Social media: getting from “uh-oh” to “a ha!”

Editor’s note: In the first of Brian Solis’ “Revolution” interviews in collaboration with salesforce.com, Brian interviews Salesforce Radian6 SVP & GM Marcel LeBrun about how social media is changing customer service—and everything else.

Marcelblog For many businesses, the foray into social media started with crisis. In 2005, we heard story after story of companies encountering a brand crisis online. One of the first examples that I recall was in 2006 when blogger Vincent Ferrari recorded his ordeal of trying to cancel his AOL account, which spread like wildfire across the social web. The resulting damage to AOL’s brand served as a wake-up call, which Brian Solis calls the “uh-oh moments.” It was undeniable—the fundamental relationship between businesses and their customers was changing and a single consumer’s ability to influence brand perception became very clear.

The first reaction that many companies had was fear. Fear about having difficult conversations in public that could escalate into a crisis. Fear of losing control of the brand. But—did we ever really have control of the brand? Companies really only had control of the medium. We would sit back and fire messages at our customers and they couldn’t talk back. Eventually more companies began to recognize the social web, not as something to fear, but as an opportunity to have genuine two-way conversations with customers.  To quote Brian again, these were the “a ha moments.”

Which raises a fundamental question: When did it become a bad thing to spend time talking with our customers? Somehow we’ve taken the most important thing—the customer relationship—and turned it into the lowest-cost, most automated function in business.

Social media allows us to break that model. Instead of fearing we’ll lose control of the conversation it puts us in a position to influence it. It gives us an opportunity to exercise thought leadership. To put out ideas and test them. To build trust and strengthen relationships. To actually collaborate with customers.

For now, “social” is a popular differentiating adjective because it is changing everything (social CRM, social intelligence, social customer service, social business, etc.). But over time the term will fade. Not because it’s a fad, but because it will be embedded in everything—everything will be social. Just like we no longer talk about “digital cameras;” digital has become the default.

The social enterprise is biggest change in the front office in 80 years. We’re emerging from the mass media era of one-way broadcasts and morphing into a world of two-way conversations. It is more than just the recognition that the customer now has the ability to influence the perception of your brand; it gives us the opportunity to deliver an entirely new and remarkable customer experience. And that means we’ll have to figure out how to line up for our customers instead of them lining up for us.

What does that mean across the organization? How can we adapt to this change and create the processes that support it? How will it affect every function in business?

It will transform every business process in the enterprise.  That’s what we’ll be figuring out for the next 10 years.

See below for my complete interview with Brian Solis.