When did you finally realize that Facebook was more than just a flash in the pan? Was it when you started receiving daily “friend” requests from people you hadn’t heard from in years? Or when you literally couldn’t avoid seeing something about Facebook in just about every news outlet on the planet. How about Twitter or LinkedIn or Google+?

It’s been less than a decade since any of these social media services opened their doors, yet in just that brief time, they have become an inescapable, almost ubiquitous part of daily life. They’ve catalyzed the latest surge in high-tech investments and IPOs. They’ve also forced a mad scramble in marketing departments everywhere to figure out what it all means as the boss exhorts, “What are we doing about social?”

The social-driven power shift between buyers and sellers

The most important trend affecting business today is the shift of power from sellers to buyers and its resulting disruption of established marketing and sales practices. Gone are the days in which buyers were forced to speak with a salesperson to get information on a given brand or product—and the dominance of social media has become a huge next step in this transfer of power. Today, extensive online networks of friends, associates, and people with shared knowledge and interests have given buyers a vastly expanded set of tools to research products and services, thoroughly educate themselves, and make informed buying choices before ever talking to a company representative. And as a result, it’s today’s buyer—not the sales or marketing people—who controls the process leading toward a sale.

This new world requires businesses to operate with more transparency, authenticity, and agility than ever before. And accordingly, for anyone in sales or marketing, those qualities have now emerged as central to their success in everything from brand-building, marketing communications, and campaign design to driving leads and, therefore, sales. The best companies are already reinventing their organizations to reflect this ‘sea change’ in how to engage, nurture, and convert customer relationships. Let’s explore each:

Transparency: It’s all out there, so deal with it

The old corporate “Black Box” has been dismantled in favor of greater sunlight shining on every business process, including those that directly drive revenue. The emergence of social media has played a big role in this.  The social web has made it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for companies to easily hide their warts and gloss over problems. The same shift in customer service has many examples of negative tweets resulting in immediate response. Because of channels like Twitter, Angie’s List, Yelp, and Facebook, buyers are able to engage with a multitude of trusted sources and gain real-world feedback almost instantaneously, including whether or not to buy.

With more sunshine illuminating the process, businesses also tend to operate in a more open and truthful way, thus enhancing the level of trust in the transaction. More trust also emerges from the process of the buyer seeking out trusted sources through social networks, blogs, and other social sharing sites to obtain product reviews and referrals. Today, reputations are built (and lost) based on how well companies handle this vital trust element. Social media can impart hugely valuable trust, but it can also take it away.

Authenticity: Crowd-sourcing the truth

In a world where buyers are isolated and have relatively little access to information, it’s not hard to create a brand image or product positioning that’s out of line with the “truth.” One of the most profound and game-changing insights from social media is that the voice of the crowd really does discover and converge on the truth.

In the business world that means that the social crowd will figure out if a product has poor quality, a company is lousy at customer service, or a listed price is different from the average. This new world of information makes it essential that brands, product positioning, and marketing campaigns strive toward truth and authenticity. You’re not going to pull the wool over the crowd’s eyes, so don’t even bother trying.

Instead, embrace authenticity. In the same way that “the crowd” has an uncanny way of spotting lies and half-truths, the crowd can also identify if you’re truly being genuine. And when they do, that positive word will get around just as rapidly and powerfully as all the negative discussion.

Agility: Whatever happens, it will happen fast

It’s amazing how fast information spreads in the social world. If there’s a flaw in your product, an error in a document, or a bold competitive move by a rival, it’s likely that your prospects and customers will figure it out almost as soon as you do. It is therefore essential in this new information-saturated world for customer-facing teams to strive for unprecedented levels of agility in monitoring social media for breaking news, accepting and dealing with whatever good or bad news appears, deciding quickly how to respond, and leveraging the same social media channels to get your response back out right now. And those companies that successfully monitor discussions taking place and coordinate a consistent and rapid response in each situation are those that win. Plain and simple.

The bottom line is that it’s hard for a company to hide anything when its good, bad, and ugly features are being shared ad infinitum on all sorts of social networking sites. However, I’m confident that in the end, greater transparency and authenticity will spur even more competition, leading to better products and greater value for everyone involved. And in the end, I’d bet that will be one of the most beneficial byproducts we’ll see from social media in the long run. And the best thing is that we’re only getting started.

Source: 1to1 Media

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