As a principal at the Altimeter Group, Brian Solis has had a bird’s eye view of the ways companies use social media to increase awareness while accidentally decreasing engagement. In his new book, “The End of Business as Usual,” he identifies a new class of consumers and provides a road map for reaching them.
Are brands getting social media wrong?
I think brands are only realizing a small potential of what’s possible. For many brands, social media campaigns can appear social, but in their actual design they are much more antisocial than social. I looked up the definition of antisocial before I started waving that flag. It really just comes down to anything that goes against the norm of society. When we looked at Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr, whatever the network, each one of those is a fledgling digital society, boasting a culture, boasting rules, very much a thriving society. Much of this started with real human beings just trying to connect human beings. When brands come in and launch clever campaigns and contests, and word-of-mouth initiatives, it’s all fine, it’s all good. It gets people liking and talking and following and clicking. But in the end, it is nothing more than traditional marketing or broadcast marketing disguised in social robes.
We can’t assume that there’s just one role for consumers, that they’re there for marketing purposes. They have needs for services; they have ideas; they have complaints; they have their own communities to which they are connected and in which they are influencers. We can’t just have one dimension to a presence within social media. We have to cater to each one of those types of consumers. Today I’m a prospect. Tomorrow, I’m a customer. The next day, I’m a customer with a problem. The next day, I’m a customer with an idea. How is the brand engaging me in each one of those situations?
How valuable is a like? How big is the gap between liking something and buying something? What are the social media alternatives?
This is often referred to like-enomics. The quest for the answer to this question sends people on something like the great crusades, trying to find the Holy Grail. The value of a like, in terms of what it is today versus what it could be, is very different. It starts with recognizing what that gap looks like. IBM ran a wonderful study. It asked executives what they thought consumers want in social media. Their No. 1 and No. 2 answers were, they want general information and information about products. So, basically, they assumed consumers want from social media the same thing they want from a company website. And the number one and two reasons that consumers gave for connecting with the brand in social media were to get discounts and promotions and the ability to buy within their networks — not having to leave, to go to a website, e-commerce destination or a brick and mortar. It’s really an interesting contrast. Some brands today have 30 million likes without having an answer to that question. So the value of a like to them is miniscule. One study that was done suggested that value of a Facebook like was $5. Imagine if they would have improved the entire Facebook experience to have an F-commerce (Facebook commerce) ecosystem. The value of a like would probably be much more. Some studies have shown that the value of a like could be as high as $130. These are both presumptuous and also helpful in what they are trying to uncover. I actually believe that it’s going to be unique to every brand that recognizes networks to bridge that gap and create much more valuable experiences. The like, the follow will have tangible value in the end.
No social network has been able to challenge Facebook’s dominance. Apparently, even Google executives aren’t using Google+. At what point should brands (and everyone else, for that matter) worry about how powerful Facebook has become?
I don’t know if we can blame Google executives yet. We’re looking at a company trying make a transition from an algorithm to a human algorithm. For years it’s made billions of dollars being able to match search strings and key words to what it is that you’re looking for and has done it quite well. And now it’s trying to connect human beings together, not just around algorithms but around what people want, and trying to move away from a culture of technology to a culture of sociology or even social science. Facebook is at 800 million actives. The fact is, Facebook at 800 million users is the size of the entire Internet in 2004. I don’t think people have recognized the profound cultural implications that Facebook is having in our society, not just digital society but society. It is changing how people act, how people share, discover and connect. But we should always be concerned about anything that becomes this huge. At the end of the day, I don’t know that we have history here that’ll tell us what to do or what’s next. We’re starting to have fewer concerns about companies that have those enormous numbers — how many people have a Visa card in the world? — and we’re starting to look at what the implications are for society and business. That, to me, has the greatest sense of urgency – much more than one company having all those users.
Will social media optimization replace search engine optimization?
To me, social media optimization is hugely important. We haven’t even really seen what it even means. We know that people are part of the equation. We know that conversations are part of the equation. And that companies like Facebook and Twitter are working toward optimizing search with social implications. What we don’t know is how the social consumer will behave. For the digital consumer, search is the beginning of everything. You go to Google, you type in your search, and that leads to your online experience. One could argue that social media optimization isn’t just how you manipulate the content or the results or your brand. Social media optimization could actually be just good old-fashioned brand awareness. I see a lot of experiments, I’ve done a lot of experiments where rather than go search, I ask my community for answers. What do you think of…? Have you used…? Have you heard of…? And I expect people to come back to me with that information. I believe the future is around relevance — having the ability to have your company come back when somebody asks a question, whether they ask it of another human being or a search engine. In Google, one can argue that results are clean but also paid for, especially for the more common key words. You get the results that people paid for you to see. If I’m not careful with whom I am aligned with, whom I follow, then the answers I get back at important times or the information that I see in my stream is messy. A McKinsey study published not too long ago shows that this type of consumer that we’re talking about, this connected consumer, this social consumer, is much more likely to rely on the mess that comes back in their friends’ networks than in Google. So they might come into a decision with two or three brands in mind, but they are going to ask their community what they think. Maybe that’s going narrow their list, remove one or two brands. But it also might increase the list to five or six brands depending on what people say. When you read the McKinsey study, you see that there’s no longer a funnel. It’s more like and ellipse. It never stops.
How important are mobile devices to social media?
Social networks aren’t optimizing for the mobile experience. They are missing the future of engagement. We’ve only touched the surface of the smartphone penetration to the global population. Facebook has 350 million out of 800 million active everyday on Facebook through their mobile device. So the number’s huge, and the Facebook application is considered to be an optimized experience. I don’t think, though, Facebook’s new features have factored into the mobile experience yet. I’m told that a Facebook mobile update around iPad or iPhone is immient within the next couple of weeks. The mobile consumer is only going to become much more dominant for commerce, for location, for influence.