The Business of Social Media – Better Decisions (NOT Better Reactions)

js_icon_favicon.png The prevailing wisdom is clear. Social Media is for “Listening” (which is code for brand monitoring) and Marketing. I won’t make any attempt to talk about Marketing – since today everything seems to be a tool/platform for marketing. I will however talk about this notion of “Listening”.

There are two (and only two ways) to sell something, opportunity and fear. Objectively fear is easy – all you have to do is figure out what your target market is afraid of and make your product a way to alleviate that fear. Sadly, this is the state of the “Listening” segment of the Social Media consulting/tools market today.

CEO’s are terrified of Social Media. The feel they can’t predict when their “Motrin Moment” will occur or why – and the Social Media “experts” are no help:

Maybe you’re not even ready for full-time social media monitoring. That’s your call. But not tuning in while you launch a new tactic borders on gross negligence, in this day and age.

From Pistacio Consulting

Negligence – that is a powerful and scary word. One thing no CEO wants to hear when facing the board is the word Negligence.

The problem for the Social Media Experts and “Listening” vendors is this, if the fear isn’t real, if it doesn’t turn into an actual negative business outcome those same CEO’s will quickly learn to ignore it as noise. The problem is, none of the high visibility Social Media brand events have had any tangible negative business impact.

Here is Johnson and Johnson’s Stock Chart for the last year:

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The Motrin Moment occurred on November 16th 2008. I can’t discern an appreciable change in stock price following the event. While I couldn’t find any public data which specifically detailed Motin’s month by month sales numbers – I’d feel pretty safe saying that there was no appreciable change.

Another great example is the “United Broke My Guitar” incident. On July 6th a United customer posted a video on YouTube featuring a song about how United broke his guitar and failed to resolve the issue to his satisfaction. That video has 5.5 million views so far, has been cross posted on MSNBC, Huffington Post, and played on air on CNN and others.

Here is United Airlines Stock Chart for the last 6 months:

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Shockingly, UAL’s stock price has more than doubled since the Social Media event. United hasn’t released a new quarterly report since July 23rd – so ticket sales numbers are not publicly available, but based on the stock’s performance and current guidance from UAL management – I’d (again) feel pretty safe saying there was no appreciable negative change.

What is clear from these two high profile Social Media events is that they have little or no impact on a brand – by the only meaningful measure – revenue, and return of value to share holders.

What can damage a brand isn’t the isolated incident that creates Social Media Buzz. What damages a brand is consistently making bad decisions which make your product or service less useful, less valuable to your target market. For brands there is no “Waterloo” moment (thank @jaybaer of Convince and Convert for the quotable moment). There is only the slow agonizing descent into irrelevance that occurs when you make bad decisions over and over again.

The real value of Social Media for businesses is in the ability to make better decisions – not reacting to bad decisions already made.

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Every business needs better information upon which to make those decisions – every business can benefit from better understanding the needs, aggravations, and problems of their target customer. Every business can improve their decision making processes by driving the information found in Social Media into every decision making process in the company.

The challenge with this approach is that it is far more Six Sigma than sexy. It will force vendors, consultants and companies to work harder, be open to information that contradicts the prevailing wisdom and invest significant time and resources into extracting the information that is meaningful to their business and their decision making processes.

This isn’t terribly different than the original aim of CRM. And it isn’t terribly controversial. What it is is the opportunity selling position in the Social Media Tools market. It is time for Social Media consultants and vendors to ditch the hype and scare tactics and get down to business… the business of creating value for companies by helping them avoid Motrin Moments by making better decisions consistently.