The Dream of Social Media

“The dream of social media is that in 10 years we will have no more crappy products.”

I heard that at a panel discussion on Social Media at the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference in NYC. Like most profound things it was both simple and elegant. And isn’t that the truth? Isn’t that what consumers and businesses dream of? A world with no complaints? There’s a real fear of social media/networking as well. It’s not: ‘What if they write that I suck?’ The real fear is: ‘What if I suck, then they write about it?’ Remember, what is written on the web is forever. Just ask ‘Cisco Fatty.’

But, the dream of social media is that problems get addressed — in real time. Especially when you deal with health & safety issues (Healthcare, for example), when the worst case scenario is death. Death is the ultimate negative. It’s the nuclear option. You can’t, as they say, put a price on a human life. People take that kind of stuff seriously. So when some blogger/tweeter/guerrilla-columnist-du-jour outs incompetence, true or not, the fear is that your gene pool, life source, cash flow, will dry up and come to an ignominious end. This fear of online complaints is often an illusion preventing your business from delving into social media. Rather than hiding your head in the sand, it is best to simply address it as you would any complaint. Thinking that going to social media will open a can of worms is an illusion. Social Media already exists — your only concern is if you want to have a seat at the table. This fear of engaging in social media is an illusion. But fear of illusion is real.

Feel the fear, and do it anyway

This is the new paradigm, love it or hate it. Social networking is about radical transparency. Institutions and businesses need to act as if their clients have x-ray vision into the inner workings of their business — warts and all. The only remaining question is: how will your business deal with it?

Here’s the new paradigm:

  • Consumer crave information and power
  • If it can be known, it will be known by all (the web causes transparency)
  • If it can be rated, it will be rated
  • If it can be free, it will be free
  • Professionals who are active players in the new vertical marketplaces win
  • There can be no vertical marketplace without community
  • The digital media model rules (local is giant)

(from Rich Barton, of Zillow )

If you are not part of the dialogue that’s out there, the dialogue will go on without you. What are ways that businesses deal with this social networking phenomenon?

Here are the new rules of engagement:

  • Respond
     But first you have to listen for the pin dropping. Do you have anyone monitoring Twitter? Blogs?
  • Create Brand equity and goodwill
     Do you know the answer about how to create brand equity through PR and Marketing? One story at a time. Social Media allows you to put your side of the story out there.

A Corporate example

Comcast is known to be actively listening on Twitter, with several “listeners” with Comcast corporate Twitter accounts responding to Tweets with the keyword ‘Comcast.’ Comcast, once pilloried as having horrible customer service is now doing such a good job that there are reports that folks get better Comcast service on Twitter than they do with the phone reps. Their dual goal is excellent customer service, but also putting the smoke out before it can become a forest fire.

Traditional Marketing is about top-down broadcasting. Social Media is about ‘bubble up’ word of mouth. Traditional Marketing is about control: controlling the message, the image, the Brand. Social Media Marketing is less about control, and more about containment, response and vital change.

Remember the dream of social media? No more crappy products. How is that dream realized? Through actively listening to the repeated gripes, complaints and insults, (and occasional praise), and responding in a way that is diplomatic, professional, and satisfying to the griper/praiser.

What if the problem is systemic, ingrown, “part of the system?” Well then, change the system. I’m not being flippant here (not completely, anyway ). Make the change that’s necessary so that your business will be seen as responsive and service oriented. If your business is not doing its best, the news will out itself anyway. In today’s socially connected world, that news just comes out faster. Social media is a whirlwind. Twitter is not just ‘what are you doing now.’ It is also: ‘Socially-proofed recommendations expressed in real time.’

Learn to ride the whirlwind. Be at one with the quality you know your business can demonstrate, and become part of the dream of social media. Your customers will love you for it.

Originally published at on April 29, 2014.