Harnessing the power of social media

When I was sent this book to review, my first thought was “not another book on how to make a fortune from Facebook and Twitter”. Social Nation : How to harness the power of social media to attract customers, motivate employess and grow your business by  Barry Libert is instead a serious book which issues a clarion call to businesses to re-focus on people rather than products and services.

In this 21st century connected world, the old doctrine that, like children, customers are to be seen but not heard, is not only no longer valid – it’s positively dangerous. This is becoming even clearer as I write this – with Wikileaks stealing the headlines, flash-mobbing exploits against corporate  tax evasion by Top Shop and ActionAid’s online campaign against SAB Miller. No, the days of corporations happily ignoring their consumers and constituents are definitely numbered.

But Libert’s book is not a warning, so much as an enticement and encouragement to companies to get out and actively engage with their customers (and employees) and create communities for them. From open innovation and collaborative working to providing information and a forum for customers to air their views and share information and advice with each other, there’s a wide spectrum of ways to tap into the “social nation”. Libert illustrates his points with well-chosen examples from Pepsico to the Jewish grandmother  who offers online daily recipes and a Yiddish word of the day on her website “FeedmeBubbe”. His style is engaging and very quick and easy to read.

The book sets out 7 Guiding Principles to develop a social nation strategy in your company and dedicates a chapter to each, bringing them to life with examples and stories. The first principle is to develop your own social skills in order to become a social leader yourself and the author has an online tool for you to measure your personal Social Quotient. He cites examples and role models – including Andrea Jung of Avon and Meg Whitman when at eBay.

Successful Social Nationhood involves a big cultural shift and the creation of a corporate culture that is people-centric. Again there are well-illustrated examples, notably Zappos and Google.

One of the key principles is surprisingly – but wisely – etiquette (or netiquette) and I liked the simple suggestions of Peter Post (great grandson of Emily Post, the original 1920s arbiter of good manners) for corporate social skills – Be on time and Say please and thank you.

Business is built on trust and trust is built on strong relationships and strong relationships are built on etiquette.

The book contains  an interesting case study on Ducati motorbikes in the USA and how the company was re-engineered around a social community – driving a 60% increase in sales and involving re-deployment of most of the marketing budget into the community rather than traditional media.

Libert has a useful model to differentiate friends and followers  from fans and fanatics and posits the need to develop a strategy to address each nation with the priority that is appropriate for your business. Right now 80% of businesses operate mostly in the bottom left quartile – Apple would be top left. Operating in the top right quartile means benefiting from both the active participation of fans and fanatics as well as the significantly larger more passive community members who will happily follow where the fans and fanatics lead.

So if you’re wondering whether social media could play a bigger part in your business and want to understand it as a long term strategic tool to help make your business more customer-centric, this book is a good place to start.

>> My review of Delivering Happiness (the Zappos story)

>> Do the Social Quotient test



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