Social Media Success is About The Customers, Stupid

How do you define success with leveraging social media?  With each passing conference and industry event, the perennial mainstays of social media case studies tend to remain the same:  Dell, Comcast, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks.  All deservedly so, mind you – each of these companies embraced personalized approaches to engaging customers and building long term relationships.  “Yadda yadda yadda,” you say.  They all in many ways were first to market, which in an industry like marketing tends to benefit those who create the buzz first.

Being first to market doesn’t guarantee success, nor is it a requirement to gain success.  Despite the maturity of social media practices, I still see lots of companies (some of them clients) still either waiting to get in the game or are in it with a heavy dose of skepticism.  Often times this is because they think of success as whether their story gets placed in AdAge or is mentioned by a pundit at a conference.  It occurred to me that companies who think this way are missing the golden opportunity to focus on their customers first.  Here are some simple thoughts on defining success that may help illustrate the point.  What would you add to this list?

Social Media Success is NOT:
…getting a celebrity to retweet a post
…having more positive than negative sentiment from a social media monitoring tool
…having more “likes” than your competitors
…launching a corporate blog
…getting coverage at PR and marketing conferences

Social Media Success IS:
…seeing a customer come to the defense of the brand in a discussion on your company’s Facebook page
…seeing the sentiment from a social media monitoring tool improve over time
…watching customers share and comment on really valuable and relevant content your team created
…hearing a customer or business partner mention a recent blog post helped influence their decision
…getting coverage at PR and marketing conferences because of business results achieved

Success is about building relationships that “move the needle” with customers – smart marketers understand the needs, attitudes and behaviors of their customers and prospects better than anyone. Leverage that insight to build long term relationships with customers (whether first to market with the tactic or not) and success will follow.

Photo credit: cayusa via flickr

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  • I respond to this with a simple and hearty AMEN!

  • Ian Orekondy

    Some large companies are using social media very successfully internally without external exposure. For large companies, I think this is where the real untapped value of social media should be mined. Think, but for employees only – and you start to see real value very quickly. The key is to have c-level leadership actually lead the way. When it works, it’s transformational for organizations, but more importantly for employees, it’s cool and fun. Great concepts for work, right?

    • Great point about C-level leading the way. From my own experience I am having more meetings with C-level execs regarding social media today than two years ago, and I hope that translates into a greater willingness to try, learn and improve.

      A large company that started internally before focusing externally is EMC. They launched an internal community on the Jive platform with little fanfare, and learned the ins and outs of a thriving community before focusing fully on the external elements of social. I think that is a better way to prepare an organization if you can swing it.

    • Ian Orekondy

      Yeah, I agree – focusing internally first is a great approach. I found this list of Jive award winners that offers more examples of this, here:

      My employer uses an internal wiki platform that is just awesome for connecting, communicating and collaborating across divisions around the globe. For organizing info across teams, it’s essential, but it’s used for lots of cool non-core tasks / innovative skunk works projects organically. The motto is: no permission required, and I find that it’s senior leadership’s active participation that helps bolster excitement, and validates early-stage projects.

    • Very cool Ian. You’ve inspired me on another blog post coming soon about doing social media “from the inside out,” which will feature a company that did exactly that (working on an interview with the lead).

  • Love this post as it hits very relevant internal challenges I am facing today as I evangelize social media throughout my organization. I still face other senior managers who can’t distinguish between social media as a true “mindset” verses just another direct marketing platform. I’d like to add to the IS list “increasing the # of ‘relevant’ and productive relationships your company has with potential customers.”

    Permission to still some of your lines from this post in my internal dialog with folks?! 😉

    • Thanks Eric – of course, use whatever helps! And great add to the list.

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  • I wish my clients understood that it’s not about likes – the quantity doesn’t play that much role as quality does. It’s better having 50 real fans than 1000 of those who just klicked “like” for fun.

  • CMO

    I think the problem with social media is that companies want an immediate result of thousands of new customers.. They don’t bother to think that it is about building relationships with potentional customers as well as building the name for the company. The real success is when people think positively about the company – this is what social media is for (in marketing sphere).

    • I agree.  It really has to be a passion. You need something that drives you to make the social media work.  Granted others need to have that passion too.  So, some things just don’t work out.  Kids, pets, music….all passions and easy to get others involved.  Thought you had a good point and I wanted to elaborate.