Predictions and Priorities for Social Business in 2012 – Part I

My pet peeve about the annual predictions ritual is that they lack context for action. It’s nice to know that tablets and big data are important — but what should you do about it?

So here’s my attempt at not only forecasting but also to provide actions that companies should be prioritizing in 2012.

The Process: I went through my speaking and client engagements in 2011 and looked at which topics and themes I kept referring to over and over again, especially toward the end of the year. I also analyzed which of the tweets from these events were most retweeted to verify where the heat was.

I boiled it down to three predictions and also explain why I think these are a priority for business leaders to address in 2012. Because they are on the long-ish side, I’ll be posting one a day so that there can be discussion about each prediction and priority.

Prediction #1: Consumers will reward transparent companies with their loyalty. Companies must get courageous with transparency and make it an every day occurrence. Or they will face the wrath of outraged customers.

Almost 8 million people have now seen the FedEx delivery guy tossing a monitor over the fence. FedEx’s response was timely and tried to be authentic, but lacked only one thing — a link to that video. It was just a short search away, so why not link to what everyone already knew existed? Regardless, I was glad to see FedEx respond quickly when so many other companies facing a crisis try to wait for the situation to fade away.

The gold standard on transparency reaches all the way back to July 2006 when Dell’s brand new blog had the courage to write the post entitled  “Flaming Notebook” about a Dell computer bursting into flames in Osaka, Japan. And they included a link to a photo of their product exploding into flames.

Where did they find the guts to do this? Michael Dell made it crystal clear in his instructions for the post: Dell was built on the value of going direct to consumers and the blog had to communicate and live by those same values.

I’ve told the Dell flaming notebook story and shown that photo at hundreds of speeches and asked a simple question: If your organization had it’s version of flaming notebook happen today, would you be able to write that post? In a most telling way, there are only a few hands that get raised.

Dell’s flaming notebook was five and a half years ago, before there were Facebook Pages, before Twitter even existed. It was the Dark Ages of social media and Dell understood then that it was important to build a new, unique relationship with their customers.

Think about what would be needed to get your organization to that point and make it a priority to be transparent about the everyday small problems that always occur. Practice on the easy stuff to get prepared for The Big One.

Too busy you say, with your existing social media efforts to do this? All of the efforts that you make updating your Facebook page or posting on Twitter add up to mere hand-waving if you can’t master this new type of relationship demanded by your customers.

Does your organization have the courage to engage when things go wrong, no matter how big or small? How did you organization get to this point? Please share where you are on your journey, and what you found helpful to bring greater accountability and transparency into your company.

Next up: How well do you really know your customers?

Facebook Timeline reveals the future of sharing

Leading up to Facebook’s f8 conference today, my biggest concern about the rumored new “Read. Watched. Listened” buttons was that Facebook was becoming more and more superficial in its interactions. This was especially the case when compared to the deep interactions and engagements found on Google+ (which suffers from the problem of not having nearly enough people on it to sustain those deep conversations, but that’s another post).

But Timeline beautifully solves this problem in two ways. First, Facebook automates the sharing of everyday, miniscule activities that most of us would never bother to expose. But because ALL of it shared as a feed, the whole becomes available and accessible, and thus interesting.  You don’t care that I listened to Billy Joel just now, but you may find it interesting that I listen to him any chance that I get.

Second, the items in the feed are seen in two ways, in the Tickler blended in with all of the rest of debris of our lives, and in Timeline where it’s laid out against the context of time.

It’s this second aspect of the announcements that I find so fascinating, that we now have the context of time to add to our sharing. To understand this evolution and put it in perspective, let’s take a quick look at the history of sharing within social networks. I have long contended that there are three things that make social networks unique: your Profile, your Relationships, and your Activities (see figure below).

SharingFutureOver the past few years, each of these components have evolved. When we first began on our online social journeys, who could have thought that we would be sharing photos of what they were having for dinner online? Yet people frequently not only check into restaurants but also post photos what they are eating, as well as who they are having dinner with.  Our notions of privacy and what we will share change with the perceived value of that sharing. We benefit from the people who have shared before us (you ordered the dish because of a review). We like reading about our friends culinary adventures, and so we reciprocate. The cycle continues to evolve as we expand the things we are comfortable sharing.

And the driving force of this evolution has been Facebook. More than any other company, Facebook has pushed the boundaries of what we will share and how share it. News Feed was met with derision and boycotts but in the end, people found it too valuable. Beacon in 2007 was pulled because it pushed the envelop too far, but that was also instructive to Facebook as they learned how far and how quickly they could push the limits of sharing.

Now Timeline and auto-feeding of your activities is pushing the edge again. Understandably, people are uneasy about EVERYTHING in their lives being shared on Facebook. It feels like too much power being bestowed on one company. To ally concerns, Facebook is starting in safe territory. This first phase enables media content, which is rarely embarrassing, as long as you don’t stray into X-rated categories. The discovery benefits of seeing what my friends read, watch, and listen to are also evident – I want to find my fellow Billy Joel fans amongst my friends.

But how far will this go? Here are some future scenarios and applications that could take advantage of an activity auto-feed:

  • Location-based activities. I hate checking in, because it interrupts the flow of my activity at a location. Instead, I would give permission to be “auto-checked in” to a location. These are the places like my favorite restaurant that I patronize on a regular basis and would be proud to be associated with, especially if I can drive more business to them. So I’d willingly give permission to share that information. This goes beyond Like and moves into Love territory.
  • Interest-based purchases. There are specialty retailers that I frequent that are fairly “safe” where I would share detailed purchase information. Pottery Barn for housewares. Wine.come for new wines. Zappos for shoes. And I would benefit from discovering what else people with similar tastes also bought. But there are some retailers where it’s just doesn’t make sense, for example a drugstore or Victoria’s Secret.
  • Communication trends. As I previously discussed in a post about Google+, one of the key things Facebook is missing is who I email, text, call, and meet with on a regular basis. All of that information stored in my mobile phone is currently inaccessible and off limits to any application. But what if I could give permission to auto-stream that data so that I could make sense of it, to find the trends and highlights that make it relevant and useful to me?

How far are we willing to share our information and activities? Look no further than to our real lives because we do it all the time. Our credit card transactions are captured and resold to direct marketers. Our Caller IDs – which used to be private – are shared. Caller IDs in fact are a great example of how our notions of privacy get flipped upside down by utility. When Caller ID first came out, many people regarded it as a violation of privacy and were uneasy with the notion that people could see who was calling them. Today, what happens when you get the message, “Blocked ID” on your phone? You don’t answer it! That flip in privacy took about eight years to happen.

But Facebook doesn’t have the luxury of years to change our mindsets around privacy – it has weeks. It has put in place numerous controls to be able to manage the permissions around Timeline feeds, from what is included to who can see it. In the end though, what Facebook is investing in is Trust. Pew Internet recently released a report that showed that Facebook users are far more trusting that the rest of the Internet. “A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% more likely than other Internet users and more than three times as likely as non-Internet users to feel that most people can be trusted.”

Facebook is counting that this remains true, and that sharing will continue to expand at the rate it needs to in order to fulfill this vision.

Report: How Corporations Should Prioritize Social Business Budgets

One question I frequently get is “How much should I be spending on social media?” The answer, of course, is it depends. This report looks at how 140 Social Strategists spent on social media in 2010 — and their plans for 2011 (read report). From this deep data, my co-author, Jeremiah Owyang, and I, found that maturity levels are a key driver of social technology adoption, and hence, social spending. (Jeremiah also wrote a detailed post about the report). I *love* data, so this was a particular fun and satisfying report to work on with the team (special thanks to Christine Tran and Andrew Jones for being our data gurus).

I’ve included several key charts and points, as well as the report below. But here are a few key takeaways:

  • Budgets are the numerical depiction of your strategy. If you don’t have a coherent strategy, you won’t have a coherent budget. And the core of every strategy is a keen sense of what you will do — and what you won’t do. Thus, the budget expresses the prioritization of what you need to focus on. You have limited dollars, people, and time — so you better be focused on how you deploy your precious resources.
  • Over-invest in training. It was shocking to see how little people were investing in training. Social is hugely transformative, and I frequently find that most organizations are in desperate need to train not only their social strategists, but anyone touching the customer. Trainers in HR need to be brought into the fold — and they typically have budgets set aside for training employees, meaning more non-social business dollars that you can tap to support your strategy.
  • Don’t try to boil the ocean. While it’s fun to dig into the latest SCRM or community platform, unless your maturity level and strategy is aligned to take advantage of that level of social business sophistication, you’re wasting your dollars. Double down on the basics in each area of your social business and build a firm foundation for your long-term strategy, making sure that you are driving concrete business results (so that you can ask for even more budget next year!)

Report Details

The chart below shows the three different types of maturity levels (take a quick quiz to determine your maturity level), and how the average budget, team size, and also the way they are organized differs. The report has a great deal more detail on how adoption and thus spending differs by maturity.

We looked in greater detail at 12 spending categories in three areas: 1) Internal soft costs (staff, R&D, training); 2) Customer-facing initiatives; and 3) Technology investments. The graphic below shows the average spend for each of these categories, for those people who have adopted them. The story is nuanced because not every company is spending in areas like SCRM or community platforms.

Recommendations

This begs the question then, of what you need to do to prioritize in your budget, and thus your social strategy. We developed specific priorities and recommendations for each maturity level, summarized conveniently in the graphic below. Mashable also has a great write-up of the recommendations from the report.

Below is the report, followed by some key charts and findings: