BrainTrust Query: Is ‘Social Media for Business’ an Oxymoron?

Discussion
Feb 04, 2010

By James Tenser, Principal,
VSN Strategies

Through a special arrangement,
presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from
the Tenser’s Tirades blog.

As new marketing verbs
like tweet, blog, and social networking permeate our thinking, we need
to acquire a clarifying thought vocabulary that will allow us to grapple
with emerging concepts and put the tools to appropriate and beneficial
use. I’ll take a first whack at it here. Perhaps some wise readers can
build on these ideas.

For starters, it would
be helpful to differentiate between the kinds of activities that take place
within online social media constructs. I group them into four familiar
quadrants:

“Consumer to Consumer” social
media are probably the highest profile, as they are manifest on hundreds
of millions of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube uploads. If much
of the content posted on virtual “walls” is silly, trivial and self-indulgent,
so be it. It is also highly dynamic, interactive, and in its way, democratic.
The sheer size of the community is proof of the concept’s power and cultural
influence.

Businesses and political
groups view the huge C to C audiences as a potential gold mine, and so
there has emerged a concerted effort by marketers to deliver controlled
messages within the social media platforms. I’d label activities like this “Business
to Consumer.”

Which leads us naturally
to consider the arrow’s reversal: “Consumer to Business” social
networking may be a source of valuable feedback from both supporters and
critics. Wise brands monitor these for insights and to counter libelous
talk. Brands, celebrities and pols also take deliberate action to invite
communications from loyal and not-so-loyal constituents – setting up their
blogs, Twitter feeds, email lists and fan pages to anchor the message and
gather feedback. Perhaps B to C and C to B social media activities are
inseparable, two sides of a coin.

Finally “Business to
Business”
social media applies the tools and methods of social media
to serious business purposes. This is of central interest in this discussion.
LinkedIn is a very good example of a public platform that is used for
career networking, personal branding, formation of subject matter communities
(“groups”) and sharing current events and ideas. There is also some fairly
sound (if experimental) use of Twitter by trade journalists and industry
observers (search the #NRF10
hashtag on twitter.com
to
view interesting and extensive coverage of NRF Expo in New York, for
example).

Through secure-access
portals, social media-like tools are being used for creating flexible online
workgroups, sharing documents and information, even hosting internal and
inter-organizational collaboration like Merchandising
Performance Management
among retailers and manufacturers. The
platforms use some familiar functionality, but quickly go deeper to deliver
performance dashboards, “fingertip analytics” and other advanced capabilities.
Some businesses are also using a combination of Web-based and social media
applications and tools to manage their visibility, presence, and image
with respect to their business community.

Mastery of the subtleties of social media is an essential pursuit for both
B to C and B to B marketers. We’d like to see some improved vocabulary
emerge to differentiate the activities that take place between individual
consumers, businesses and consumers, and businesses with other businesses.

For B to B, I propose “voxology,” the new science of the online voice.

Discussion
Questions: Is "Social Media for Business" an oxymoron? Has dialog around
this phenomenon tended to trivialize serious business uses of the new
tools? How has the use of social media made a meaningful difference
for your business or businesses you know?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

23 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Is ‘Social Media for Business’ an Oxymoron?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Phil Rubin
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Social media is a fundamental component to a business these days, for a host of reasons, not the least of which is replacing many of today’s other marketing elements.

Like new and “hot” areas (see also “Mobile,” after all 2010 is the year of mobile, right?), it’s often more of a tactic in search of a strategy or at least a tactic in search of being part of a truly integrated marketing plan.

There are some great examples of brands being built largely around Social Media (check out http://www.twitter.com/nakedpizza) but for major brands and retail in general, social media needs strategy and integration behind it to truly optimize its effectiveness.

Given how many companies are still slow to integrate even (what should now be) basics like email and loyalty marketing, the real ramp up is still ahead of us–though it’s a shorter and shorter ramp!

Anne Howe
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Agreed that lots of companies are using B to B social networking as an important and effective part of their business strategy, recruiting and even the marcom mix. In another 5 or ten years we’ll laugh at how long it took some companies to get there.

As well, I think we’ll see some new faces from the world of social media in some very high level spots in bigger companies. “Voxology” is not an oxymoron, it’s vital and alive and it works.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Social networking is the normal evolution of our move from mass to individual communication. One main difference is that the consumer is talking back, so it is no longer one-way communication.

Just like internet advertising and shopping was a few years ago, we are in the early period of development. We are learning by trial and error as we did before. What was big like AOL in the beginning may not be where we wind up. Step one should be to engage the consumer and listen. This is better than spending millions on market research. In fact, it will likely replace market research in the future. Step two is experiment.

So far, what we know is that some consumers like to be heard and others don’t. We also know that too much or too frequent communication turns the consumer off. The lone wolf structure will likely change to a supplier supported grouping like things we buy for the house versus things we buy for ourselves.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

There’s a segment of the population out there, the Feelers, for whom SM is a thrill, a rush, a joy and a real snappy surprise as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say. But it’s not for everyone.

The thinkers still find much of it a waste.

Yes there are the isolated cases where the super-needy Twitterer tweets about how if her Bloomingdale dress doesn’t arrive that day, she’ll never shop there again. Bloomie’s gets it there and voila–SM saved the day. Or did it? Why didn’t she just call the store? A planted tweet? Who knows.

Plenty of anecdotal information out there but SM is still finding its way. I believe in it but I’m still a bit skeptical of all the hype and pixels on the topic and the endless webinars, teleseminars and white papers devoted to trying to unlock its secrets.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
11 years 3 months ago

Social Media provides a platform for four types of dialogs:
Companies talking to consumers.
Consumers talking to companies.
Customers talking to other customers.
Customers talking to prospects.

Once companies understand this, and provide the platform, they should do all that they can to get out of the way, and allow the unfettered discussion to occur. For this to happen, businesses need to trust; they need to trust their employees to speak freely and directly to customers, they need to trust their customers to speak to one another, as well as to prospects, and they need to trust their own products and services. It is only after this trust is in place that social media will truly work for a business.

Social media itself is simply another part of the overall integrated marketing strategy. It is not the end-all answer to the economic challenges that a company faces, but it is a way to forge a stronger relationship between businesses and customers, whether it is B2B or B2C. Relationships are relationships, no matter what the business.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

The big challenge and the big caution for Social Media for business is the connection it makes with the consumer. The idea is that it brings the consumer and the business (or brand) closer together. It makes a personal connection. There is great value to that — a value that is hard to argue.

But, there is another side. As the connection gets tighter, the trust gets greater and more personal. Fantastic! That is what we are trying to accomplish. But, sooner or later…and it will happen, because that is the nature of business, the business (or brand) will break the consumers’ trust. (Toyota?) And, when it does, it will be extraordinarily hard to repair. It will not be a lot different than a broken personal relationship, but without the ability to sincerely and personally apologize.

Mark Burr
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

As pointed out, trust is a huge element in this arena. However, it’s a bridge that must be crossed. Ignoring exploration of this area as a core strategy is done at any retailer’s peril.

Nevertheless, trust, choices, and avoiding customer annoyance will be critical points of success. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am already annoyed beyond paper junk mail with the overwhelming junk emails received from retailers after just one web-based order. Funny thing is, not one of those has come from L.L.Bean.

How, when, and what is communicated will be keys to defining success. Becoming an annoyance will not.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

What better way to get your arms around consumer sentiment? Focus groups? Not complete. Complaints? Squeaky wheels.

If you can aggregate up the information that is splattered all over social networks, you can put your finger on the pulse of your customers. It’s a dream come true.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
11 years 3 months ago
There’s a quote that says, “If we talked to people the way advertising talks to people, they’d punch us in the mouth.” What we’re seeing in the early stages of B2C social media, is a few companies getting punched in the mouth. The irony here is that social media is really a lot like the way humans communicated in the first place. The problem is that some companies have completely forgotten how to communicate like humans. Everything is a pitch, a promotion or a gimmick. Everything has to have a call to action or hard metrics attached. Everyone’s looking for a straight line to the payback. Ask yourself this; if a waiter in a restaurant learned what company you were with and asked you a few questions about your products, would you rush back to your office to track and measure the value of that interaction? Would you build a program aimed at closing the sales loop on public conversations about your company? Probably not and yet large companies engage in thousands if not millions… Read more »
Lisa Bradner
Guest
Lisa Bradner
11 years 3 months ago

I love the commentary here and Phil and Doug, you hit many of the salient points. As Doug calls out, the problem in trying to put metrics and “campaigns” around human interactions is significant. I think it’s helpful to put social as an element in everything we do vs. thinking of it as a standalone initiative–yet many of my clients do exactly that: put it in a department or a place where we’re “social” and ignore it everywhere else.

Over time we’re going to have to integrate the listening Paula talks about so it’s part of the way we gauge our business productivity and success. Social brings the human element back into many business and marketing processes. Like all human interactions it can be fraught with conflict and misunderstanding but without it, we (and our brands) are isolated and alone.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 3 months ago

Tons of confusion, not a lot of direction, but a ton of interest. I keep referencing “Paradox of Choice.” Read it, it will lead to great insight. Americans are SOOOOOOO busy, social media is important yet they are confused and want best practices.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
11 years 3 months ago

Lots of great comments here. One perspective not discussed is that SM turns the existing customer relationship upside down. The old model is that all customer communication emanated from a central corporate office and was one-way (B talks, C listens). The current angst over how to harness this new model is that it is impractical/impossible for a central corporate office to effectively respond to individual customer input. There are simply too many of them and, in some cases the suggestions will be contradictory.

This brings the trust issue, mentioned above, into focus. After all, if a company invites comments and suggestions from its customers, it is implicit that the company will act on these suggestions. When they don’t or can’t, trust is lost.

The only way that SM will work on a B to C basis is by moving the authority to act to a local level. This is a substantial change of operating model for most large retailers with enormous complexity.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

If your customer base is over 60 years old, you can probably safely ignore social media. But if your customer base includes the portion of the populace that spends the most, you’ll want to call a meeting immediately to take advantage of it….

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

A great example of how social media analysis can literally redirect a business strategy, based upon the findings, is the work IBM did with Kraft Australia. Kraft was able to see the impact one of their items had around the world, and with this henceforth unknown information, took a campaign global and drove measurable business results. There are countless other examples of this.

The days of a teenager tweeting about their new outfits are dying quickly. Most regular users of twitter are adults with business-focused communications. Facebook, which dwarfs Twitter’s market share, has huge fan pages for key businesses. Even IBM, with a limited consumer presence, is into social media in a big way (http://bit.ly/b0K0gs).

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
11 years 3 months ago
The Internet offers businesses a huge opportunity to cut their overhead by cooperating with one another. Take the maintenance of a product master for point of sale. If a group of businesses collaborated to share item descriptions, sales tax and deposit codes, product dimensions and weights, etc, it would save each of them time and effort. If retailers offered DSD vendors access to real time inventories online, it would cut store visit times (and loading dock tie-ups) in half because the vendor would carry into the store only what was needed. Retailers who don’t compete may be willing to share promotion ideas or information on the latest vendor offers. All these opportunities depend on a high degree of trust in the quality of work provided by the various participants. Members will want to have a monitoring mechanism in place and the ability to eject participants who are not contributing. Is this “business networking”? I don’t know but it seems the efforts of many should reduce the effort for each individual. I don’t think the mechanisms… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
11 years 3 months ago
Social Media is not an oxymoron if it is utilized to further the business objective. As a salesman, I used to spend a great deal of time and effort trying to find out about those with whom I was trying to establish a business relationship. This was most often very helpful. If the Social Networking sites make this easier and less expensive, then they are a useful tool. However, if employees are allowed to access these sites on company time then they could easily become a thief (stealing time that the employer is paying the employee to work). I am reminded of a situation my daughter ran into as an MIS executive. Her company’s employees were very upset that their access to the Mary K cosmetics site was blocked. Many of the employees couldn’t understand that Mary K had nothing to do with manufacturing tents. It seem in this day and time many employees are more interested in lacing on a new pair of track shoes as the clock approaches 5:00 PM than actually producing… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Thank you to the commentators for adding gravitas to my musings in the essay above. As your discussion makes abundantly clear, Social Media for Business are Serious Media, with new strategic significance for brands and enterprises.

Dave Wendland
Guest
11 years 3 months ago
Since the B to B world can really be thought of as B to B to C to C to C (business “talks” to business, converting that business to a consumer that talks to other potential consumers), there are more parallels between “traditional” B to C social media communications and pure B to B communications than are evident at first sight. In other words, businesses are made up of people who consume. The concept of B to B becomes a red herring, possibly more so in the social media world than anywhere else. Let’s not kid ourselves; we already know that employees are all over social media during the workday, unless company IT has locked out certain sites. (Even then, we have our smartphones.) So, marketing director at Business A could be tweeting to sales manager at Business B about issues affecting their shared industry. A conversation gets started. Common ground is discovered. A connection is made. Maybe it leads to a business opportunity. Has this scenario played out in real life? Certainly. Can we… Read more »
Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 3 months ago

Social media is particularly suited toward building more personal relationships between retailer and customer.

For larger mass-market retailers, this creates a challenge. Their business models are not based on building personal one-on-one relationships; they based on volume and driving economies of scale, including economies in marketing, advertising and customer service. Try as they might, they have struggled both in conception and execution to build more personal, one-to-one relationships with their customers, particularly at store level. Their struggles with store level customer service and customer experience, where one-on-one relationships originate, have been discussed repeatedly on this board.

For independent retailers, social media plays to their strength. Their business model is built around developing one-on-one relationships with their customers. Those relationships are their primary differentiator and competitive edge. Many independent retailers are aggressively using using social media very effectively to reinforce the relationships they’ve already built.

Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
11 years 3 months ago

A try at a general definition:

Social (whatever) is participant regulated electronic conversations (one way or two way) propagated by an electronic host into participant-organized audiences. Conversational topics can be anything the participants deem as meaningful or beneficial either strategically or tactically based on the context of the communication. Successful communications are those that are retransmitted and serve as a form of spiritual or narcissistic affirmation of the re transmitter. Nirvana is achieved when communications, either self created or re transmitted jump audience groups to become universal messages connecting all of us into one big happy family. Propagate that!

(In the end, it’s way for my house in Palo Alto to increase in value, thanks.)

Bill Hanifin
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Clever headline but a question that is increasingly answered by evidence in the market. My own take on how the pieces of social media fit together can be found in my post on Loyalty Truth entitled A Major League Approach to Social Media

There is a dichotomy of users of social media and hence the continuing discussion of its value. Few in the traditional Loyalty Marketing business are taking it seriously, so I was glad to see Phil Rubin’s post at the top of this string. At the same time, how business is using the tools varies widely.

We are seeing social media being incorporated into communications streams of Loyalty programs including one at Tasti-D Lite Gets Social with Loyalty

Raja Sekhar Atluri
Guest
Raja Sekhar Atluri
11 years 3 months ago

Social media for business is here to stay. Companies are using social media to engage with their customers at places where they are spending most of their time and to promote themselves. Effective use of social media is also being used by companies to build brands and to get attention by spending little money and getting maximum reach, unlike conventional marketing and advertising where the spend is more and the reach is limited.

Social media has already been accepted as a medium by businesses to reach their customers; even enterprise software companies have started integrating social media platforms into their products. Most businesses which generally embrace new technology are integrating social media into all of their customer touchpoints as a logical extension to be where their customer are and have what they want, where they want it.

Gary Edwards, PhD
Guest
Gary Edwards, PhD
11 years 3 months ago
Since social media is dominated by consumers sharing information with other consumers, it’s naturally become a great target area for marketers. Word-of-mouth advertising, after all, is the most powerful form of advertising. Social media is simply amplifying the voices. While individuals have traditionally used social media sites like Facebook for personal reasons, it’s becoming more of an outlet for brands to reach the masses on a deeper level. It’s changing the face of marketing, since it’s no longer a one-way street of pushing a message to the public. Consumers now have the ability to talk back. As such, marketers must appropriately integrate themselves into the conversation without dominating it. By paying attention to the platform–used for business and non-business-related purposes–marketers and customer service agents can successfully detect online conversations that happen between consumers. From this, they can glean valuable insight about some of their target demographics and likewise improve their products or services. Social media is not a replacement for traditional forms of marketing. It’s simply another channel to convey a brand’s messages in a… Read more »
wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

How integral should social media be to retail and consumer brand businesses today?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...