Predictions and Priorities for Social Business in 2012 – Part I

My pet peeve about the annual predictions ritual is that they lack context for action. It’s nice to know that tablets and big data are important — but what should you do about it?

So here’s my attempt at not only forecasting but also to provide actions that companies should be prioritizing in 2012.

The Process: I went through my speaking and client engagements in 2011 and looked at which topics and themes I kept referring to over and over again, especially toward the end of the year. I also analyzed which of the tweets from these events were most retweeted to verify where the heat was.

I boiled it down to three predictions and also explain why I think these are a priority for business leaders to address in 2012. Because they are on the long-ish side, I’ll be posting one a day so that there can be discussion about each prediction and priority.

Prediction #1: Consumers will reward transparent companies with their loyalty. Companies must get courageous with transparency and make it an every day occurrence. Or they will face the wrath of outraged customers.

Almost 8 million people have now seen the FedEx delivery guy tossing a monitor over the fence. FedEx’s response was timely and tried to be authentic, but lacked only one thing — a link to that video. It was just a short search away, so why not link to what everyone already knew existed? Regardless, I was glad to see FedEx respond quickly when so many other companies facing a crisis try to wait for the situation to fade away.

The gold standard on transparency reaches all the way back to July 2006 when Dell’s brand new blog had the courage to write the post entitled  “Flaming Notebook” about a Dell computer bursting into flames in Osaka, Japan. And they included a link to a photo of their product exploding into flames.

Where did they find the guts to do this? Michael Dell made it crystal clear in his instructions for the post: Dell was built on the value of going direct to consumers and the blog had to communicate and live by those same values.

I’ve told the Dell flaming notebook story and shown that photo at hundreds of speeches and asked a simple question: If your organization had it’s version of flaming notebook happen today, would you be able to write that post? In a most telling way, there are only a few hands that get raised.

Dell’s flaming notebook was five and a half years ago, before there were Facebook Pages, before Twitter even existed. It was the Dark Ages of social media and Dell understood then that it was important to build a new, unique relationship with their customers.

Think about what would be needed to get your organization to that point and make it a priority to be transparent about the everyday small problems that always occur. Practice on the easy stuff to get prepared for The Big One.

Too busy you say, with your existing social media efforts to do this? All of the efforts that you make updating your Facebook page or posting on Twitter add up to mere hand-waving if you can’t master this new type of relationship demanded by your customers.

Does your organization have the courage to engage when things go wrong, no matter how big or small? How did you organization get to this point? Please share where you are on your journey, and what you found helpful to bring greater accountability and transparency into your company.

Next up: How well do you really know your customers?

11 thoughts on “Predictions and Priorities for Social Business in 2012 – Part I”

  1. Inspired post. I guess the issue is learning the VIRTUE OF DOING RIGHT when you are wrong.

    Professionals in most industries refuse Customer Ratings because they may expose flaws – Lawyers, Doctors, Teachers, Real Estate Agents, Nursing Homes – everyone. It would seem that it is a lot easier to create a pride driven image of excellence and coverup the dirt.

    This is changing, and nothing is going to stop it.

  2. Good first post Charlene.  There was some eMarketer research published at the back end of last year that showed just how many companies still have no idea whether their customers are complaining about them online, with a significant portion of those that do still not doing anything about it.  Really quite hard to understand, but I suppose many managers are still struggling to come to terms with quite so much of their business now being out in the open.  Brushing issues under the carpet is no longer an option.

    I look forward to hearing the next entries.

    1. Adi: Our research shows that about 80% of large organizations (over 1000 employees) have some type of monitoring/listening in place. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the organization outside of the social media team knows what is going on. The key: getting those customer complaints into the hands of people who can actually do something about it, rather than issue a sentiment report. 

  3. I believe your Prediction #1 will hold true and the FedEx and Dell examples are powerful ones, although I expect Jeff Jarvis would lay claim to teaching Dell all they needed to know during “Dell Hell”.

    With FedEx you say it lacked only the link to the video. As FedEx wouldn’t want to be implicated in identifying the customer in any way (and they say as much) then they wouldn’t want to link to the customer’s own posting. I can see that’d be how a corporate would see it as to FedEx ‘goobie55’ is synonymous with the individual and pointing at their post is going part way to identifying them.

    Companies who want to be transparent will find protecting the privacy of customers a very real (and very necessary) constraint which will severely limit what they can do at times.

    1. James: I hear your logic of why FedEx wouldn’t want to link to the video — but it’s again putting corporate priorities ahead of the relationship FedEx wants to build with it’s customers. 

      The only way FedEx was able to track down who goobie55 was is to look at their internal data records — not because of the YouTube video. The fact that the person remains anonymous is a testament to the fact that 8M people haven’t figured out he/she is. 

  4. let’s add Verizon’s retreat to this list. it took all of about a day for angry mobs to convince Verizon how foolish this move was. agreed, we will see much more of this as people re-structure corporate transparency.

  5. This is a great post Charlene and good thinking for us to kick off 2012. I agree with what you said, if we don’t master this, all our other social media efforts are virtually useless. I guess it goes with human nature – we as individuals often have a hard time accepting guilt and saying sorry, looking for a way out. Surely not everyone but the majority. Naturally that corresponds to business practice. We have to continually push ourselves each day to be better business professionals and realize the new light we are working in. Looking forward to reading predictions two and three. 

    1. Tim: You are so right. In the past, corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts were seen as nice to have, PR efforts. They are now seen as core to the long term mission and success of organizations. There’s a greater recognition that transparency is also crucial — the tides are turning, albeit slowly. 

  6. Excellent Post Charlene – Never has this quote by Victor Hugo been more true in the marketplace. “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come” ~ Victor Hugo
    Consumers today are in the drivers seat for the first time since the 50’s when marketing was driven by “word of mouth” recommendations and they demand transparency. The companies who ignore this will suffer. I think many companies think they can stick thier head in the sand and make Social Media for business go away but those that do not adapt will be in for a rude awakening as their customers move on to businesses who have embraced the change.

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