Creating Relationships Key to Social Media

Whether it is Facebook or Twitter, social media is all the rage.  More and more companies are trying to friend you on Facebook, or get you as a follower on Twitter.  Even this article has social media features such as Facebook “like” and Twitter “retweet.”  A recent study from the Brand Science Institute, a German brand management think-tank, researched why social media projects fail. Mashing the BSI research with the human dimension of sustainability, failure happens because corporations forget that social media is, for lack of better terms, both a medium and social.

The technology of social media is a medium for communication.  Traditional media, like magazine advertising, billboards, or television commercials is a one-way street, from the company to you.   With traditional media, a company has no direct interaction with the customer.  Social media changes this dynamic, yet the medium itself is not the answer.

An old adage suggests, “Technology doesn’t solve problems.  People do.”  Likewise, social media does not solve marketing problems.  People do.  Not only does social media create a two-way street, it creates forks, intersections, and freeways.  Providing great customer service can resound positively through a customers network.  A bad customer experience can result in a customer badmouthing a company to their friends and followers.  The technology makes sharing the customer experience, whether joy or sorrow, enthusiasm or dismay, faster and more widespread.  The experience needs to be created in the first place.  Social media is not just a medium, it is social.

Obtaining a twitter account and bombarding the internet with information will not work.  There is nothing inherently social with pushing out information.  This is where the human dimension of sustainability fits in.  There needs to be a meaningful relationship, between the company and the customer sans any social media.  That relationship can be cultivated in the customer experience of a service, a product, or even information.

The strength of that relationship is tested when you are not touting yourself, but getting others to tout you.  Or to use the language of Facebook and Twitter, the trick is not in “liking” or “tweeting” yourself, but getting others to “like” or “retweet” you.  More power to a company that can be tweeted without originating a tweet. Take a look at Apple which does not have an official Twitter account, yet whose products are tweeted and retweeted endlessly.  The company has built up a relationship with their customers where the customers do the “liking” and “tweeting” for them.

It’s all about creating a sustainable relationship with your customer, be it online or offline.  Social media can only help strengthen or erode that relationship, but it cannot readily create it.  People need to create it.

And now the true test for my social media reader-writer relationship is if this article will be “liked” and “retweeted.”

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.