices and organization. Employees are connected to each other, as well as externally.  They are working across their departments and traditional silos to do more for the company, if properly enabled, and that gives rise to the new opportunities for collaboration, innovation and even more effectiveness — perhaps even more meaningful employment.

papineau late sun through treesHere are just a few examples of taking social beyond marketing:

  • Is your social listening set up to find competitive intelligence and industry/sector topics to keep your business strategy team informed of global perspectives?
  • Is your social listening set up to find customer insights for your research team
  • Does your social listening help inform your content strategy in a way that you know what is relevant to your customers and/or potential customers?
  • Are your product teams connected with key customers on the Web or thought leaders who have perspectives on what your business sells? How about the teams that design or operate the processes around how you deliver your products/services.  You know, those things we call “business processes” that are “customers facing.”  Are teams in your business using social connections to learn about what people think of dealing with your company?   Are they in touch with people who have a perspective about your company?
  • Are the employees enabled or empowered to examine things from a customer perspective and make it better?  Or is the answer simply “that is how we do it.”
  • Is the investor relations team actually listening and communicating with investors because it has been shown that social media can move markets. Shouldn’t the professionals in Investor Relations be monitoring real time social commentary, just as they have the Bloomberg terminal on their desk to keep up with the markets? Are they trained and ready to correct social rumors when they happen in this day and age?
  • Is your environmental team connected with the most relevant public interest groups, not just to tell them how good your business is but to solicit their feedback and share new developments in the fields that you both care about.  In this way, the  relationship with those public interest groups improves to be something more than the annual get together or negotiations over the latest “hot issue”
  • How about your suppliers?  Are they more connected than ever before to your business teams in a way that is designed to foster not just social connections but an even deeper supplier/partner relationship?  What ideas do they have to make better business for them and you? Or what do they hear that you do not hear?
  • How effectively have you deployed social tools internally to stay in touch with employees.  Are you using internal social tools to foster more effective internal collaboration and break down barriers and business silos while also speeding up internal collaboration and decision making?
  • Are your corporate philanthropy efforts achieving maximum benefit?  Have you thought about using social media to further add some “oomph” to where your corporate foundation efforts are going.
  • Are you constantly in touch and following the community representatives in places where your company has offices or business interests – are those connections going beyond the briefing when you need something?
  • Has the corporate communications team identified the key influencers who touch all aspects of your business and ensured that Executives, company subject matter experts or the communications team is connected and communicating directly with them on an ongoing basis.
  • Is social data now included in all the relevant business analytics/KPIs.
  • Does your CRM system include social profiles and updated social data.  Have you maximized how this can all work together for being an even better and more successful business?

As I sat in the evening looking at the milky way and random shooting stars or as I looked at the sun shining through a forest of pine trees with fallen birch bark all over the ground or a group of ducks forming a line as if they were synchronized swimmers it occurred to me that it all looks a little out of control, yet there is a natural beauty to the connections between it all.  All the elements come together to do their part for success — they are connected.  Social business could be very similar and the opportunities for business are immense.birchbark

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