Changing Social Business.

I can still smell Nigeria. If you’ve never been, it smells of rotting fruit. And turds.

The formative social moments are less obvious than you might think. But no less important. I grew up in Nigeria as a kid old enough to remember and young enough to forget. The Nigerian legacy has proven to be formative for me, whether I realised it at the time or not.

The associated memories are nothing like the more obvious landmarks of a birth, death or marriage of course, but occasionally as I travel the world to shout at stupid people about social busniess, I’ll catch a scent of rotting fruit decaying in the heat of a busy foreign street and be immediately transported back to a point when life was very different.

These ‘landmarks’ have just one thing in common. They are points of change. You rarely have control over them. I had no control over moving to Nigeria. I had no control over leaving. I had no control over the indelible imprint in my memory of the smell of rotting fruit. And turds. So the change happens whether you’re ready for it or not. You may not even recognise the points of change until much later. Some people seek change out and embrace it, others actively avoid it, and some have change ‘thrust upon them’.

In a B2B marketing and social business context, we like to think we can anticipate change. We plan. We make strategies. We predict paths, and growth, and consolidation, and our jobs require that we adapt with changes in our markets. Most business to business marketing roles feature change as an integral part of daily activity. Business survival depends on it.

I therefore remain bemused by the number of businesses that seek my opinion in the name of ‘social change’ when they have so little understanding of the requirement and even less intention of implementing any of it.

The lack of understanding is forgivable. Or at least it was. We all benefit and learn from others and 5 or 6 years ago we all had to learn what social media was. We had to re-learn, reinvent, repurpose. It’s understandable that it would take some time to adapt and adopt those changes. But that was 5 years ago. 5 Y E A R S. My kids have grown up and started kicking my ass in that time. How many meetings does it take exactly? Even if a business reviewed its social strategy once a year that would be 5 meetings by now. That’s 4 too many when the sum total of organisational change is zero.

I meet large corporates that have entrusted their entire online reputation to the intern on a 3-month placement because, “they’re young, they’ve got the facebook thing and stuff…” I meet CMOs who, “don’t do LinkedIn because I’ve already got a job…” I meet CEOs who, “have no time for that sort of thing…”

So the, ‘explain it to me again’, meetings are challenging, but necessary. The totally unnecessary ones are with those who get it, but can’t or won’t develop the opportunity because, “the KPIs are different.” That’s true, but they’re only different to the organisation. They’re not different to the social audience – the customer. The customer doesn’t give a flying knob about your KPIs. Social customers want what they have always wanted – a social experience with brands. Your sales process is not on their to-do list.

But are all customers social customers? Well, Comscore’s State of Social Media report shows that 98% of the UK and US online populations engage in social networking. If they’re not engaging and buying from your business now, that’s because your business hasn’t changed sufficiently. A definition of change is, ‘The act or instance of moving towards becoming different’. My advice, again, is for businesses to move towards their customers.

The early adopters have already changed. So have the businesses prepared to embrace change. That leaves the laggards. The social market is preparing to shift and change shape again, and yet the first generation social business is still asking me how to change, what to change, whether to change, what is the risk of change, what is the ROI of change?

In the years that follow, we will all look back at these times of social change. Whether you like it or not, the landmarks will have been set. The question you need to ask is whether you will be reminded of the smell of fruit, or turds?

Scot McKee