Without question, CEOs, executives and employees in companies in the United States and around the world have rallied to face the challenge of a social media marketplace. Social media has impacted how they perceive their roles, how they organize themselves internally, how they communicate to the marketplace and how they interact with their customers. Some critics have challenged what the return on investment is for engagement in social media. Others have complained that the metrics don’t exist to demonstrate value. What both overlook is the fact that their brand community has not only fully embraced socially media, but is leveraging this technology in ways that can either ensure that your business thrives or doesn’t survive.
Consumers around the world are more aware of the multiple global crises we face than ever before, thanks to information found on the Internet. In light of the wave of protests that swept the Arab world, of environmental disasters like the Haiti earthquake and the Tsunami in Japan, and of natural disasters like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, consumers are also more sophisticated in their ability to connect with each other through social media around what they care about. This can be a very powerful force for a brand, or it can be their undoing. Here’s why:
1. TRANSPARENCY: In the coming years there will be a greater call for transparency from brands. As the Wikileaks scandal so dramatically demonstrated, there’s no such thing as privileged information anymore. As such, brands need to act more authentically and be more accountable for their mistakes. If they are not, consumers are not only aware, they are armed with the tools to spread that message, encouraging their communities, friends and families to boycott their products and brand.
2. RESPONSIBILITY: As a function of this heightened awareness regarding the trouble that everyone in the global community faces, consumers are now looking to their brands to play a greater role in social change. Consumers all around the world are intimately aware that governments are facing historic debt and that philanthropies cannot sufficiently address all the problems we currently face, in which case they are looking to brands to step into that void. What’s more, they are aware that many of these brands have profited handsomely in times when their customers have struggled desperately, and in the worst extreme they have witnessed wall-street and major brands profiting on the back of consumers’ tax-payer dollars, jobs, health care and hopes. As such, their intolerance for socially irresponsible brands has never been higher, and their ability to share their dissatisfaction with others is just as great.
3. REDUNDANCY: Every period of technological transition brings with it survivors and casualties. As Joseph Schumpeter put it, this process of ‘creative destruction’ is not peculiar to social media, but is fundamental to economic development itself. As a consequence, those companies that insist on perpetuating thinking and behavior that served them in the past are simultaneously volunteering to be the casualties of the present. The reality of corporate monopolies, of nation states in competition, of a planet of infinite resources, has been replaced by a social business marketplace, a global community and a finite planet struggling to survive. Those CEOs and companies that choose to serve a purpose that reflects a concern for the interests of others as well as themselves will be the ones that thrive in the future. Those that don’t will not only become increasingly irrelevant to a fast changing marketplace, but they will be perceived as a threat to it and further accelerate their own self destruction.
4. CREATIVITY: The future is a story we make up everyday, and in the face of so many challenges, a new breed of CEO, social entrepreneur, employee and consumer is emerging, one that recognizes that we each wear many hats as stakeholders, shareholders, citizens, employees, parents and individuals. This awareness begs of individuals and corporations a new creative approach to how they practice their private and professional lives as individuals and corporations. Past thinking will not solve the problems of our future. Instead, CEOs must be willing to rethink how they lead, companies must be willing to rethink how they organize themselves, brands must be willing to re-imagine what products and services they provide and consumers must be willing to change their buying habits. Such creative capacity, such ability to adapt, such willingness to re-imagine the future is the most persistent conversation across social media today.
The companies that make meaningful contributions while also listening to the voices of others are the ones that will genuinely engage their community, who will then go to work for them. Perhaps the most powerful consequence of the shift in the marketplace for brands has been the need to transition from the celebrity of its community of customers to its chief celebrant. The ability to do that requires a creativity that is often stifled by institutional inertia, and it will take brave leadership and choices for those necessary changes to be made, but without the ability to re-imagine our roles in the world, companies, brands, products and services will fail to meet the needs of a marketplace defined by dynamic conversation between brands and consumers hopeful for a better world.
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