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It’s surreal to think Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn didn’t even exist when Millennials came into existence. Yet, in just over a decade, the world is more familiar with these brands than many others operating for generations.

The phrase ‘social media’ has become ubiquitous, to the point where most don’t even bother saying ‘media’ anymore — it’s just ‘social’. It’s everywhere. It’s powerful. It’s valuable. Businesses should all know what it is and what it means for them.

But what is it? What is ‘social’?

‘Social’ is well known but not well understood. Within businesses, decision makers despair at how quickly ‘social’ changes and how difficult it is to know how it can add value. But since it seems many other businesses are apparently generating returns, they charge on, focused on extracting whatever value they can.

What happens as a result? ‘Social’ gets abused.

‘We should socialise that.’

‘Let’s get that up on social.’

‘How do we amplify that in social?’

But we still haven’t defined what ‘social’ is.

As a consequence, leaders place unrealistic expectations on social media channels — and the people who manage them — to deliver unrealistic solutions. And when efforts then fail to meet expectations, all ‘social’-related activities are tarnished and dismissed as a series of nice ideas that will never deliver the value desired by business.

It’s our view the only way to resolve this challenge is by repositioning the conversation around ‘social’ itself. Let’s define what ‘social’ actually refers to and, importantly, what it does not. As you’ve no doubt gathered, from our perspective ‘social’ doesn’t really represent what people intend. Conversely:

  • Social media are channels (like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) used to communicate and exchange information with others, whether organisations or consumers. You can read further thoughts on this topic here.
  • Social capabilities are operational disciplines that provide ongoing value to an organisation based on defined needs (e.g. a social intelligence capability resolving the need for real-time consumer insight).
  • Social data is the information shared by individuals through social media, providing an additional, valuable source of consumer feedback, behaviour and sentiment.

To be clear, though, pursuit of these things still does not guarantee success and return. On their own, they are still just individual elements. It is the strategy behind them that drives their value to businesses.

So let’s stop talking about ‘social’.

Let’s instead be really specific about how individual elements like data, capabilities and channels can deliver value for business via the right strategy. Business strategy, not ‘social’ strategy.

We’ve already made a commitment to change our language and have a handy reminder in place. We’re also building our team with consultants who understand business challenges and can advise senior leaders based on practical experience. Alongside Nat Swainston who joined us in March, Spencer Jarratt joins our team and brings with him a wealth of experience managing Westpac’s social customer care team. Through that experience, Spence regularly demonstrated and communicated to execs the value a strategic capability like social customer care can provide.

In this context, business leaders need to discuss business outcomes, not ‘social’ ones, so why not start having business conversations?

Author: Roger Christie

Roger Christie is Founder and Managing Director of Propel. He understands the importance and value of a customer-centric approach to business, and has worked with a range of public and private sector organisations to help them leverage data, technology and operational change to deliver practical business solutions. Over the past decade, Roger has advised boards and executive teams across government departments and ASX top ten corporations, and understands the challenges facing organisations looking to excel and remain viable in an increasingly competitive, discerning marketplace. You can connect with Roger on LinkedIn and Twitter, and follow his thoughts on Medium.

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