Social Media Maven

Brian Solis shares how social media is redefining business as usual

“What we’re talking about is a complete business and culture shift,” says Brian Solis, principal at Altimeter Group. PHOTO: IVO NAPFLIN

Tips & Tricks

How to maximize social media for business 

• Mine intelligence: Within social networks lies a gold mine of information needs/wants/challenges.

• Show relevance: The ability to connect with customers and demonstrate why you’re worthy of their time and attention in these networks.

• Once you’ve earned relevance based on intelligence, you can then have the foundation to trigger actions, reactions, and transactions. And then measure them.

Brian Solis is a busy, busy man. As a best-selling author and thought leader on the subject of new media (Advertising Age’s Power 150 list has ranked his blog 12th in the world), Solis is much sought after as a public speaker. He tallied no less than 100 appearances all over the globe in 2010 and, given his jammed schedule, it’s no surprise he’s so intensely au fait with social media.

That relationship began in the ’90s, when he was working in marketing for a “big Japanese brand.” The company was trying to sell digital cameras into a US marketplace still favoring film. Delving into the world of forums and message boards, he says, “as a classical marketer looking into the digital world, I was ill prepared.”

Times have certainly changed, so much so that in 1999, he founded FutureWorks: an award-winning digital agency that leads interactive and social programs for Fortune 500 companies. Currently, he works as principal at Altimeter Group,  a research-based advisory firm that helps build bridges between companies and customers through “disruptive technologies.” Solis has also been named in 40 Under 40 lists by the San Jose Business Journal and was highlighted as one of the most influential leaders of the customer relationship management (CRM) industry in 2010 by CRM magazine. He is also a cofounder of the Social Media Club, a national organization that convenes events for the purposes of sharing best practices, establishing standards, and promoting social-media literacy.

When Hispanic Executive reached him for this interview, he’d just hopped off a plane, but was—as always—ready to discuss how social media is changing the way businesses approach marketing. “Traditional marketing is dead among an emerging set of consumers that we are just now identifying,” Solis says, navigating his way out of the airport. “In the face of this new era of consumerism, you have three different types of customers. You have a traditional customer, a digital customer, and then you have this social or connected customer that is, for all intents and purposes, a different breed of consumer—they discover and share information and make decisions differently from the other two segments. Therefore, businesses need to employ a whole new generation of marketing to capture their attention and, hopefully, engage them.”

Connecting With Customers
For these connected customers, traditional measurements for success, such as impressions and audience size, aren’t effective. According to Solis, you could buy ads on Facebook, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the connected customer is actually going to see them. They are engaged with their community and, in order to get their attention, businesses need to go a step further. “You’re going to have to find out who I am, who I’m connected to, what I’m interested in, and why I might pay attention,” Solis says. “It disassembles the traditional marketing idea of ‘one to many,’ and rebuilds it into a ‘one-to-one-to-many’ approach—meaning you have to determine who your segment leaders are, where are they engaging, what moves them, and buy and earn media in ways that are meaningful.”

Rule of

First try to realize who
it is that you are trying
to engage and why.

With such an involved marketing strategy required, Solis says it’s foolish for businesses to think they can effectively operate without a dedicated person or team. Businesses need to also consider the question of “why” (something that Solis believes is frequently overlooked when businesses address their use of social media). Answering that question requires an understanding of the communities of people (those formerly known as the “audience”) that a business is trying to reach, what motivates them, what happens after they engage, what they value, and so on.

For Solis, business has been presented with an opportunity to do something “amazing,” that hasn’t been possible before: to connect with the customer who is also connected to other customers. Instead of going after impressions, companies can go after what he refers to as the “ART” [actions, reactions, and transactions] of new media—all in real time.

“Businesses are asking the wrong questions and approaching the process with misinformation,” he says. “Let’s stop talking about tech for a moment, about what is the hottest app or social network, and let’s first try to realize who it is that we are trying to engage and why. What is it that they will find engaging You’ll find that the answers vary based on desirable communities.”

Once you have these answers, Solis adds, businesses should build a technology and engagement platform … and show that they’re on the right path. “Fundamentally, what we’re talking about is a complete business and culture shift,” he says. “We’ve spent generations moving away from the customer through operationalization and process efficiencies, and now we’re forced to engage.”