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Candid Interview with Brian Solis, Author of Engage

Posted by on April 17, 2010

I had the opportunity to speak with and interview Brian Solis (who I’m sure many of you know) about his new book, Engage (Brian also wrote the forward for my book, Twittfaced).  I didn’t want to ask the same boring questions that everyone else usually asks, so instead I decided to ask Brian some “serious” questions.  Brian and I were supposed to chat for around 20 minutes and the conversation went on for over an hour.  Brian has been a bit of the philosopher, sociologist, and anthropologist in the social media space, covering things such as culture, societal changes, and the nature of human communications.  He brings an interesting perspective on how social media has impacted business and individuals alike.  I’m sure you will find the following interview both thought-provoking and interesting.

Why are sociology and anthropology so important to understanding social media?

I believe that at the top level, all of social media is driven by anthropology and sociology – it’s just the nature of the network.  I never formally studied social sciences in college, but was inspired to become versed in them because it’s clear that human nature and culture define social networks and therefore require insight, research, observation, and forethought.  On an even deeper level though, social marketing and service professionals should also explore psychology to create experience-driven connections, interest graphs and ultimately contextual networks that are linked through meaningful and mutually beneficial communications and engagement.  All of these things help weave everything together.

These fields of study earn greater importance today as technology and innovation evolve at an increasingly blurring pace and with it, the adaptation of human behavior and culture.  In social media and in the real world, in order to become relevant, you have to earn relevance.

Hutch Carpenter from Spigit recently wrote a post in which he describes a two year lag that companies experience when they are looking to adopt web 2.0 technologies within the enterprise.  In my case study on Vistaprint, I noticed something similar; they developed a wiki in 2006 but it wasn’t widely adopted until 2008.  How can companies deal with this apparent lag time and what’s the best course of action for them?

There is definitely a lag time between the introduction of innovative tools and the rate of adoption across the Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers (also known as the technology adoption bell curve).  What we need to remember though is that adoption is driven and necessitated by the tasks and the objectives at hand.  As you pointed out (Jacob), culture and behavior can never adopt and change as quickly as technology so companies need to stay agile and limber; I agree with this.  What makes social media so interesting, especially for the enterprise, is that it’s among the first platforms to affect a business from the outside in and from the bottom up.  The brief (compared to other business processes) history of technology is introduced and managed from the top down.  New media, and services such as Twitter and Facebook are, at their very core, social operating systems (OS), and as such, are introduced into the corporate culture through the individual. The Social OS is unique to the individual as their experiences are defined by the applications they use, how and why. Essentially, instead of IT coming to teams with new technologies, they’re now forced to examine the use of social networks from inside the fire wall and also how they connect to outside networks and how the social OS impacts and possibly benefits or harms the corporate ecology.

As champions, it’s not only our job to demonstrate the potential of social networks and services, it is necessary to become the IT of social technologies to our internal decision makers to prove their value to work flow and productivity inside and outside the organization.

Social media is now forcing the company culture to change and adapt based these social operating systems.  Actions and reactions are now more tangible, direct, and immediate.

With any new and pervasive technology, we as decision makers within the organization, are now responsible for defining guidance and education in order to improve their applications for both business and personal use. Just because it’s introduced from the personal side of the workforce doesn’t mean that users have mastered the potential of these networks nor identified their risks.

In order to support this radical transformation, it has become clear that governance, responsibility, and accountability is needed – not restraint.

There has also been a lot of discussion around Social CRM as these services also represent new opportunities for businesses to improve the bond between customers, prospects, and brands.  This isn’t just new technology, its forcing decision makers to change methodologies around what this all means.  This in turn, creates a lot of change within the enterprise and that change needs support to make sure it happens for the right reasons. Social CRM, at the very least, is propelled by engagement with purpose.  And, when you think about it, in order to do so, genuinely, everything needs to change to support an outward focus and an inward process for adaption – otherwise, this is all lip service.

In order for organizational transformation to take shape, social architects are required to blueprint the grand design, but also the incremental steps defined by realistic milestones that encourage progress rather than disruption.  You have to allow your company and its team to breathe in the process.  It’s like drinking wine. You have to pour it, swirl it around the glass, smell it, and then drink it, slowly.

In my experience everything has to start with a pilot program that is intentional, well executed, with metrics that show advancement.  Success begets additional pilots until dedicated budget are earned and continually justified.  Taking this approach also encourages analysis and development by exploring and attempting to answer the following questions:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What is the change we’re seeking to enliven?
  • What is the action we’re hoping to spark?
  • At what levels?
  • Why?
  • What resources would it take to support it?
  • What does success look like at the end of the pilot?
  • How do these results compare to other programs currently in place?

This is why I’m forever a student of new media. The answers and the path to these answers is different within each organization – governed by the prevailing corporate culture and hierarchy.

Remember, technology, before and after social, changes quickly and as such, I encourage businesses to consider the development of a department or team responsible for identifying, evaluating and testing innovation. Good friend Deb Schultz of the Altimeter Group is leading work in this field and helps companies, such as Proctor and Gamble, determine where technology can benefit specific areas of business units. And for those that perform well, examine rollout strategies for other business units to improve processes through the constant integration of proven innovation.

What’s the difference between social media and Social CRM and SRM?

Social Media equals any tool or service that uses the web to facilitate conversations and networks. Social CRM, as discussed, is the socialization of CRM methodologies and processes. SRM recognizes that all people, no matter what system they use, are equal. It represents a wider scope of active listening and participation across the full spectrum of influence mapped to specific department representatives within the organization using various lenses for which to identify individuals, where and how they interact.

The social web is distributing influence beyond the customer landscape, allocating authority among stakeholders, prospects, advocates, decision-makers, and peers. SRM recognizes that whether someone recommended a product, purchased a product, or simply recognized it publicly, in the end, each makes an impact on behavior at varying levels. Therefore customers are now merely part of a larger equation that also balances vendors, experts, partners, and other authorities. In the realm of SRM, influence is distributed and it is recognizes wherever and however it takes shape.

The last thing I’m trying to do here is introduce an new acronym. People are very very literal, so you have to be careful with what you say and how you define things.  New media affects the decision of a “social” customer at every level.  Why just build an infrastructure around customers when you need to build it around the entire decision cycle?  Infrastructure decisions are expensive and require a lot of support, I want companies to think about the investment they make because it’s much bigger than they know now.

Is a large part of social media common sense?  You have a quote from Business Week in your book that ends with “don’t be stupid” why do you think companies are having trouble following this?

If you tell someone not to be stupid you are evoking common sense.  What people need to do is be specific.  Common sense is not enough.  You have to define what common sense is and provide guidelines, rules, and training around it.  Why? Because the definition of common sense is different to everyone and the greatest example of how common sense fails is the assumption that individuals employ common sense in all that they do.  If you take a look at what happened to Nestle and Green Peace and the conversational carnage that ensued, social media pundits and consumers alike, called the head of the community manager responsible for fueling the attacks in Facebook. But, regardless of the behavior, working, and the absence of “common sense,” I’m willing to bet that this individual didn’t actually break any of Nestle’s rules per se. The community manager was most likely doing the job as instructed or perhaps, as assumed. This demonstrates a real life example of how the personal compass that guides each one of us points differently and what appears as common sense to one, is absolutely “un”common sense to another. Creating a foundation on common sense is no different than erecting building on marshland. As leaders, it’s our job to create guidelines, training, and management systems for social media engagement similar to the processes that establish the quality and significance of service training programs that present employees with various real world situations and desired outcomes where they are expected to excel.  For example, “if you are greeted by someone who is challenging and hostile towards your brand in a public forum, here is what you need to do…”

Without understanding the processes, culture, and the “how’s” and “why’s” of Nestle, it’s not really possible to advise them and tell them what to do. But one can guess where it needs to start, and that’s a much bigger discussion.

Make sure to pick up Brian’s new book Engage where he explores these topics and others related to the social media space.

Now it’s your turn.  Thoughts, comments, ideas?

  • Thanks for sharing the transcript of his interview. It's interesting to see how a man sees the current business issues, including social media as a marketing tool. Looking forward to your other articles.

  • Great interview. It's nice to get a closer look at the gears that power that very important mind.

  • Great interview. It's nice to get a closer look at the gears that power that very important mind.

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  • Anonymous

    I was offered a competitive price to keep using a spotty corporate product (DSL). I verified the price numerous times and decided to give them another chance after they offered ” a better price”. When my bill came the fees were more than double what they had been. I called in, yet again and plodded through their department list. In the end the lady just said “That is how they do it”. What is better, clones and drones or somebody with a little spirit and honesty.

    Great interview, Solis is filled with insights. If nobody ever kicked back there would be millions more getting their misleading “news” from Fox, O’Rielly and Beck, and the main stream media wouldn’t have marched us lock step into multiple wars.. Oh wait, they did!

    Rattle you cages kids.