Samir Balwani wrote a thought provoking post on his blog called “Social Media is a Culture, Not Just a Strategy“. I got in touch with him and had a conversation about it which was pretty interesting, so I decided to share it with you here:
CJ Jenkins: Do you think that now companies are selling their transparency much like a product
Samir Balwani: yes I definitely think they are
CJ Jenkins: I know that a lot of companies are saying that they are transparent and are opening up on twitter and social networks in general, even blogging about their products and company and taking questions directly from consumers. How far is this transparency genuine do you think?
Samir Balwani: Well see it’s interesting that you bring that up. I don’t think all companies can be as transparent as we’d want. Truthfully I think the consumer would be disgusted at what they see, not realizing what needs to be done to get them the fine-living they enjoy. Transparency to a degree is important. You don’t need to air our your dirty laundry, but being a black box doesn’t help. As for how genuine it is, I think many times its sincere. Most consumers are smart enough to call out bullshit when they see it. In the end, not everything can be fully transparent, it’s up to a brand to be as transparent as possible, or to make certain parts of the interactions as transparent as possible.
CJ Jenkins: So really the purpose of a company participating in social media is more about offering some openness with the consumer and being useful to them via a more interactive customer service, but maybe not actually giving the consumer what they tend to believe they’re getting: full transparency
CJ Jenkins: This isn’t a bad thing necessarily is it?
Samir Balwani: I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. Companies need to have some kind of privacy. When you buy from a friend, you don’t need to know their whole life story, just enough to actually trust them. You build that trust by showing that consumers can contact you if something goes wrong, that you aren’t destroying or hurting anyone in the process of selling your product, and that you’ve kept customers happy in the past. I think transparency, trust, and reputation are terms that need to go hand and hand.
CJ Jenkins: Do you think that there is a fine line there? I feel that consumers can gush about how wonderful a brand is because they feel really valued which isn’t something that was very common in the past and I am no exception. If they discover things that are contrary to their initial beliefs, can this enthusiasm turn negative very quickly?
Samir Balwani: Yeah and this brings up the idea of truly faking transparency. I’d never recommend to a brand to lie about things. Pretending to be green while really cutting down rain forests wouldn’t be the best thing to do. I think all in all it comes down to what Jon Stewart said, “Be Human”. Forget your short term profits and think for a moment what your consumers want. It may seem like it’s more work to truly cater to a consumers’ wants, but in the long run it’ll benefit you. Building a connection with a consumer, and making them realize that they are valued, and really dedicating yourself to that ideal means you’ve built a lifelong consumer.
CJ Jenkins: Do you think that a lot of companies have embraced that philosophy?
Samir Balwani: It depends what you mean. I think a lot of medium sized, newer startups have embraced the philosophy. As for older, more house-hold brands. No I don’t think they’ve embraced it at all. I think that it will be some time before the culture of corporations change. Until they see that there are profits to be made, there is little motivation to change. When they realize that small stores are making a dent in their profits, they’ll finally be forced to evolve their philosophy.
CJ Jenkins: What industries do you think particularly need to work on this?
Samir Balwani: The two that jump out instantly are the Banking Industry and the Luxury Markets. Both still have a “holier than thou” attitude that unsettles even their main consumers.
CJ Jenkins: Do you see a promising future for social media as far as companies go?
Samir Balwani: I do see a promising future. My fear, though, is that if enough companies rush into social media, with the intent to get something out of it without giving anything, that they’ll scare users away from it. Companies as a whole will need to understand that social media is not their treasure chest to just take from. Giving back to the community, offering some sort of value, and building connections, is the proper way to leverage social media. My hope is that consumers will become sophisticated enough to block companies they dislike, instead of leaving the medium as a whole. This way, companies that have built strong connections can continue to do so. It’s important to also remember that social media is a medium, just like TV, radio, and print. Except, it’s the next evolution in media. The fact that it’s real-time, dynamic, and two way makes it seem as if our imagination is the limit in what we can do on it. It’s that thinking that makes companies stand out. The use of their imagination in creating something great.
CJ Jenkins: What are the 3 top tips you would give them all
Samir Balwani: If I could give three tips it’d be simple. Don’t jump into social media, ease yourself in. Let your corporate structure adapt to the new medium, let your culture slowly shift. - Don’t think that just because you’re not using it, people aren’t talking about you on it. Ignoring social media doesn’t make online conversations go away. – Use your imagination; stop being afraid and have some fun. Consumers love companies that have fun, because then we have fun shopping with you.
CJ Jenkins: Thank you Samir!