Excerpted with permission from 60-Minute CEO: Mastering Leadership an Hour at a Time by Dick Cross (Bibliomotion, 2014).
A lot of us tweet, blog, watch our websites, and monitor Facebook. But I know few CEOs who have actually absorbed the full impact of social media into their thinking about running their businessses. To some of us, social media still feels a little disconnected. It's like something we've added to our closet, but it's not an exact fit with the rest of our wardrobe.
Stay with me for the next three and a half minutes, and we'll begin to move through that fog together! Viewing social media as something you've got to do because others, particularly younger people, do it misses the point. The challenge for us in our Jobs at the Top isn't a matter of learning how to do it. Our challenge is understanding what social media means for our businesses. It's recognizing how the new era of communication changes our relationships, mainly with our customers but also with everyone else. The new connectedness changes how people think, and it changes what they expect from us in order to continue to support us and give us their business.
For as long as we can remember, the drivers of customer buying behavior have been functions, features, quality, price, service, and convenience. If you could win on these fronts, you'd have the business. But social media has made that prescription obsolete. And that's the big point – the mega message – we need to accept.
Social media has leveled the traditional bases of competition – functions, features, quality, and so on. With a tap on a phone or tablet screen, customers now connect with more sellers of products and services than they ever knew existed, accessing offerings that are likely to be easily substituted for ours, in their estimation.
At the same time, social media has spawned communities of interest on nearly every imaginable topic. Customers and other interested parties can now share unbiased and independent opinions about one provider's virtues compared with another's. And these people's views have huge impacts on the opinions and choices of today's consumers.
So, the short and sweet version is: today, your customers have far more choices that compare favorably with your offering than ever before. And they can communicate instantaneously with others about their real-life experiences with you and your rivals. Today, there's full exposure of you and your competitors.
So, what does this shift mean for you in your Job at the Top? It means rethinking your business, starting with what you need to stand for in order to remain relevant. It means accepting that what made your business competitive in the past – the features, functions, quality, price, service, and convenience of your products – is no longer sufficient. And it means that you may have to pay more attention to, and perhaps even reconfigure, how you are seen through the lens of social media by your customers. You may need to include things that never entered into your thinking before, like the charities and social causes you support. Or you might highlight what's special about your workforce, key elements of your company culture, the kinds of things you reward, or the extra lengths to which you go to ensure consistent and responsible care of the environment, your employees' families, your suppliers, and your industry. These are things that will keep customers supporting you and will encourage others to give you a try.
From your customers' end of the microscope, access to comparable options for most goods and services logically leads them to shift their bases for making buying decisions to these kinds of higher planes of preference. Increasingly, customers are looking beyond what you actually sell and zeroing in on what it's like to do business with you. They're responding to the persona of your business and to who they like most and, therefore, want to "gift" with their business! How do you win on these terms? First, you have to maintain your competitiveness on all the other dimensions – features, functions, quality, price, service, and convenience. But with all that pretty much expected now, you need to present yourself to customers in ways that build their empathy and their interest in being associated with you. Your company must be like a friend who cares about what they care about. And, on occasion, you must go to extremes to demonstrate it.
Extremes, particularly ones that do something extraordinary for someone in need, spread epidemically through social media, solidifying your base and gathering new converts in their wake. This all adds up to an entirely new duty in your Job at the Top. In today's social media-drenched climate, you need to seek out and act on opportunities to distinguish your business in extraordinary ways. You need to orchestrate remarkable moments that will be picked up by social channels, ones that your customers will care about. And these events may or may not have a lot to do with the actual functions, features, quality, price, service, and convenience of what you sell.