The first time I went to a work party was the summer of 1995 at an extravagant gala Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) threw in San Francisco with thousands of employees. Slightly in awe, I was fascinated with meeting people and learning their stories. Like all opulent events, I met people who were incredibly interesting, made you feel interesting, and were the life of the party (the engager); obsessed with talking about themselves (the braggart); simply repeated what those in positions of power said (the echo); those who loved to surprise you (the shocker), and those who listened and absorbed but seldom participated (the wallflower).
In truth, all of us have parts of each of these personas inside us. For businesses, social media accelerates and amplifies those characteristics at an unprecedented rate and scale in a very public way. It creates the world's biggest global gala and leaves many of the world's most established companies trying to find their way and voice... just like each of us in our first jobs.
The social persona of a business
For example, Twitter usage shows that a few companies play the role of engager -- making an entire community feel like they are part of a group that just clicks. Consumer brands like KLM, Tide, and Starbucks have gotten there and their twitter feeds feel like a hip conversation. Others, mostly B2B providers have struggled. Even brand names like Accenture and Goldman Sachs, have wrestled with the concept and risk looking overtly promotional or just absent from the party.
Groupon, on the other hand is effortlessly social by enabling its customers, small businesses, the opportunity to "engage" with thousands of new customers. Or, as one small business friend explained "it's like when we used to hire people to put our flyers on a bunch of cars at a concert and get paid if people brought them back to us." For some small businesses, being social on Groupon has been a little like throwing a wild party at your parent's place where a few TOO many people show up, but never before have small businesses had an opportunity like this to be the life of the party.
Be True To Who You Are
This compelling clip from Mad Men -- where an advertising exec pitches Kodak on using the emotion of nostalgia to position their latest innovation -- shows that technology can't change what your brand ultimately represents, for better or worse. It has to be true to your product and company. Ultimately, social media can't make someone love your product or brand, it can't make you more interesting, and it can't solve deeper issues around who you are as a company. But, it can give you a way to make the best of who you are more accessible to the world. It can allow you to have a direct conversation with more customers and potential customers and understand how they view and reflect your brand.
Technology companies are often the earliest adopters of new innovation. Next week, more than 30,000 people are going to be at one of the largest cloud computing conferences in the world, salesforce.com's Dreamforce. The event has its own private social networking site, crowdsourced mobile apps (from partners) that let attendees crowdsource their view of all the parties, and one even had party goers select the songs a famous band would play via Twitter. In the end, your product and offering are still the most important factors in success; however, in a world where the pace and scale of interaction have intensified, the smallest deltas can be the difference between being number one or done. And just like in your personal life, you can't make them love you, but you can make sure they see the best of you Here, There and Everywhere.