As executives turn the page on another year at the helm of their respective brands, one major trend continues: incremental change is no longer delivering bottom-line growth, or at least the growth that makes stakeholders and investors happy. Social media strategy and governance often exposes the problems of organizations struggling to thrive amid the changes of the last seven years (essentially since the iPhone debuted). So let’s focus on the few key opportunities executives can harness today to catapult top- and bottom-line growth tomorrow.
Scale is an outcome of connectedness
Everyone wants scale, but the way scale happens today is as a result of understanding how to connect small groups of people. Who are the people that work together to make a decision about your product or service? What do they need to make that decision? For a product such as a couch, a person’s purchasing decision will likely be influenced by their immediate social circle – a spouse, a friend who recently bought one, and maybe a parent.
For a business decision, there’s a researcher, a supervisor, and an executive. When you think through the story each one of those individuals needs to tell, you do more than address an audience, you begin to unlock the network effect – and this provides brands with sustainable communities and exponential growth instead of incremental gains. Don’t think of your followers as individuals, think of them as representing entire networks.
Behaviors aren’t tactics
Platforms come and go (where did I put that Gowalla founder badge?), what your brand needs to focus on is how to integrate your service into the behaviors that your customers consistently perform for their own benefit. Don’t come up with a plan to present information. Instead, plan what the exact steps are that people need to perform, and how to make them easier (this is a fair mangling of BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model).
Take a fresh look at the messaging you currently present to your network and I’m willing to bet that it is full of declarative statements and abstract ideas. When you reframe strategy in terms of understanding what your customers want to do, and how to help them perform those behaviors more easily, the platforms, content, and status updates will naturally unfold as a result.
Solve for problems that don’t have solutions
Managers want to present plans that have existing solutions. And what executive doesn’t want to hear a story with a happy ending she can take straight to her board? The problem is: innovation is all about solving for problems that do not have a solution yet.
Creating plans that help solve problems dynamically will position your company in ways that no competitor has thought of yet. If you think through the services that have amassed scale through innovative disruption: Facebook, Snapchat, QQ, even Minecraft, you’ll see billion-dollar brands that are connecting people without knowing, or caring, about the ultimate goals of individual actors. These platforms are solving for dynamic problem spaces by creating ways for people to lend their own perspectives as part of a dynamic solution. The days of solving problems with prescriptive, single-solution models upfront is so last generation.
Stop obsessing over your competition
Porter’s five forces framework has shaped how executives develop strategy for decades. But the forces on a business can be understood and shaped into a strategy with far more nuance and value using behavioral data from social research. When we develop thriving social media communities at scale – from half a million members to tens of millions of members: that brand’s competition never appears among the content those people talk about, or use to represent themselves in social.
A very simple exercise on Facebook is looking for trends among who and what your community “likes,” since they’re your biggest advocates. Look for complements across sectors, even unlikely ones, that your audience finds value and meaning through.
My team regularly puts this exercise to use, with some illuminating results. For one medical device, we found that the audience consistently represented itself among brands that challenged the mainstream: alternative ways to design kitchens, small coffee brands, TV shows with cult followings. By understanding these trends, new partners, celebrity spokespeople, and content emerged that no amount of brainstorms would have produced. What’s more, the brand’s competition didn’t appear once. Our calories as a strategic team are far better spent on creating these alliances the competition would never have considered than thinking for a moment about those competitors.
The systems we create to run businesses, to please shareholders and stakeholders, need to focus on value to people. Not in terms of a buzzword about customer centricity, but in terms of having flexible frameworks that use systems to connect people and allow them to develop meaning on their own terms – with the company as a guiding structure to make decisions and shape behavior. Any other antiquated method of developing hierarchy, or delivering profit, is sustainable at least. At most, it’s assuring the disappearance of that company at the hands of competition they never anticipated within the next 2 major disruptions or 5 years, whichever comes first.
Michael Leis is the SVP of Social Strategy of Digitas Health LifeBrands,
Top image courtesy of Shutterstock.