March 23, 2010

5 questions for the author of ‘Engage’

‘Companies have no choice but to pay attention,’ says Brian Solis

JD LasicaBrian Solis’s new book, Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web, covers how social media significantly contributes to the success of brands and businesses smart enough to get in front of this burgeoning phenomenon.

Brian, the president of FutureWorks, is a longtime friend and fellow member of the Intel Insiders. Here are six ques­tions I put to Brian this week about Engage and how brands are using social media:

1Your new book Engage may turn out to be the definitive work on how social media is transforming business. Looking at the big picture, how is it changing the balance of power between customers and companies?

I invested an incredible amount of passion and also vision into this book as I believe that the time is now to lead a media revolution based on insight, intelligence and experience. I think the minute you hold this book, its intentions are clear. The impact of new media is only just beginning and the road to where we’re going is, to channel the Beatles, long and winding. I believe that the destination is less important nowadays and it is this journey that we each embrace, that defines our experiences and teachings.

Social media is the democratization of information and the equalization of influence.

As in many books and blogs on the subject of social media, theory plays a role, of course. However, new media isn’t as “new” as we might think. There are lessons and applied learnings that we must embrace in order to effectively change, not merely for the sake of change but for the betterment of the tattered relations between businesses, customers and the influencers and peers who connect them. The shift of balance skewed toward those who believe they held the power and, in many cases, businesses invested profits into distancing the nodes that connect us to our networks of relevance in order to reduce the cost of actually “managing” customers. When we lost the universal ability to hit 0 and connect with a live human being, regardless of medium, it was the final insult that sparked a social uprising.

Social media is the democratization of information and the equalization of influence. Monologue gave way to dialogue, and we the people ensured that our voices were not only heard but felt.

Now that we, as consumers, have the ability to vocalize sentiment and, in doing so, cause meaningful and reverberating action, companies have no choice but to pay attention. They must respond. And, they’re not even close to doing so in a scalable nor efficient manner. Brands were blindsided because their focus was on distancing connections instead of embracing them.

Social media is our industrial revolution, and as sensational as it sounds, we have yet to fully realize its potential and promise.

2Tell us some of the success stories you spotlight in the book — one or two compelling examples of how companies have used social media to change the way they operate.

I share examples for every viable aspect of social media within business ranging from service to marketing to product development to the complete transformation of a brand, its culture and purpose, from the outside in and the bottom up. To share a couple of examples right here would be out of context and would be a disservice to the overall value of what you, someone reading this right now, can bring to the game.

The value of this book, if it’s one thing I want readers to take away, is that it answers your questions as well as the questions you never knew to ask.

When we read case studies, we assume that their experience, their purpose, their intentions are similar to our business and the unique challenges we face. Additionally, we presume that the strategy driving the examples actively shared with us were calculated in their design and execution. More importantly, we also surmise that the KPIs, metrics, and potential ROI were premeditated, designed into the program and that all of the results that showered the company through social media did, in fact, offer true business value – at some level.

Engage starts at the end and works you back toward the middle and makes no apologies for asking you to challenge yourself to understand every important aspect of social media and how it applies to your world. There are no shortcuts, and the best programs I’ve encountered or lived through have been designed based on a balance between goals and intelligence – meaning, those initiatives created from scratch as inspired by our research. It’s time to answer our own questions and write our own success stories.

3You’re a veteran of the public relations field. How is the landscape shifting for PR, marketing, corporate communications and customer service? (It can’t shift fast enough in my opinion!)

I’m a veteran of marketing, communications and new media, but I am also forever a student, technologist and futurist. But in order to make sense of everything that’s unfolding before us, I’ve become an aspiring anthropologist, sociologist and ethnographer as well.

I believe that value-driven engagement is the new marketing, and the key to effective engagement now is believability. Transparency and authenticity are table stakes, and quite honestly, they should have always served as the foundation for interaction. But that’s just it — interaction was missing.

Believability is a trait that is actively sought by consumers at every step of the decision-making process, including after the purchase.

To be believable, well, that’s something entirely different, and it requires a vested understanding for not only features and benefits but also how it improves experiences. Believability is a trait that is actively sought by consumers at every step of the decision-making process, including after the purchase. It requires a deeper investment from representatives to immediately barrel through suspicions and doubt to convey solutions, guidance and in turn inspire action. It’s how we earn credibility and ultimately trust. And this is true for every department as in a world of direct engagement, one where people have access to the same tools to connect and influence others, we are required to match or surpass their social prowess to steer activity in a favorable direction.

Everything to do so is simply enabled through the tools and services available today, relying on the channels that reach our desired communities based on how it is that they communicate with one another and what it is they’re seeking. The culture and behavior of each online community dictates our strategies and it’s there for us to discover right now.

In the end, this is all rooted in the art and science of public relations (not PR), and everyone within the organization is now on the front lines of influence. We are measured by our actions and words, and therefore, putting our words into action requires engagement that is driven more by genuine intentions and solutions and less about gimmicks, selling, messaging or pitching.

4What new ground does Engage cover that hasn’t been explored by books like Groundswell or Trust Agents?

I purchased copies of Groundswell and Trust Agents because I believe they move thinking and actions in a direction that helps drive forward personal and professional transformation. Change is never easy and so we need inspiration and guidance to take steps that lead us away form complacence and mediocrity and march us toward the redefinition of direct-to-influencer and direct-to-consumer engagement. Engage only works because of books such as Groundswell, Trust Agents, The New Community Rules by Tamar Weinberg and Social Media Marketing Handbook by Dan Zarrella, among others. Engage is a deep dive into everything you need to apply tangible, and highly effective, strategies and tactics into your day-to-day work, regardless of which division you’re in or your position within the hierarchy.

This book is written to empower champions and executives, bringing them to the table more informed about what they need to accomplish and how, creating a truly collaborative environment that grows based on knowledge and not guesswork. This book is rich with proven lessons and instruction that starts with analyzing the tools at a much more meaningful level in order to grasp their potential, limitations and ultimately how to form connections with the very people we wish to reach and inspire. Step by step, this book leads readers toward insight starting with…

• How to find communities of influence
• How to create worthy presences in each network according to specific goals and objectives and why
• How to create content and social objects that trigger responses and encourage sharing
• How to grow communities that react when activated
• How to define success and, in turn, measure it
• How to ascertain the amount of resources required and how to get top-line support for pilots and campaigns

5How do you think social media will impact corporate culture and internal business processes? A lot of corporations are dabbling in social media at the edges but aren’t really internalizing it. What happens if and when they do?

As mentioned earlier, social media represents the democratization of not only publishing, but also that of influence. As such, the communities we “thought” we reached via broadcast, top-down branding now only earn glances as attention rapidly becomes a precious commodity in these conversation-rich media networks.

The reality is this: as consumers gain prominence within online societies, the challenge to connect with them directly or those around them elevates dramatically. Connecting with them is not an option, however. Their activity in social networks builds and inevitably creates a groundswell or social tsunami that triggers a tipping point that inevitably forces businesses to pay attention. Engage is designed to help businesses shift from a reactive to proactive model, and in doing so, we can then employ trust agents and linchpins to cause change from the outside in.

Moving away from the play on words, culture is something so powerful that consumers can invariably channel what we represent through their actions and words to assist in the expansion of reach and purpose. However, culture is usually something that is not as intentional as we might think. The exercise of identifying who we are and who we want to be is usually documented in a mission statement but not embodied in our daily interactions. But, as social networks are powered by people and emotions and interests are the ties that form bonds between them, our culture becomes the very thing that attracts affinity, and without it, the humanization of our brand is hindered.

Because influence is surmounting, it is now a requirement to foster a culture within that becomes the essence that cultivates collaboration inside and out, serving as the catalyst for inspired activity in our communities of interest and beyond.

Give consumers something meaningful to talk about.

Empower employees to willfully share their pride and talent.

Become something that everyone can believe in.

Yes, our culture is something that is going to change as a result of social media, as it should. No brand is an island and if you think about engagement as that of a tourism bureau, it is our job to go to where people are discovering and sharing information now in order to attract them to our story, realizing that without culture, experience, community and corresponding value, we will not earn the relationships nor advocates we seek.

Related

5 questions for the author of ‘Trust Agents’

5 ques­tions for the author of ‘Twit­ter­ville’

7 ques­tions for the author of ‘Say Every­thing’

6 questions for the author of ‘Be the Media’ JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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