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The Social Business Imperative: Eight Years Later

Cover_9780134263434_Shih_FinalI’m thrilled to announce the release of my new book, The Social Business Imperative: Adapting Your Business Model to the Always-Connected Customer, available starting this week online (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, and more) and in bookstores.
When I wrote my first book back in 2008, social networks were just getting off the ground. The Facebook Era articulated a radical vision for how social media would transform media, relationships, and influence, creating new opportunities for businesses in the process. Skeptics abounded. Even that book title was controversial at the time. People needed a lot of convincing that social media wasn’t just a fad, so I drew on academic sociology research and drew parallels to the rise of the Internet 15 years earlier.
What a long way we have come. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t believe in social media’s profound impact on every aspect of work, life, and society. As consumers, we live the social, mobile, and digital transformation every day – from the moment we wake up and scroll through Facebook to when we tweet the world good night just before falling asleep. Social media now drives more traffic to most websites than search engines do, and last year social media surpassed even email as the top Internet activity.
Businesses, too, have made great strides. Nine in 10 companies now use social media in some capacity. Yet tremendous untapped opportunity remains – $1.3 trillion in business value, to be exact, according to McKinsey Global Institute. Most organizations are still using social media only in superficial ways or only in select departments (generally brand marketing, recruiting, and customer service), but the rest of the organization has yet to catch up. And very few companies more than a decade old have built or adapted their entire business model for the Facebook era. Yet that’s precisely where the biggest prizes await.
Eight years later, many organizations are still wondering where the ROI is, or hoping in vain to stumble upon the next viral campaign. The challenge, as is so often the case, is that vision is easy, but operationalizing vision is hard. The Social Business Imperative (#socialbizimperative) is the execution-oriented sequel to The Facebook Era’s vision. It describes how social has come of age for businesses (what I refer to as Social Business) in an increasingly mobile world, how organizations can take a strategic, proactive approach to operationalize Social Business in every major function and department, and how these currently siloed initiatives can be tied together cohesively to deliver efficient, consistent customer experiences and unlock transformational new business models.
There are two primary reasons why Social Business has become an imperative. First, social media is where customers spend their time and expect to engage. The continued dramatic rise in smartphone penetration and usage is driving up social engagement even further. Second, the so-called big data generated by customers on social, mobile, and digital platforms can be harnessed for predictive analytics – which in turn can be used to power new business models and practices that delight customers with personalized experiences, curation, and convenience.
The book includes case studies from leading companies that have embraced the Social Business mandate, including Warby Parker, Wells Fargo, Raymond James, Ameriprise, Disney, Ritz-Carlton, L’Oreal, Farmers Insurance, Ritz-Carlton, and Netflix, spanning many industries and continents.
As Forbes summed up in its review of the book earlier this week, Social Media is Everyone’s Business – Yours Included, the mistake many management teams make is over-delegating social and digital efforts to fairly entry-level social and digital teams. In reality, social and digital are too important and too strategic for company leaders to not personally own and drive.
It’s been an incredible journey from start to finish and I’m so happy to share the finished product with the world and especially our amazing customers, who are featured in and served as great inspiration for the book.
Please ‘like’ the The Social Business Imperative Facebook Page to get the latest updates on book signings, appearances, updates, and more!
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Lessons from Sam Walton: How a social-local strategy brings the human touch back to business

Ed. note: The following post, penned by Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih, originally appeared in Advertising Age.

Long before the digital age, all business was local and social. Customer engagement was paramount. Shopkeepers, barbers, and Avon ladies alike intuitively knew that their ability to connect with customers would often determine whether or not a purchase would be made. They also understood that investing in building long-standing relationships with customers would result in repeat visits and loyalty.
For many successful proprietors, this meant knowing customers by name, remembering their likes and dislikes, and being on hand to answer product questions. Years before founding Walmart, at the age of 26, Sam Walton put these principles to work as a variety store manager in Newport, Arkansas.

Sam Walton's original Walton's Five and Dime store, now the Wal-Mart Visitor's Center.

On stage at fMC (Facebook’s marketing conference) earlier this year, Walmart CMO Stephen Quinn hearkened back to this bygone era:

“If you went back 120 years ago, a retailer would be a pillar in the community. [Retailers] would know not only everybody, but their likes, what they thought was interesting, what new products they might be interested in.”

So, what happened to the shopkeeper who cared about customers? The answer is very simple: technology.
Technology has enabled two of the biggest changes to sweep across retail: national mega-chains and more recently, e-commerce. Both have played key roles in driving down prices by introducing greater transparency, efficiency, and economies of scale. But this has come at a cost: the customer experience now feels “mass produced.”
In his eloquent foreword to my book, The Facebook Era, 1-800-FLOWERS founder and CEO Jim McCann captures it perfectly:

“Past technologies helped drive down costs, improve reach, and grow the business, but in the process we lost something very important: customer connection. I have missed the direct customer dialogue I had in our retail flower shops. The digital age has felt largely transactional in comparison.”

A central theme of fMC last month was how social media provides a way to put a human touch back into business. Several Facebook executives, including David Fischer, Mike Hoefflinger, and Chris Cox, took the stage at various moments to explain how Facebook’s new Timeline redesign provides businesses with an opportunity to “reintermediate” a human touch in their online interactions with customers. Less advertising, more engagement. Less cookie-cutter, more authentic. Less corporate, more local.
Slowly but surely, even the biggest retail organizations around the world are awakening to this sea change. Quinn and his team at Walmart have recommitted to a “social-local strategy” that I think would have made Sam Walton proud.
Walmart has launched thousands of Facebook Pages, one for each of its brick-and-mortar stores. Designated store employees who have received special training on social media are responsible for maintaining the pages, such as by responding to customer questions and issues, sharing targeted local promotions, and discussing town news or events, such as the local football game. Quinn says social media is enabling Walmart to “go back to the future” by providing an authentic local customer experience, but at scale.
Walmart is not alone. A growing number of brick-and-mortar retailers from Lululemon and Home Depot to 24 Hour Fitness and Quiznos are embracing social-local. According to a report published last month from Mainstay Salire, local Facebook pages already outperform corporate pages by a factor of 40 (Download the report here.)

Like Walmart, 24 Hour Fitness offers gym members a tool for finding their local center’s Facebook page, which publishes more relevant information and local promotions.

Disintermediation is fine for highly commoditized brands and products, but if you want to build brand differentiation and customer loyalty, there are no shortcuts to authentic engagement. Certainly, social-local requires greater coordination than having brand pages alone, but like anything, what you get out of social media is proportional to what you put in.
Retail e-commerce sales topped $61.8B in Q4 of 2011, but this still amounts to less than six percent of total retail sales. Embracing a social-local strategy allows retailers to capitalize on the shift in consumer behavior toward digital, social, and mobile technologies at the store level where most of the transactions are still taking place, even while investing in growing e-commerce channels over time.
It turns out shopkeepers, barbers, and Sam Walton had it right all along. Customers want to be treated like real people, not an audience segment. Having 20 million fans secures bragging rights for any brand, but from the perspective of the fan, it’s generally far more engaging and rewarding to be part of a smaller, more intimate community.
Today, social-local is a really good idea. As more of your customers get smartphones, check in to your store locations, and begin demanding authenticity with a human touch, it will soon become mandatory. In my next article, I will discuss how retailers should go about establishing and operationalizing a social-local strategy, as well as why I believe brands have no choice but to do this. Please stay tuned.
Watch Walmart CMO Stephen Quinn talk about his social-local marketing strategy below: