The key to a successful social media strategy is how you create, and work with, all of your communities - customers, potential customers, business partners, or suppliers.
There is a lot of emphasis on social media technology, because there is a lot of it, and it's critical to be able to understand how to manage and deploy these technologies effectively. But you must remember that the technology is there to help us connect and collaborate, and in our rush to "like", tweet, instagram, and blog, we can lose sight of the bigger picture - the human relationships that are the foundations of our social networks.
Several years ago, some friends and I traveled to Istanbul. If you've ever been there, you probably remember that business owners are very assertive in trying to get you to come to their stores and restaurants and spend money. My friends and I first encountered Bekir when he all but pounced on us as we passed his carpet store one afternoon. Some of us actually wanted to buy carpets, but we wanted lunch first. Not wanting to lose potential customers, Bekir whisked us down the street to a small restaurant where he helped us order, made sure we got good service, and while we ate, regaled us with tales of his business and his family. When we were done, he escorted us back to the carpet store. We were seated in a private salon and served Turkish coffee and apple tea while Bekir and his uncle educated us on the finer points of Turkish carpets. Three hours, lively bartering session, and five carpet purchases later, we were sent back to the hotel in the company car, along with arrangements to meet up for dinner the next evening.
Overkill? Well, perhaps if an American vendor went through all that, yes. We Americans are used to just going into a store and buying something. And I don't think that all Turkish vendors are quite that full-service. But at a minimum, no matter where we went to shop, we would always, always be offered coffee or tea, and sometimes lunch, if it was that time of day. I also came to learn that bartering that is traditional in the Middle East and elsewhere is a way of creating community - both for developing new relationships and strengthening existing ones. But for me, it was not about the transaction alone; the experience, and being part of something bigger, was also important. I was always treated like a friend or neighbor. I was part of the village.
Bekir and his uncle wanted us to have a good experience, ideally so we would buy from them, but also so that we might return, and recommend the business to other travelers. This is what social business is - building and managing relationships and community. Business by its very nature is social. But social media channels alone don't make you social. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are tools that extend your reach and your ability to engage with your community wherever they are. However, it's the relationships with the people at the other end of your Tweets that are important. Each like on your Facebook page has a real person behind it. How are you prepared to connect and communicate with them? You want to provide the digital equivalent of offering someone coffee or tea when they do business with you. You want to create the digital equivalent of the village. Your village.