The Key to Becoming a Social Business? Stop Focusing on Social Media

I’ve officially been a social media strategist for just over six months. I’ve spent at least eight hours every day logged into Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn while I communicate with customers, promote our presence, meet with internal stakeholders, and create and curate content. I’ve also been intentionally networking with social media leaders at companies of all sizes, in a variety of industries. All this has lead me to one big, unexpected conclusion:

My job is not about social media. Really.

I’ve done a lot of reading (my favorites have been Social Media ROI and Altimeter’s work about social business), and I’ve learned that my work is more about customer service, education, word of mouth, creating memorable experiences, corporate communication, and organizational change.

When Frank Eliason, SVP of Social Media at Citibank, took the stage at the Social Media Strategies Summit in New York last month, he offered an apology. He apologized because five years go, the people who understood how to win in social media didn’t speak loudly enough. They let themselves be overshadowed by newcomers (gurus, ninjas, and the like) touting new, shiny objects—and marketers in turn lost their way. We got caught up in likes and followers, and created an echo chamber that focused on the wrong things.

Shiny balls

Don’t be seduced by a shiny object.
PurpleLorikeet on Flickr

Social media is simply a tool. Right now those tools include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. I’m fully expecting those names to fall out of rotation and be placed by others within a few years. Maybe we’ll even have another name for those new networks and technologies, rendering social media a thing of the past.

Does that mean jobs like mine are going to fall by the wayside? I don’t think so. In addition to offering the occasional how-to session on the latest communication tool, I think people in my position have a huge responsibility to bear. We can use the new, shiny aspects of social media as a carrot to get our employers to re-examine the way they do business. To give more weight to customer voices. To empower a diverse workforce to impact business decisions from the bottom and middle of an organization, instead of forcing top-down initiatives. To respond in real-time to the needs of consumers. To let the actions of employees build the brand as much (or more than) the PR and marketing staff. To become a social business.

This is why I’m not chomping at the bit to bust out an Instagram video strategy, or snatch up as many Pinterest followers as possible before the platform figures out how to monetize. I’m more concerned with using these new, shiny tools to impact key business metrics like customer satisfaction than with the number of Facebook likes I acquire daily or how many impressions our last tweet received. I’m more concerned with being an internal agent of change, and helping my organization leverage the latest social technologies in a way that helps us be better.

We don’t need to win at social media; we need to win at fulfilling our promises to customers and treating our employees like valuable assets. When we win there, everything else will fall into place—even on Facebook and Twitter.

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5 Comments on “The Key to Becoming a Social Business? Stop Focusing on Social Media

  1. Very well stated, Liz. It’s taken a while, but I think some of us are finding out that social media platforms are more effective when used as customer relations tools than as marketing “shout” platforms. Keep preaching that customer service message!

  2. I couldn’t agree more. It’s time that organizations realize that people don’t want to have a “relationship” with their laundry detergent via social media. They just want to get their questions answered and their problems solved, and social media is an obvious (and very public) way to do that. I’ll say it again – the perception of a brand is formed 90% by what the organization does (products, services and the customer service around it) and 10% by what it says (traditional marketing). Social media can be a way to deliver customer service, but it starts with “how do our customers want to interact with us?” and not “Hey, let’s do Pinterest.”

  3. PREACH! “Social media is simply a tool.” You’ve said more articulately what I’ve been yelling from my soapbox for a while now. Social media is a new and other way to communicate – something we need to be good at over and above logging into an account or understanding the latest app. There are certainly some great opportunities that come with using social media for connection and conversation, but there are also great challenges when we get caught up in the shiny ‘tool’ and confuse it for more authentic communication. Thanks for sharing this Liz. We need more ‘social media strategists’ to think like you.

  4. Amen, Rev. Liz!

    Thanks for keeping us focused on what any good marketer knows: firsthand experience with an organization, product, service will always trump what we say about ourselves. New media just help us reach people where they are: without a reinforcing message and actions that put the customer first, it doesn’t matter how cute or clever we get. Your humor, authentic caring, and drive to do what’s

  5. …oops, do what’s right for the customer are what make you successful. Your understanding of how to use various tools with that goal are what make you a communications guru.

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