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5 ways Social Media is changing business culture - it's not just marketing

Author: Mark Kusionowicz

As a Marketing professional I am well aware of the incredible changes that Social Media has delivered and continues to deliver to the world of marketing and sales. Recently though, doing some work with the INNOVO Global Commerce, I realised that there are many other ways in which Social Media platforms and tools are driving change, not only in the way we operate but even in the way we think about business.

1. Buyers drive engagement

This is the major impact on sales and marketing. In the old days of B2B marketing we talked about a ‘sales cycle’ that described the steps a salesperson went through from making contact with a prospect to the sale. The Internet and Social Media have turned that around and now the buyer is in control - there are a set of steps a buyer goes through from recognition of a pain or need to be addressed through to purchase and advocacy. Typically they will not involve a selling company directly until they are well along that buying journey and will more likely seek advice from peers on social channels than believe a brochure or website.  Suppliers need to understand this and make sure they enable engagement with desired content in the right place at the right time. The days of just broadcasting selling messages to a receptive audience are gone!

2. There is no place to hide - transparency is the new 'black'

One of the earliest functions to feel the effect, and often pain, of Social Media was customer support. It used to be pretty simple to have isolated conversations with customers and deal with product and service problems on a one-off basis. This meant being very tight-lipped and not revealing the extent of any problems so that they could be minimised in direct conversation with individual customers. Social Media has blown that wide open - often a customer will be aware of problems with your offering before you are, and there is no use in denying or trying to minimise the issues. The only way to adapt to this is to start thinking about that communication as a valued input and encouraging interactions between customers with openness. This not only means you can get input on what problems need to be prioritised, but often you will get help in the smoothing the waters with customers. The Operations Director at a major coffee chain once told me that because they had made it easy for consumers to share experiences they now have no need to defend themselves when there is criticism - they find that other customers will leap to their defence.

3. Commercial openness has a business case

The transparency enabled by Social Media is not limited to customer support, however. Many aspects of buyer-supplier relationships that were once deemed private are now easily shared amongst groups of interested parties - pricing and discounting, contract terms, purchasing cycles, proposals. Rather than act like Canute and try to hold back the tide with lawyers and confidentiality agreements, why not embrace it and find new ways of exploiting a transparent commercial environment? After all if a supplier could, for example, slash the cost of sales and marketing proposals by making all that information transparent in return for the buyer not trying to screw another special deal but instead share in lower pricing as a result of the suppliers lower costs, then both win!  Commercial Social Networks can enable this new culture.

4. The old hierarchies are crumbling - power returns to the brand

It used to be very difficult for product brands to communicate effectively with their end customers.  They were reliant on hierarchies of, often multiple, wholesalers and retailers to get their proposition and messages to the end customer or spending vast sums of money on broadcast advertising and PR. This meant that the members of the supply chain to the end customer held great power over the brands. Now Social Media enables the brand to engage in conversation directly with customers removing the filtering effect, power and costs involved in the old hierarchies. Having said that, rather than just enabling a pendulum swing from channel brand power to supplier brand power, Social Media provides ways for the brands to collaborate more effectively in communicating a consistent message to customers.

5. Silos can be dismantled

Both internally within a company and in working between companies the fixed  'job description'  and "Information is Power" approach used to mean that no-one was willing to share anything for fear of diminishing their own importance. Millenials growing up with the power of Social Media have a much more open approach to sharing, often even with personal information, and this attitude is rolling through the workplace to great benefit. Openly sharing a goal, the information and the desire to reach it with colleagues inside and outside the company works much more effectively to generate value than the processing of inputs and outputs defined by a narrow process. It also creates completely new ways of generating value, for example, crowd sourcing is now a legitimate way of raising finance for a new venture. The dismantling of actual, cultural and self imposed 'thought' silos will continue to be driven by increased use of Social platforms and approaches.

While I really welcome this evolution of business culture and practice to be more egalitarian, sharing and social my education background in genetics does sound a faint warning. Anyone who has read Richard Dawkins ground-breaking work, "The Selfish Gene", will probably remember the Hawk and Dove model which basically demonstrates that up to a certain population of Hawks, being a Hawk is the more successful approach to life, after which it is better to be a Dove. Equally when the population of Doves gets to be above a certain level then it is again profitable to be a Hawk.  If we are moving from the predominately Hawkish "I win, you lose"  style of business  of the 1980's to a more sharing and social Dovish approach are we in danger of leaving the way open for a new wave of Hawks?

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