One the best perks of my job is having the opportunity to sit down and chat with the premier thought leaders in my field. One of those recognized authorities is Brian Solis. Principal of Altimeter Group, Solis is an expert on new media and its effects on business and culture. He has worked with Fortune 500 companies, leading strategy development and change management, and has authored several books, one of which he co-authored with Ashton Kutcher. Yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.
We had a great conversation about – what else? Social media! When the Internet was popularized in the mid-90’s, it had a huge impact in how companies interacted with their customers. Today, we are seeing social media and mobile computing causing yet another shift in this interaction. Razorfish published a report this year that found that social media, mobile media, smart phones and tablets are starting to change consumer behavior to where the individual has become the center of their experience. Solis calls this the “Egosystem.”
“The Egosystem describes this new environment where people see themselves as the center of everything. Every interaction, with people and businesses alike, revolves around them. That kind of changes the dynamics and balance of the relationship.”
Traditional relationships require nurturing, cultivation, mutual benefits, and both parties agreeing to work together. Consumers in the modern Egosystem do not necessarily want that. But if they don’t want relationships as previously defined, what is it that they want? Solis says it’s all about engagement.
The problem with a statement like, “It’s not about relationships anymore, it’s about engagement!” is that it sounds like a bunch of buzz, and I think it’s safe to say that we’re all pretty fed up with the buzz. So, I asked Solis to give me a definition of engagement. He responded with what he calls the six rules of engagement: value, efficiency, trust, consistency, relevancy and control. These, he says, are the elements that differentiate engagement from traditional relationships. These are what consumers in the Egosystem want. So, let’s break them down.
- Value – I mention this first because it is arguably one of the most important elements of engagement. Consumers want to feel valued by the companies they do business with. Feeling valued translates to knowing that the company or brand will go above and beyond to meet your needs. In the Egosystem, the customer identifies their needs as the most important. They want the company or brand to share that sentiment. This is most effectively accomplished by maintaining a personal touch with consumers. Making a personal phone call, responding directly to a customer’s tweet, setting up a loyalty program to reward returning business—these are all things companies can do to communicate to customers that they aren’t just a number, but a valued client. Granted, this is easier said than done, but the first step is acknowledging the importance of making customers feel valued, and then developing a scalable plan for doing so.
- Efficiency – Not only does the customer want to feel valued, but they want their time to be valued as well. Thanks to an increasingly mobile and social world, consumers are used to having technology that allows them to often expedite traditionally long, laborious processes. They expect this same level of expediency when dealing with businesses. For example, when a customer has a problem, the last thing they want is to be routed into the call center jungle. They want to be able to access Twitter, Facebook or a live chat module for real-time support. Offering these channels shows the customer that you respect their time and energy.
- Trust – Consumers need to be confident in the credibility of businesses. They want to know that a company will stand by the product, actions and services that they deliver. If a company builds trust through honesty and transparency, their customers will feel more confident to recommend the company or brand to others. Additionally, they will be more willing to take risks or invest more capital, when they know the company is behind them 100 percent. While this isn’t a new concept at all, it definitely bears repeating. No matter what channel you are using, be truthful and transparent in your communications. If you stand by your customers, they will stand by you.
- Consistency – While consumers likely want consistency in every aspect of their relationship with businesses, for the sake of this conversation, we will focus specifically on channels. It is common for companies to offer multiple channels for communication with their customers. AT&T offers email, live chat, Twitter, Facebook, phone and even postal mail. Offering multiple channels is good, but there is no value unless the service you provide is consistent across each one. If a customer has a problem or they simply want to express love for a product, they want to be able to do it on Facebook, on Twitter, on blogs and see a consistent engagement across all of those platforms. The lesson here is don’t offer something you can’t deliver on. It is more valuable to have three consistent channels as opposed to eight fickle ones.
- Relevancy – This is something that a lot of companies struggle with, particularly when it comes to social media. Many companies use social media as another means of advertising. They essentially spam social media profiles, blogs and marketing emails with product-centric information. However, that’s not what the consumer wants. When potential and existing customers visit your blog, Twitter, and Facebook page, they want to find information that is interesting and focused on their needs. They want a reason to go there. Companies should be listening across all their channels, identifying the common struggles, concerns and preferences of their customers. Equipped with this knowledge, companies can provide more targeted communication that is actually relevant to their customers. It will probably make them feel valued, as well.
- Control – We have heard over and over again that the customer is in control. But the idea of control is two-fold. It is clear that customers want a sense of control in that they want to choose the channel they communicate on, and they want the ability to opt in and out of specific engagements. In other words, they want an experience that gives them the sense of control. It is the onus of the business to actually control that experience. Businesses should gain consumer insight and design an experience that provides the user that sense of control.
In addition to following these six rules, many companies will want to invest in tools to help facilitate customer engagement. Vendors have done a great job of extending their products and services to allow businesses to become more social. Unfortunately, the tool is only as valuable as the company’s ability to use it for transformation or improved engagement. So, before investing in software, take the first step of investing in a solid engagement strategy, because the only way for companies to truly succeed in the Egosystem is to understand these rules of engagement and use them to not only earn connections, but keep those connections alive and thriving.
For more information on how to craft your 2012 social media strategy with these golden rules in mind, I highly recommend Garious.com article: What’s Your SMM Game Plan For 2012? Cater To Customer’s “Egosystem”!
Special thanks to Brian Solis for his expertise. Be sure to check out his latest book, "The End of Business As Usual."
Thumbnail image created by Dell.