Relevancy and Purpose – considering the social identity of a business

Michael Brito’s book Smart Business, Social Business equates success with a company’s ability to think from the inside out.  The idea that a business needs to do more than affect a social media campaign is unique to Brito, and contrasts with the general message and theme in our other class readings.  While Solis in Engage, and Anderson in The Long Tail tend to look at the outcome and product of a good social media campaign, as well as the means to create one for a variety of consumers, Brito inverts this objective and suggests that having a slick and consumable social brand isn’t enough to truly provide longevity to a company when it comes to authentic brand loyalty and establishing a sense of value to an increasingly aware and shrewd consumer.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Brito’s book is the level of dedication he gives to creating the social “culture” in an organization. He stresses the importance of having internal discussions about what the organization stands for, specifically it’s mission and goals, before looking into strategy. This philosophy works from the inside out, and ultimately strengthens the “outside” image and success of the business overall.  He further suggests that this re-visioning has to happen at the highest levels of the organization.  While the idea of having a strong identity and goal is also prevalent in Solis’s Engage, Brito takes the concept to a structural level, suggesting that the development of a strong social culture within an organization is fundamental to creating the strong public identity, not the other way around.

Brito’s book reveals how socially aware organizations use social media  to move the business end of an organization ahead, but it also explores how the use of social media tools and ideas help to build better relationships and communication internally, within the organization.  In the first chapter of his book he explores the concept of a Social Media Center of Excellence team.   Read more about the functions of this team on Brito’s blog,  BRITOpian .  I have linked an excellent article related to the start up of such a COE team.  In the book and the article, there is a focus on breaking down organizational “silos” — a concept which emphasizes the idea that if we are all working independently towards a common goal, we may not be moving in the direction we wish to collaboratively — even if we believe we are.

He further emphasizes the importance of developing a plan for using social media, which Solis also does, but in Smart Business, Social Business,  Brito takes the time to elaborate on the importance of the proper technology platform both for internal use and customer use.  With regards to the internal use of technology, Brito stresses the importance of the corporate message and goals regarding social media. If a company  has a strong message and expectation laid out for its staff, the use of social media internally can enhance and support a business’s efforts.  This systemic approach to running an organization with a social media communication plan in place, can also help further collaboration and creativity organization-wide:  Two essential elements that seem to be the key to success for several of the case study businesses he weaves throughout the book.  Businesses such as Intel, Starbucks, and EMC for example, all use a type of community blog or twitter for their employees, as well as their consumer advocates.  Brito points to Intel’s various community blogs and other pages linked to their website, as well as successful communication strategy such as the Starbucks My Starbucks Idea  program.

A unique message in Brito’s book is the idea of adding value and relevancy.  He says a successful business generates authenticity, both internally and externally.  But, he goes further and states that while a business can be authentic in all its communication strategies, “if its content isn’t relevant and doesn’t add value, the community will not fully believe the message.”  In order to create value, a cycle, or relationship between the consumers and the product and the business has to take place.  Brito uses this model to illustrate the relationship, which he explains is more than just buying a product or service.

Brito's Social-Business-Value Diagram

In this model, Brito explains, “customers are also indirectly selling products though  advocacy, or aiding and influencing their circle of influence down the purchase funnel through organic conversations.”  That is true value creation, and it is all customer driven.  And not only are they influencing sales, customers can also give their own insight and feedback about products and services to others, by use of social media.  If the venue is provided for them, all the more reason to share.  The opportunity presents itself.

Brito’s book has a great deal that is practical and informational for businesses that are looking to become social businesses.  One final concept that I found practical and important, was his explanation regarding the difference between an Influencer and an Advocate.

This diagram illustrates the purchase funnel Brito writes about, I believe it is a traditional marketing idea, but he emphasises the importance of customer advocacy to illustrate the power of advocates, and why a social business needs to make it their business to pay attention to them.  He says it best, I think, when he writes:

Influencers will stop talking/blogging/tweeting about a product when “the love” is gone. Advocates just love the product, hands down.

When you give space to advocates, it could be argued that half of your marketing is already done, and that goes back to My Starbucks Idea, or Dell’s Ideastorm.

So how does this apply to the IB?  You got it:  give the community of learners a platform, give the community of employees a platform, provide the rules of engagement, the structure, the training, the expectations, and let them be the voice for the organization.  Thinking about the final project in this course, I made the effort to reach some of the social media and communication staff at the IB earlier last month.  I spoke with a few individuals, including the manager of online/social media marketing and communication.  It was interesting to see that my conclusions were not far from the mark, for she spoke at length about their challenges, including the fact that they had grown very quickly.  One of the greatest consequences of this growth is the lack of a cohesive social media presence.  As it turns out, The IB’s greatest problem is the very caution that Brito and Solis warn of:  Too many media platforms, and too many voices forging ahead on their own — albeit with good intention.  There is just not enough guided or shared focus.

Based on my observations, the lack of guided or shared focus really is the issue to take control of.  For all of its great ideas and growth that has happened exponentially, the IB is really in need of a sheriff.  They need someone with a big lasso to rein in all the great bloggers, Linkedin groups, Facebook pages, and tweeters.  They need a common message and plan, so that they can observe and measure what is working and what is not in their social media world.  This opens up space for new ideas and helps the organization to identify where the investment of resources (human and fiscal) should go.   This is both daunting and exciting, because it is a new path,but also a tall order which requires research and a new approach to what has already been rolled out.  I look forward to seeing how they begin to hone this aspect of their communication plan, and how they plan to pull social media use back into context, and release it again in new ways.  There are areas untouched by social media, areas which could possibly help add the personal touch to the organization.  I am thinking of the advocate voice — for University Recognition or for Program Outreach, having guest “posts” from those who have successful recognition policies, or offer great scholarships.  For program outreach in general, what about a new school startup experience, a school that graduated it’s first IB DP class?  A school district that decided to fund PYP in all of their elementary schools?  These stories exist.  They have to go public.  The IBWorld magazine only reaches the subscribers, yet there are great stories, ideas, and comments in that magazine.  Those stories would serve a larger audience in a more public venue.  Food for thought.

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