“Whenever I say “Social is more than media,” people resist. It’s as if the two words (social and media) are now permanently fused together. But they shouldn’t be. The fact that they are joined at the hip in so many people’s minds means that marketing agencies alone are thriving and making money–but we are collectively missing out.”

— From the “11 rules of creating value in the Social Era” by Nilofer Merchant

I recently had a chat with a branding expert and his idea of what social meant truly left me in awe. Social is not for brands that believe customers do not have any influence on a brand or a company. It is for those who believe in co-creation and co-ownership of a brand. If there is too much jargon in the last sentence, let me simplify it for you.

Starbucks wanted insights from their customers on what they could do to get them back into their shops. Now, a typical corporation would get the strategy folks into a room and ask for 10 ideas that should drive this initiative, but Starbucks chose a different approach. They started the Starbucks my idea portal, where they invited their customers to submit ideas around their Starbucks experience and their expectations. What did they get?

A ton of ideas from their most loyal customers and a customer reading that they could never expect from focused groups or any other exercise. At the same time, they also transformed the brand image of the company to one that was contemporary and co-owned by their customers. Here’s another quote that I found quite relevant in the context of social and the need for conversations and relationship building rather than advertising and marketing spend.

“Social has never been a technology trend, as it is often depicted by the experts. Humans have always wanted to connect, organize, and create value. Back when there were tribes, people had community and naturally had relationships in the marketplace. But for a very long time, organizations couldn’t achieve the needed scale, which was intricately tied to profits, and also have connection. So, relationships were abandoned for the sake of efficiency. But now, if we let it, marketing in the social era will look like any other relationship; perhaps like falling in love, following an arc of romance, struggle, commitment, and sometimes, co-creation”

I truly agree with Nilofer’s view that profits and scale have de-personalized the customer experience and social is the bridge that is helping brands identify, analyze and engage with their customers. The misrepresentation of Social Media has brands going around in circles using advertising and promotions in the hopes that people will take notice.

We at muHive believe that conversations are at the heart of social. You don’t need a portal or a million dollar investment to a identify and influence your customers. All you need is a shift in the way you think about your brand, customers and the value they bring to your company.