Social networks: The human factor

Nour and Jaffe

David Nour (left) and Joseph Jaffe (right)

Various presenters at least week’s Cisco Partner Velocity event in Barcelona certainly had different takes on what it took to be successful in the social media sphere.

But they equally certainly had a common thread underneath their messages – succeeding in business with social media takes a little bit more than just hanging your shingle out there on a Facebook page or Twitter feed.

David Nour, speaking on the topic of relationship economics, put it most succinctly: “You know what it takes to get into social media? A pulse,” he quipped with the assembled partners. “You know what it takes to succeed? A strategy.”

The ends may be different, but Joseph Jaffe, speaking on using current customers to get to new customers, offered a similar view.

Nour’s view: Return on influence

In their own ways, both speakers downplayed social media as the be-all-and-end-all. Nour asked partners how many of those in attendance had met top customers via Facebook or Twitter, and was unsurprised when not many hands went up. “Nothing will replace that three-dimensional engagement,” Nour said of in-person interaction and relationship-building.

One major part of his thesis may be enough to get heads spinning amongst many of his fellow social marketing gurus: “The worst thing you can do on social networks is sell,” he said. “The best thing you can do it listen, engage and influence.”

“Your knowledge of switches will get you to about here,” Nour said, holding his hand up about half-way. “But your ability to engage and influence others, on- and off-line, often without authority, is what is going to set you apart. You are a in a value-based relationship business.”

As customers become more and more educated and sophisticated, doing more research on potential suppliers online, engaging both customers directly and key influencers of those customers becomes more crucial to Nour’s social sales cycle.

  1. Like me.
  2. Know me.
  3. Trust me.
  4. Pay me.

“People who circumvent that process, online or offline, shoot themselves in the foot,” he said. “Your customers have covered a lot of ground before they ever talk to you. You need to control your online presence so that when you do get a chance to engage them, what they get is in line with what they’re looking for.”

Nour offered a five-step approach to succeeding with building social connections online:

  1. Identify relevant stakeholders through tools like LinkedIn.
  2. Find sources of insight amongst those stakeholders
  3. Engage those sources of insight with unique value add
  4. Deliver exceptional experiences and remove anything that doesn’t “wow,” whether positively or negatively
  5. Influence best practices within your community

“Social is an enabler, but the business you’re really in is engaging people,” Nour told partner marketing professionals.

Jaffe’s view: Customer service trumps all

Jaffe started his presentation by talking about his “4,000 fake friends” on Facebook, and welcomed attendees to join that community as part of his gentle skewer of marketing practices.

“I am a marketer, and we don’t express value in terms of quality,” he joked. “We want impressions. We want quantitiy.”

He said there have never been so many ways to connect with customers, or for consumers to connect with marketers, and that across all segments of marketing, the goals need to be innovating and optimizing, particularly when it comes to Web-based activity.

“Forget about social media – it’s time to put the social back into media, into marketing and into commerce,” he said.

Jaffe focused on using marketing efforts to maximize customer retention, citing the oft-quoted statistics of the cost of gaining a new customer versus the cost of keeping a current one. To make that happen, he said, “retention becomes the new acquisition,” and is no longer something that just happens, but has a proactive and strategic plan behind it.

It leads to the elevation of customer servie to become “not A but THE strategic differentiator,” Jaffe said.

“You might think the things you sell are so differentiated, but for the most part, they aren’t,” he said. “But you can differentiate them based on customer service – and if you aren’t doing it, someone else is.”

Customer service not only becomes a differentiator, but what Jaffe described as “the mode of marketing, PR and crisis communications.” “Who do you turn to when the chips are down or when you want to get advice?” he asked. “The answer has to be your customers.”

For Jaffe, this sets up an interesting switchover – a reversal of the role of marketing from convincing people that they want something, to listening to what they want and giving it to them – it comes down, for Jaffe, to the old adage – people don’t like to be sold to, but they sure like to buy.

And to allow that open dialogue to happen, Jaffe said online presences have to get away from “fakery or truthiness” and focus on a human touch.

Common threads

For both gurus, social media and social networks are not an end but a means to an end, a way to bring a more human face and voice into the marketing equation, to make it more personal and experiential.

For Nour, who was born in Iran, it’s a subject on which North America lags sadly behind, noting that in the rest of the world, you build a relationship to build the business, but in North America, the tendency is to focus on the business first. But he suggested that flies in the face of how humans operate.

“Remember that big implementation you did from December of 2005? No, of course not,” he said. “But do you remember the manager who first took you under his wing? Of course.”

Jaffe suggested that if social marketing reaches its goal in the end, it may become the kind of thing that changes the very definition of marketing.

“If you truly listen to what your customers say and then act on it, it’s not really marketing anymore, is it?” Jaffe pondered.

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