The intense public anger against SOPA and PIPA last week and how it browbeat a determined government to shelve it for the time being is an eye opener about the significance of the Internet in our lives — personal and professional. The so-called attempt to throttle the freedom of the Net ended in a whimper as a harried government, a sure defeat staring at it in Congress, announced it would look into the issues and may take up the Bills again next month.
“What has happened in the last few weeks will permanently change the way citizens communicate with their government,” Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), was quoted by The Washington Post.
I am not getting into the merits or demerits of the Bills here. I want to talk about the growing importance of what Wyden called “citizens”, or the public at large, or consumers in corporate language.
The industrial era in the early 20th century to the knowledge-based era — as we typically love to attribute our own times — has seen an increasing importance of the general public in the overall attention quotient of the enterprises.
With the Internet, and consequently the rise of the social networks, crashing borders and brining the world closer than ever before, the “people”, or consumers, have become the most important issue for organisations. People across the globe are more connected now and capable of expressing themselves better. While they talk about their hobbies, favorite hang-out places, passions, geo locations or travel destinations on social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, they are also telling each other their own perception of a product, a brand or a company.
Consider this: Facebook has 800+ million active users and Goggle+, which was launched in September 2011, is touted to reach 400+ million by the end of 2012. Naturally, the viral effect and word-of-mouth spread are more potent now than ever. When the entire consumer populi have gone social, companies cannot afford to fall behind, and it is imperative for them to turn into “social enterprises”. Organisations need to listen, examine and analyse the tonnages of social data floating around in the various networks, find out cues and then act effectively and immediately.
Things were never so difficult for the corporate world earlier. In fact, the industrial era was typically attributed with “production orientation”, where organisations only focused on producing efficiently, with the prior supposition that anything produced would be consumed.
Remember the iconic “Black Ford”, where Henry Ford said that he could provide any color as long as it is black?
Then, things started changing, slowly giving way to the more mature “product orientation” system. Suddenly, superlative technology and product features became the main focus, which naturally meant the consumer would love to consume. Note, the importance of consumers was rising as now they would have to “love” the product instead of just “consume” it. Sony Corporation is a stellar example of this phase, as it developed revolutionary products like the personal stereo and compact disc technology. The Japanese automobile industry is also one such example.
The next phase focused on “selling the product”. It was more of a “push” strategy, where proper selling and distribution channels meant businesses could achieve the desired market penetration and market coverage level. The FMCG industry was the main proponent of this strategy as they came to be known as the “sellers industry”.
Now, with the dawning of the Internet era, the customer has become the all-important entity for organisations. Not only they can afford to lose a consumer, but also they need to pamper them even to increase their perceived sense of self-worth.
So, innovative ads, gifts and hampers for consumers apart, what is the best way to spread a brand? Use the medium your consumers use. Use the social media.
It’s not for nothing organisations have also logged into Facebook to reach consumers (not to be left behind, Google+ also recently allowed business pages on its platform). They now spend millions on social media tools and campaigns and even employ social media experts to interact with users and develop new ideas to catch new consumers while retaining the old ones. (Check out Social Media Examiner‘s Top 10 Facebook pages )
But when we talk about customers, we loosely mean external customers. However, in today’s parlance, there is also a concept of internal marketing wherein the stakeholders internal to the organisation are considered. Here, we are mainly talking about the employees. In today’s industry, the two main pillars of success are definitely technology and service. In both paradigms, the primary importance is due and reserved for the employees of the enterprise. Hence, one of the prime concerns of organisations nowadays are to keep a track of the social behavior of the employees.
It’s all about creating a democratic organisation — flattening all hierarchies, abolishing bureaucracies, establishing top-to-bottom transparency, allowing tens of thousands of employees to chat with the CEOs, VPs, sharing ideas with the peers, white-boarding, group-videos — all on same page without leaving the workplace. Businesses must engage with everyone, get through all the hurdles and send the message straight down the hierarchy.
For holding on to the employees, there are various enterprise social networks like Chatter from salesforce.com, yammer.com and tibbr.com from Tibco besides various other always-emerging options. These tools, though quite predated in looks as against a “consumer” social tool, are inherently stable and supporting robust business processes. You can try out a free version of Chatter. Yammer is the more innovative, light-weight, and “social media-savvy” amongst its brethren, but sometimes falls short in its support for robust business processes or as a prospect for those who are eyeing startup investment. A very new entry in the block is Nimble. “Salesforce is doing it wrong when it comes to social,” says CEO Jon Ferrara, adding, “We are effectively Salesforce but social.”
Salesforce’s obvious counter point here would be that its Chatter is the market leader, and also Radian6, which is more of an enterprise social CRM.
Whoever is right and whatever stands tall, in the open and free world of Internet, for organisations, it’s the public who matter most. There are a few corporations which have successfully created an enabling framework for enterprises to go social with their customers and employees. But that is for the next time!