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Barry Libert

Quality Insider

Seven Rules for Getting Social Media Right

Showcasing companies that do it well

Published: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - 04:30

Let’s face it: The business world is changing. Rapidly. While the object of the game is still to drive revenue, the methods have changed. Instead of a monolithic one-way interaction, business is now being conducted through constant and meaningful two-way conversations between organizations and constituents—at every stage of organizational development. And it’s a good thing, too.

Not so long ago, the object of the game was to be cutthroat and dictatorial about business, and it helped if you could check your emotions and personality at the door. Deep down, did most of us really buy the old “nothing personal—it’s just business” line? Of course not. After all, building a thriving business is all about making lasting, personal, reliable connections inside and outside of your company. And these days, there’s no better way to do that than through social media—in essence, by building your company’s own social nation.

I know what I’m talking about. I’m the chairman and CEO of Mzinga, a company that provides social software to businesses. Quite literally, it's my job to be social media savvy. And I’m adamant that building your own social nation is increasingly necessary in the business world.

It’s true. Your employees and your customers want to be engaged on a  personal level, not just through a survey or annual conference, as I state in my new book Social Nation: How to Harness the Power of Social Media to Attract Customers, Motivate Employees, and Grow Your Business (Wiley, 2010). And here’s the clincher: If you choose not to engage with these folks, they’ll do it without you—and you definitely don’t want that.

Examples of social nations are everywhere. Today, customers want to rely on what other diners have to say to help make decisions about where they should eat next, rather than relying on traditional restaurant advertising. Open Table has brought together a nation of diners who connect online. Amazon has brought together a nation of readers for those who want to share their feedback about books and help influence the choices of other readers. A community of travelers helps us select hotels that meet our personal preferences, thanks to Trip Advisor. TheStreet.com steers us toward the stocks we should buy.

And it does not stop there. These and many other companies are beginning to understand the power of creating friends, fans, and followers to build their businesses.

Building your social nation means changing what you think it means to build a company. This emerging social era is about engaging everyone around you to redefine what you do and how you do it—including sales, marketing, research and development, customer support, and product development.

Still skeptical? Then take a look at the hard numbers. A 2009 study by the Nielsen Co. revealed that employees, partners, and customers spent 17 percent of their online time networking or blogging—and 83 percent more time in online social networks than the year prior. What’s more, these constituencies are driving advertisers to spend an expected $2.6 billion on these social sites by 2012.

Essentially, these statistics tell us that companies need to embrace and capture the voices of their employees and customers if they want to innovate and thrive. And at the same time, customers and employees want to affect all aspects of business by sharing their opinions, criticisms, and praise with companies—and with each other.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that building communities for customers, employees, partners, and investors is critical to the future vitality of business. In this new era, you can’t underestimate how important emotional and social connections are, and how crucial it is to fulfill the needs of customers.

Here are my seven rules for implementing a successful social media strategy in your organization, and how real-world companies have put them into action:

Rule 1: Develop your social skills. Leaders in the social nation are expected to follow as much as they lead, collaborating with their colleagues while still providing structure and support. In boardrooms and offices around the world, leaders are starting to become more interconnected, to put others’ needs first, and to find motivation in helping others succeed. They facilitate rather than control.

You can’t expect your organization’s social nation to be successful if you as a leader don’t think about the needs and wants of your employees and customers. I’m reminded of Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon. She strives to make Avon a “company for women,” and feels that it’s important to empower the company’s saleswomen by talking with them about what matters to them as well as to Avon. And guess what? Avon was one of the few companies to chart growth during the 2008–2009 recession.

Rule 2: Let culture lead your way. When building your social organization, remember that the company’s DNA is important, so let an open and honest culture be a guiding principle. After all, culture defines your company because it tells employees what to expect and lets customers know who you are and what you stand for.

For a great example, look at Zappos—a company whose success is due largely to an emphasis on culture. Zappos is based around 10 core values, which all employees know and understand. Beyond that, working at Zappos is fun, personal, and social. For example, there’s a Dance Dance Revolution machine in the lobby. Most important, though, employees are encouraged to connect authentically with each other and with customers. They feel good about where they work—and that shows in their engagement and performances.

Rule 3: Mind your online and offline manners. How you say something—be it online or off—is as important as what you say, and can help make the difference in gaining fans, friends, and followers. Remember that technology connects people in faster and more transparent ways than ever. Social media can definitely propel your company forward, especially when employees are excited and involved. Australian telecommunications company Telstra gets this concept. In fact, at Telstra, social media participation is mandatory. However, the company trains each employee on how to appropriately participate, basing its guidelines on responsibility, respect, and representation. Very, very smart.

Rule 4: Listen, learn, adapt. Social intelligence enables your company to benefit from all that is happening around you—including the conversations of your constituents—so you can adapt what you do and how you do it to better meet the needs of your customers, employees, and market demands. After all, it’s a good thing to understand what your customers need and want, and how they interact with your products and services.

If you have a younger child, you’ve probably heard of Webkinz, which has turned out to be a brilliant concept by Ganz. Kids receive avatars of their stuffed animals in an online community, which allows them to interact with other children and to care for their “pets.” Ganz is able to keep tabs of how many customers it has, how long they spend online, and how they feel about the products they’ve bought. Using this information Ganz is able to improve its product and its customer interaction.

Rule 5: Include others in everything you do. As an organization that is seeking to benefit from membership in the social nation, relying on others in every part of your company is the only way to alter what you do and how you do it to generate new revenues and increase profits.

Ducati really personifies this strategy. In 2003, the company did away with its traditional marketing in high-end magazines and the like, and centered itself around community members, their needs, feedback, and conversations. Ducati made sure that fans and owners could attend plenty of rallies, races, parties, and bike shows, as well as become involved in an online community. Now Ducati has become even more popular due to fan enthusiasm—and its products and services have improved due to customer feedback and suggestions.

Rule 6: Rely on others for growth and innovation. Friends, fans, and followers are instrumental in achieving growth in today’s connected world. Instead of the “old” method of relying on focus groups that meet behind two-way mirrors, it’s time to engage customers in a two-way conversation to innovate new products and services that matter.

Take Mountain Dew, instead of traditional product development efforts PepsiCo created a “DEWmocracy” campaign to decide what the next Mountain Dew flavor would be. Anyone could log on to Mountain Dew’s website and play an exciting multilevel game, through which they could rack up points toward their preferred soda being chosen. Essentially, the company’s next soft drink was in the hands of its social nation. Power to the people, indeed.

Rule 7: Reward others and you will be rewarded, too. As organizations focus more on connections and relationships, customers want to be rewarded emotionally as well as financially. Successful businesses have to meet both needs.

Apple is the poster child for rewarding fans. Anyone can develop an app for the iPhone or iPad. Now, just three years after the release of the iPhone, the app craze has become a $2.5 billion yearly earnings extravaganza for the company—and that’s just Apple’s share of the rewards. In fact, individual developers are offered a 70/30 profit division—in their favor—to create apps based on their individual views of the community’s wants and needs. You’d better believe that these folks are emotionally and financially connected to Apple, as well as socially connected to each other.


When you follow these social nation-building rules, you’ll achieve the results you desire based on customers who care and employees who enjoy what they do every day. It’s true: With open communication and all-around engagement, your company’s social media and new technologies will realize new revenue sources and transform your business.


About The Author

Barry Libert

Barry Libert is a business executive, author, and speaker based in Boston, Massachusetts. He has more than 25 years of executive leadership and entrepreneurial experience, and has been instrumental in advancing the awareness and use of Web 2.0 and social technologies within the business world. Libert is the chairman and CEO of Mzinga, the leading provider of social software, services, and analytics that improve business performance. He has published five books on the value of social networks and human interaction.  He is a regularly featured keynote speaker and has delivered speeches to audiences of 20,000+ globally.