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.


Who wags the tail

The Long Tail, as in use by the book of Chris ...

Who wags the tail? We do.

Chris Anderson’s work The Long Tail evaluates the “economics of choice,” and looks at the factors which have changed the way consumers and sellers interact in the digital age, specifically the internet retail market.  With greater accessibility to products, and more sellers able to meet the demands of what Anderson calls the “Niche Markets”, what consumers buy and what sellers deem as revenue makers has changed.  No longer do you find retail markets which rely exclusively on “hit” sales in a given market –in Anderson’s telling of this phenomenon he cites the music industry as an example.  Instead, Anderson’s prediction is simple: the future of business is selling less of more.  In Anderson’s book, “more” is the product.  Regardless of what product it is, in effect, the sales of a myriad of products which are small but frequent surpasses the expectation that the greatest profit should be found in the fewest products, or “hits” in any industry.

I am not the typical reader of economics or marketing strategy.  However, the evaluation of marketing trends, and the idea that sheer volume of sales of anything and everything make the greatest profit margins, fascinates me.  Probably because I am one of the all-seeking and shopping consumers whom Anderson discusses, and whom  Solis says companies must rely on.   It is clear from my own use of search tools and social media, that I can seek out products intentionally, but also can be informed about products that I didn’t know exist and can buy products I never realized I needed or wanted.

To me, that is the greatest influence social media like Google, Twitter and Facebook provide to the consumer world, and the greatest impact sites like Ebay and Amazon offer to the now informed and influenced shoppers.  Both Solis and Anderson discuss the power of being connected, and the themes of choice and access are central in both books.  However, Anderson’s explanation about the economics of choice and what is found and available in the long tail of any market becomes relevant when we think about the vast number of items one can buy in any industry.

Anderson’s long tail reminds me of the old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”

Offering unlimited choice, virtually, doesn’t require unlimited space, actually.  The concept, linking product access and real estate on a shelf in a store, is another idea Anderson explores,  mostly through the music and movie industry.   The access creates a whole new level of competition to the market of promoting and selling media to consumers.  I never consciously connected the demise of Block Buster’s and Border’s Books with the fact that I can get the same media available on my kindle, my iPod, or in print form, faster, using Amazon or other online retail providers.  The concept of the long tail is tangible in Anderson’s book, mostly because I think readers have all been consumers in the tail, and probably never knew it.  I know my husband’s love of random musical theater soundtracks and independent films has been well fed.

Thinking about the variety and quantity of options in “The Tail” also leads to the consideration about how an increase in product access impacts the economics of variety.  Anderson does describe the idea of possibly too much variety, but he then frames this concern with the sophisticated resources that are available to consumers.  Tools that help narrow product selection, such as key word search or other filters can help consumers navigate the choices.   Strategies such as offering product parings, as seen on Amazon, or consumer reviews and ratings, support purchases made by consumers.  Simultaneously these reviews validate what was also discussed in Solis’s book, Engage, where Solis identifies the increased faith in the individual consumer as a voice of authority, various companies and markets in general are realizing the importance of the advisory role of individuals.  The primary playground for this sort of consumer engagement is the Web.  Both Anderson and Solis speak about the Web not just as a marketplace for merchandise but also a marketplace for opinion.  Anderson calls it the great leveler of marketing, allowing for the niche markets to coexist along other larger well-known names.

I found Anderson’s work thought provoking.  But, applying Anderson’s “ Long Tail Rules” to my client, the International Baccalaureate Organization, is challenging.  The two rules I can apply, however, include rule 2: Letting the customer do the work for you, and rule 4: One product doesn’t fit all.  I see the use of social media (as Solis also describes) both effective, and practical, in letting the voice of the IB be the voice of the students, teachers, and staff that bring the program to life in schools around the globe.  I also acknowledge and support how the IB has evolved over time, creating different program strands to meet the needs of a variety of audiences.  Audiences including career-oriented high school students with their IB Career Certificate, and even offering their middle school program, called the IB Middle Years, in three forms:  five years in grades 6 – 10, three years in grades 6 – 8, and even two years, grades 9 & 10.   Most recently, the IB is offering students the chance to test in the Diploma program components which were traditionally components exclusive to students pursuing a full IB diploma program, these being the Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge class, and CAS.  These changes may be seen as compromise, but they can also be seen as progress.