Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The benefits of Social Business 2/2

This post is the second in a series of six that deals with Social Business and Social Enterprise. The goal of the series: to explore the pros and cons of Social Business and Social Enterprise, given the current odds, and fast-forwarding to business opportunities now and in the near future

This post is about the benefits of Social Business, part two of two. While yesterday's was all about the history of Business, this one will fill in the gaps left by it - it will deal with the present and the future

1. The need for trust

Yesterday I showed how the relationships were stretched over the centuries and millennia. How we grew from trusting friends and friends of friends, to putting faith in friends of friends of friends, and eventually relying in a religious way on entire communities of likeminded.
All this, to make up for the increasing lack of proximity that brought with it anonymity, which forced out the intimacy we once knew - and once automatically led to trust, which now is out the window

2. The provision of trust: branding an image

The final answer of the businesses was to bring us image - I said design but that wasn't the right word. Today's perfection of image is indeed design (think of Apple, Facebook, and all the schmarketeers giving you advice on how to style your weblog (making it end up looking the same as all the other "styled" blogs out there), but what businesses try to do is provide us with an image of their brand so we can identify with it - and cherish it, hug it, cuddle it

Am I overdoing? Maybe, but all within the bandwidth, I think:

  • Would you buy a used car on the corner of a street, from a stranger? No, that would be considered unwise
  • Doing the same, yet replacing the location by "a recognised dealer"? Nothing should keep you from doing so, should it?
  • Doing the same, yet replacing the person by a neighbour, a friend, a friend of a friend even? Usually, that would imply a bit more risk but certainly an acceptable one, especially if the spend is relatively low

3. Personalisation and closeness directly relate to trust

Bringing back the distance between buyer and seller and intimacy will automatically reintroduce trust into the relationship.
All branding is aimed at making products feel closer to you, so the trust is automagically brought back. (Semi-)automated direct mail, email, even spam these days tries to play that trick on you. Google ads in e.g. your Gmail? Scary how they bring products to your attention that you Googled just a few seconds before, right? You did want to click those links the few first times you saw them, right?

Forget the fast retail stuff like Coca-Cola, cigarettes, potato chips (crisps for the UK readers) and other products you buy a dime a dozen. Longer-lifecycle products like cars, loans, houses, mortgages and life insurances: you buy them from "companies that feel good and reliable".
I buy freshly chopped pork from a farm up the road, one of our neighbours is the intermediate in distributing and selling it. Anything could be wrong with the meat, but that thought never crosses our mind. It tastes great, is good on the price, and most of all: it's produced right next door

4. The move to label products as services

We've witnessed the shift from products to services within this context as well, with crazy exceptions that people tried to pass pretty much every product as a service, just to bring that "tailor-made" feeling to you. Mass-produced products that are equal to all, turned into "custom-made services that suit your individual needs". Does that sound dumb? Yes, but does it work? For most, or at least a fair majority, it does

All these are the means and tools that have been tried and tested, all with the same goal: closing the ever-widened and still widening gap between buyer and seller, so trust enters the relationship again, and less money can be spent on "repairing" the "broken" product.
What does Social Business introduce? Customer communities that offer help forums, product reviews, mostly without money being exchanged, sometimes with a few company-paid administrators or moderators but mostly even without those.
It's not very nice to say, but these function a bit like the clueless layer of a company, forming a human buffer between the end-user and the company itself

I am well aware that the phrase Social Business was coined before Social Business as the Twitterati use it, formed. Dachis coined Social Business Design and the rest is history - so I'm looking for for-profit businesses that use Social as a means to do bigger and better business with the same resources

5. The two major areas where Social rocks

Social is strongest where it's closest to people: either reaching out to consumers in order to try to convert them into (paying!) customers, or reaching out to existing customers whose image of the product has been "damaged" - in plain English, those with customer complaints.
That pinpoints the best usage for Social at this very moment: in aftersales (customer service, providing that via communities and help forums) and presales (marketing and sales, providing that via communities and product reviews).
And, to be honest, the rest is mostly product - if not all. There are very neat product installation and FAQ / fixing web pages that belong to either end of the scale, or both, but you can't throw much more people onto a product than currently has already happened

6. Why Social works

Moderation is almost unnecessary as these communities appear to be self-moderating, largely because they start out small - like the villages and communities 5,000-2,000 ago in yesterday's post. Coincidence? No. Strong ties and trust grow naturally in small-sized environments.
Is it surprising that Social rises now? Now the biggest discrepancies in the industrialised world slowly disappeared?
Communism collapsed when The Wall fell in 1989, capitalism collapsed when Wall Street fell in 2008. Religion doesn't divide people like it used to - basically all rubber bands stretched so far that they snapped

Where does that leave us humans? In some state of limbo? We can only reaffirm our image of individuals as long as the group we form part of, shelters us from everyday nuances and fine-grained subtleties - usually by opposing to another group.
The outer groups have eroded, and at the same time we have been handed means to form and become part of groups on a daily basis.
The marriage-for-life to your husband or wife stopped being self-evident half a century ago, and slowly after the marriage-for-life to your work did the same. Now we're applying the same principle to other ties that "kept us in captivity" for somewhat of a lifetime: religion, political conviction, politically correct friends, just friends and acquaintances

We see other humans as humans now, in stead of people from other Groups, which ever those might be. Interacting with complete strangers on a daily basis greatly affects our perception, lessens our resistance, lowers our guard, and shows us that we all have many more things in common than we have differences

Social is the way forward, there's no denying that it is. It is not only giving us the feeling that people and products around us are less far away than we feel, but in the longer run it actually does bring both closer. Social makes us more Social, and this world a better place to be

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