Face-to-face vs. Facebook

Professional & Managerial

Social media is no longer just an emerging trend and is accepted as part of our world. Facebook alone has over 800 million users.

Will social media turn our business world upside down and change the way business is done? Perhaps looking back to the emergence of the “world wide web” (as it was called) will help answer the question. With the emergence of Web 1.0, instant accessible global communication and information was upon us. Market commentators, manufacturers and retailers were either rubbing their hands together (Amazon) or running scared (Borders), whilst others took a while to understand its impact (Kodak). Many would have argued that retail was dead and no longer the channel to market.

Yet in 2009, Apple opened a 10,000 square foot retail outlet in New York on Fifth Avenue. I recently had the chance to visit and was aghast at the scale of the store; there were literally hundreds of ‘apple gurus’ answering questions, the queue was long, and what’s more, people were actually buying! In fact, it is estimated that the store has an annual turnover of US $350 million. I felt like joining the queue as well, despite the fact that there was nothing for sale there that I couldn’t buy online or at many stores in NZ. So what was the point of difference? Ultimately those customers chose to engage on that basis. They chose that experience and they chose that way to buy.

FacebookCertainly online is a sales and distribution channel yet high street retail still remains and is here to stay. I profess no great knowledge of global marketing, but few people would disagree that Apple have it right. The secret to their success appears to be attributed to building products that people want to buy, rather than their distribution methods. Apple understands their customers and builds loyal relationships with them. They will utilise old and new world channels.

So where does that leave us with social media and business? Is there an analogy? I say yes. I think with the social media bubble, it has been seen by many as the shiny new toy! While there is no doubt that social media can create terrific engagement with customers and provide a platform for communications in large organisations, for the majority of businesses (even those with a good grasp of social media), there is little relevance and even a slight disconnect between the brand and the activity. Like the web ‘online’ it can be incorrectly viewed as an end not a means, and a destination not a journey.

More thought needs to be given to the value proposition and the type of engagement that is appropriate. For instance, we have appliance stores with Facebook pages here in New Zealand, but it is unclear what they are trying to achieve or what purpose they serve. They do not differentiate themselves from their competitors nor have a meaningful conversation with their customers. Why have a shiny new toy and not use it? In effect, they are destroying, rather than adding value to their brand.

Instead of asking the question “who am I trying to talk to?” ask the question “what conversation do I want to have?” So like the web as a sales channel, social media can become one of our communication channels and we should embrace it!