One of the big gotchas of the social web is that what makes it so empowering for individuals is also itâ€™s greatest challenge as a platform for business.
At its core, the web is naturally a platform for people. It highlights each of us in the center of a self-curated world with our popularity equaling our reach and influence.
It is as personally powerful as it is addictive. Remarkably self-centered and surprisingly a great platform for collective groups of individuals, the community.
Lately, the idea is being bandied about as fact that for businesses to be successful on the web, somehow they need to take on a personal persona and exist side by side on an equal plane with you, me, General Electric, our favorite restaurant, our dentist and Walmart.
It just isnâ€™t so. And a dead end marketing strategy.
Iâ€™m not a social commerce denier in any way. The opposite actually.
Iâ€™ve posted endlessly on how the web has changed not only our lives but also the essence of how we do business. How the customer is squarely the center of the commercial world. And that we are entering the world where marketplaces are the most natural platform for business.
But, companies arenâ€™t people, no matter how humanized. And neither are brands. Business is not a masquerade, a product in an individualâ€™s clothing.
Itâ€™s a fascinating dichotomy. The web as an organic platform for people and communications,Â and businesses’ uncomfortable use of it for commercial purposes.
For people, the web is a frictionless runway. Individual voices, transparent messages, global reach for the clear of intent are not the exception. The web as a platform for connected individuals just works.
For pundits and people doing business as themselves, itâ€™s a dream platform. There is little separation between the brand presented to clients or fans, and the more cleverly you share your quirks, the more somehow this informs the potency of your professionalism.
But as companies or for products we sell that are beyond ourselves, this is simply not the case. It just doesnâ€™t hold true.
Selling stuff and services as a company is where the social continuum appears to splinter. The web doesnâ€™t belong to companies; it belongs to their customers.
This is not to say that commerce doesnâ€™t spring out of community. Nor that conversations across the web donâ€™t indeed sell product. Or that transparency isnâ€™t an essential component of doing business today.
But the idea that companies need to act like as individuals and refabricate themselves to exist on the social web is chasing the wrong rabbit down the wrong hole.
With people, our product is our personality. With companies, our personalities are in the products and services we provide and how we deliver them. The aggregate of that is the brand that our customers bestow on us over time.
Every one of us and every company falls prey to trolling the social web on blogs for comments and connections, on Facebook and social nets for new customers and prospects. We do it cause its there and itâ€™s easy. Itâ€™s an incomplete strategy.
Every business and marketing person faces this pull and contradiction daily.
Individually we start each day, checking into our nets to discover products and things to do, connect with friends and plan our lives. We get to our offices; sit in front of our computers and often stare dumbfounded about how to discover and talk to those same customers that look just like ourselves.
This is the social web business dilemma in a nutshell.
Building markets and understanding customer behaviors are neither simple nor trivial tasks. And complicated of course by the newness of the social web itself and its constant state of flux.
For myself, regardless of the market segment or social platform, these guidelines work for me as a marketer:
-Acknowledge that the web is not about your company or product but the customerâ€™s view of them. Cede them control and embrace the messiness of the market if you want to harness it.
-Every product, every community of customers is unique. Crossfitters want to celebrate their personal fortitude while learning how to get more fit. Organic Avenue is as much about whatâ€™s in the juice as to how it tastes. SoulCycle, the monster spinning brand,is about instructor heroes, including their SoulPups.
-Donâ€™t try to sell where your customers play. Nobody transacts on Facebook. Trying it again is against the human grain and wonâ€™t work.
-Measurement is not the end goal. Understanding customer behavior is. If your takeaway is a number you are not learning enough.
Try these directions on for size and apply them to the specifics of your business and the social platforms you are using.
This is very hard stuff to crack. A combined task of marketing, community management, product development and every external facing connection in your company.
Understanding your customerâ€™s behavior is no less complex and ineffable than your customers themselves and the market they represent. There is certainly no easier way to do this and possibly, in today’s connected world, no other way at all.