The secret ingredient in social media performance

What do open innovation, crowd sourcing, electronic word of mouth, social media segmentation or home working have in common? People. The secret ingredient in social media is to engage with the person using it.

I participated in a really interesting workshop at the Henley Centre of Customer Management, today. It looked at phenomena like open innovation, crowd sourcing, electronic word of mouth, social media segmentation or the impact of home working on customer service. It was quite a broad range of topics. Yet, there were two common themes running throughout the various presentations.

The first theme was that technology is challenging and changing business processes – from how innovation is managed, to how customer insight is obtained or how firms communicate with particular customer groups.

The second theme was that, at the heart of the phenomena we were discussing, were very fundamental aspects of human behaviour. Concepts like identity, relationship, social validation and engagement were mentioned over and over again.

For instance, Paul Sloane reminded us that, even though Wikipedia may be the poster child of crowdsourcing, the practice of engaging a community (i.e., the crowd) in solving a problem existed well before web 2.0. The way new ideas are captured or the speed at which community members may contribute their thoughts has been dramatically impacted by technology. However, the reasons why those same community members offer their input are still the same… and they have nothing to do with technology.

In my presentation, I looked at best practice in handling online customer feedback. Nowadays customers are turning to Twitter, blogs, Youtube and other social media platforms to talk about their consumption experiences. Yet, when asked about the key characteristics of companies that handle online interactions really well, the same customers use descriptors like talking to ‘a human being and not a bureaucratic corporate body’, it is ‘like a real person is operating it’ or, simply, that ‘they care’. From the organisation’s perspective, more and more companies use video to communicate with their customers, particular in the context of crisis management. They do so because they find that the combination of image and voice intonation makes it easier to communicate emotions than through text.

Social media is an important channel. But that’s what it is: a channel. Social Media is a platform for human behaviour. We use it to interact, learn and express ourselves. To leverage the power of social media in business, we first need to understand what makes persons – consumers, employees, suppliers… – tick. Once we have got that sorted, we really can start benefiting from social media.

Later that same day, I found a simple yet brilliant article on my Google reader. It’s a blog post from Mark Schaefer, author of The Tao of Twitter. Entitled ‘Key to digital marketing success” Be less digital’, the blog post has one simple message: to achieve competitive advantage it is necessary to humanise the business. Go and read it, here!

Over to you, now. If you were to hire someone, what would you prefer: recruit for psychological / sociological skills and train for technical skills, or the other way around?

4 thoughts on “The secret ingredient in social media performance

  1. To answer this intriguing question there are many factors that have to be taken into account. The size and nature of the company, along with the style of leadership and if it is Sales led or Technology led. If you are a technology led company at the leading edge of the technical knowledge in your industry then the answer is recruit technical people and train for the soft skills. Because you are at the forefront of technology there is no way other people can say your soft skills are ineffective because they have nothing to compare them with as nothing else exists. People maytry to make comparisons with something that is close but it will be ineffective. It would be like comparing a strawberry with a pineapple. Both are fruits but after that the similarity ends.Your competitors, who have better psychological/sociological skills than you because they are market followers, will no doubt produce the same products or services but with a better quality of service. By which time you should have move onto the next new product/service where you are blazing a new trial and so the cycle repeats. Apple is a good example of such a company. Non technical examples would come from the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry. For example, you can now buy your favourite chocolate bar as an ice cream or a drink or as a biscuit/cake and in any size from miniature to king size.There is a problem if the technology becomes too powerful in an organisation so that it no longer leads but dominates the company. This can arise were there are insufficient people with the right psychological skills to ensure the company does not loose sight of reality. The finance industry is such an example. The use of computerised trading meant that more and moreexotic products, which fewer and fewer people fully understood, became the norm. The result is that the banks and other financial institutions spiraled out of control and adversely affected the global economy.For the majority of companies, from the self employed to the medium size business, it depends on where they are in their strategic plan. When a company is increasing sales then it is likely to recruit psychological/sociological people because they are the type you need to obtain moresales. Once the orders start to arrive then there is a need to increase the back office functions, which by nature are technology orientated. These technology experts will come in, learn about Sales and how it operates in a company, then apply their technical solutions.Which in turn may generate new opportunities for Sales which will require more sales people and so the cycle continues.To answer the question, one must consider the current make up of the company and recruit to ensure that you have the right number of each type. What that balance should be is another topic.


  2. If hiring for a customer service position would certainly go for the interpersonal skill first and then train for the technical skills – interesting blog post – the Henley CCM work seems very interesting


  3. Thank you Tim for the thought that went into this post and the many examples. You noted the nuances between industries, as well as between the various players within one industry – leaders vs. followers – and between various functions in the organisation.I suppose it has a lot to do with the positioning of the organisation, as well. Once, I heard a talk by the Head of HR for a big financial services group and he said that the induction training for one of the banks in the group was 90% processes and 10% people skills, whereas for another bank it was the opposite ratio. The first bank was larger and for the mass market; the second one for a niche of high-end (though not premium) customers. Hence, the psychological element was seen as added value.Thanks again, Tim.


  4. Oh, yes – customer service really needs interpersonal skills. You can always train for that computer programme or form, but if the empathy is not here…


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