Look up social in the dictionary and you won’t find “Facebook” or “Twitter” in the definition. Yet companies have relegated their social behavior and culture to those social networks. Companies that quickly apply the lessons they learn online to offline channels will prevail over their slower-moving competitors. That’s the message of Social Nation: How to Harness the Power of Social Media to Attract Customers, Motivate Employees, & Grow Your Business, by Barry Libert, founder of social software company Mzinga Inc. Libert spoke with Editorial Assistant Juan Martinez about how to embrace the social revolution and why the 1990s comedy Third Rock from the Sun holds key lessons for social interactions.
CRM: In Social Nation you explain that being social doesn’t simply mean being on Facebook and Twitter. Can you expound on that?
Barry Libert: Facebook and Twitter are great technologies and platforms. But being social is about how you conduct yourself, be it on the phone or in places where you meet with family, friends, and neighbors. Being social is about empathy and compassion, and online is one of the mediums, not the message.
CRM: Transparency is almost a necessary evil for social companies. You speak of it as something that sustains social initiatives. What do you mean?
Libert: Being social is about being vulnerable, exposing yourself, and putting your heart on the table. In your personal life, you have to be open and transparent or you’re considered emotionally shut down. That’s what happens in business. Companies are shut down. They are good at broadcasting and making things, but they’re not being vulnerable to customer and employee wants and needs.
Customers want vulnerability. I used to love Third Rock from the Sun. It was a comedy about Martians who landed in the United States. In business, customers and employees are talked about in the third person, almost like Martians. They’re not currently thought of as friends, family, fans, and followers. Companies need to change the metaphor from third person to first person.
CRM: You say companies should know what they are not. What do you mean, and how can this help a social initiative?
Libert: After the midterm elections, Barack Obama had a great quote: “We took a shellacking.” He said his administration wasn’t aware of the mistakes it was making and the speed by which they were going. No one should have to take a shellacking, yet most companies are today. They have slow growth with low margins, and the way they’re dealing with it is by firing employees. The way they think they’re coping is by hoarding cash and still producing profits. They’re really good at transacting. They are not really good at relating. The skills of relating—empathy, sympathy, and compassion—are not readily taught at business school. Once you acknowledge what you’re not, then you can begin the journey to become something that allows you to achieve your full potential and build extraordinary relationships.
CRM: Why is culture more important for social than for traditional business strategies?
Libert: Culture is enduring. Companies don’t realize that products, relationships, and services aren’t enduring. How I treat you and relate to you is what’s enduring. As companies know, getting culture right is hard. That’s why they don’t spend as much time on it. It’s easier to make and sell things. There are few companies that I buy from where there are enduring cultures like at Zappos.com.
Why is Tony Hsieh [the CEO at Zappos.com] the poster child for this? At home we say those things: I want my wife to be happy and my kids to be happy. We can all say those things at home, but I can’t think of another company with a set of values like that.
CRM: You speak a lot about measuring social initiatives. Which companies do you recommend to readers? Why?
Libert: Radian6, Nielsen’s BuzzMetrics, Cymfony. There’s no shortage of them. Sentiment drives everything. Companies should measure sentiment, vitality, and commitment. I don’t mean satisfaction or loyalty—those are old concepts. How are people feeling? Based on that, how are they acting?
CRM: Where do you see social moving in the next five years? What missing functional aspect of social would you like to see invented?
Libert: If we’re not using transponders, then my first hope will be that organizations will understand that social is not about Facebook and Twitter. They will embrace new skill sets in the next five years. We’re only in the second or third inning of the social movement.
My second hope is that these media will become more integrated. They think social networking is an online phenomenon. They think the physical world will go the way of the rotary phone.
My third hope is that companies realize we are not six degrees of separation from each other. We’re zero degrees of separation from each other. We all want the same things: to be treated with respect and humility.