I have been witnessing some strange things lately, not sure if you have noticed it too. For one, it is nearly 95 degrees outside, and I live in northern Vermont. I am not used to the heat; however the heat wave might be having a impact, making people do strange things. The strangeness I am witnessing is that people are nitpicking on every single word used or being contrarian, just to be contrarian (some blog reference guide suggests this is a good way to get page views). People suggest that if a word is used too much it is a buzzword. If it is used way too much it is hype. If you really go overboard (by buzzing the hype), you have jumped the shark; “a moment of downturn for a previously successful enterprise” (a Happy Days reference, so it has to be cool).
The subject line of this post is something I tweeted earlier today. Actually, the whole Tweet was “Reputation is a goal, building Trust is a goal; Transparency is not goal, it is a path to each”. This was in response to a typical contrarian post, someone picking on the word, but this one bothered me. For starters, transparency is not a goal, it is a characteristic of a person or if you have a strong leader, an organization. I believe it is a very important characteristic, one that often leads to building trust and then a supporting element of a positive reputation. I take issue with selectively being transparent, you are or you are not. That does not mean that for security, competitive or privacy reasons, certain information does not need to be held close. Stating that certain things cannot be shared is transparent, as long as everyone is treated equally and it is stated.
When doing just the slightest bit of research today, I came upon a good post, which quoted The 2010 Edelman Global Trust Barometer:
For the first time trust and transparency rank as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products and services. In fact, in the U.S. and in much of Western Europe, those two attributes rank higher than product quality and far outrank financial returns.
In other words, I am not making this up, this is real and you should probably pay attention. I could pick on the wording a little, as I did with my Tweet, and suggest the modest differentiation between trust and transparency. Trust is something earned. There are many things which go into earning it, and it trust is one of (maybe the core) the components which make up reputation. Many believe that transparency, the ability to witness with an unobstructed view, what is going on, helps organizations to build trust – maybe even more quickly. If I can witness how an organization treat others, for example, I may be willing to take a risk and ‘trust them’ sooner than if knew very little about them. Just for completeness, ‘open’ is not the same as transparency, open is one level deeper. Open suggests that I can not only see through the window, but I can walk through the front door and participate.
What led me to this post this week, in addition to what I mentioned above? The FastCompany influencer project, which I talked about in a previous post here. In addition to everything I talked about above. Is it possible to be influenced (positively) by someone who I do not trust? Is trust a binary thing – I do or I do not? For example, I can trust that you want to do the right thing, but that does not mean I trust you to do the right thing (just try getting in a car with a new driver). The topic of influence and trust are aligned, this is an area I hope to explore further, but it is not simple. I do know that Trust can be fragile, and gaining it takes work, but it can be gone in an instant.
Simply put, it is in our DNA to be social. We like sharing, engaging and having fun, cocktail parties, backyard Bar-B-ques, name your favorite. When something good happens, we want to tell the world, when something bad, we need a shoulder to lean on. We want to be heard, on our terms, in our voice. However, Social does not equate to group, it is more than that.
The Social Individual
We have been doing this for a very long time. Up until very recently, we only did this face to face, one on one and in small groups. We then we scattered; moved away from friends, moved away from family and it was/is a bit traumatic. We worked to fill the void, we needed the social part. We wrote letters, then we used the phone; good not great. Then the Internet happened, email, chat, AOL, we were stuck behind our computers, 9600 baud and still struggling, getting closer… Then Web 2.0 happened, along with increased bandwidth, FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter and everything became clear, or did it?
We are substituting technology for proximity. However, there is simply nothing like being there, sorry, it just is. A handshake, eye contact, body language and tone cannot be replaced, no matter how hard we try. It all begs the question, how close can technology get us? Answer: It is a asymptotic relationship, we will progress, but there is a ceiling and we will never get there (Not until you can say, “beam me up Scotty”). To some, the direction we are headed is not quite correct.
Enter the Social Customer
Individually-empowered customers are the ultimate greenfield for business and culture. Starting with the social keeps us from working on empowering individuals natively. That most of the social action is in silos and pipes of hot and/or giant companies slows things down even more. They may look impressive now, but they are a drag on the future. Doc Searls
Somehow in the Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 transition we moved from one on one interactions to a focus on many to many. Parts of the switch are good, but some need to work themselves out. Friend and colleague, Graham Hill, makes the following statement (In his Manifesto for Social Business).
No.1 From Individual Customers…to Networks of Customers
The emphasis for business today is still on managing customers as individuals. But we have evolved as social animals with highly developed and highly influential social networks. For example, research by Christakis & Fowler suggests that we are highly influenced by three degrees of influence – friends, friends’ friends and friends’ friends’ friends. It’s not about ‘influencers’ per se, but the social networks in which influence happens. If we are to be successful in Social Business we must recognise the power of customers’ social networks to shape customers’ behaviour.
At first, these statements, made by very smart individuals, seem to contradict each other. But, read deeper, there is something more valuable here, from my perspective. While we struggle to manage the individual customer (we may or may not succeed), we must recognize the customer as an individual and empower them in everything we do, from strategy to design and then finally in execution – fostering the individual within the crowd, that sounds hard.
How can you empower the Social Customer?
The first step is to assemble your team – first empower yourself!. I am a big fan of Friendsourcing; Crowdsourcing focused on people you know and trust. I highly recommend this approach. In other words, this is complicated stuff, and no one person has all the answers, sorry, it just is… Friendsourcing can be accomplished either by leveraging your own personal network (friends) or by reputation (friends of friends). We are in fast moving, fast changing times, and sometimes it is just too easy to believe the hype about that shiny new object. My peers should certainly expect this to appear here, ‘there is no one size fits all answer to these questions’. You can only answer the crucial questions: ‘How’, ‘What’, ‘Where’ and ‘When’, with a combination of a deep understanding of your business, your value proposition, dedication to your customers and a better knowledge of your industry than anyone else. Fill-in the gaps appropriately, with people you trust.
I am leveraging people I trust, all the time. For example Esteban Kolsky is busy writing a 5 part series on the Roadmap to SCRM (Social CRM), which I highly recommend. Like Graham, Esteban is a friend and a trusted advisor. The following is taken from part 4 of his series.
Remember when you read those “social media experts” and “social gurus” telling you to just try it? that if you start listening you will be ahead of the game? I know you know this already, but they are way wrong. Way wrong. Just listening without a purpose can hurt more than it can help. Biggest problem is that once you are committed to a channel (listening) it is very easy to get in, but extremely hard to get out. You can lose reputation, trust, customers, and business if you pull out of a channel because you never took the time to figure out if it was the right one for you.
The key message here is to be cautious, all too often the “gurus” and “experts” pretend to be King, as did the the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. Challenge the gurus with the Social Media strategies, not just to challenge, but to ask them how they did it. How many times have they done it, if they have done it. These experts need to have a solid grounding in Marketing, and Media (not necessarily ‘Social’) first.
The current hype cycle that is Social (Media and by extension Networking) is very much about creating that feeling of closeness (emotions) and changing behaviors, between your organization and your customers. Make no mistake, while there is some hype, there is a new bar, and expectations have been set and reset.
Your customers are building their trust networks, I have my trusted advisors, who are yours? No need to make the journey solo, after all, we are all Social, we just are….
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