I interviewed social media expert Brian Solis, the author of Engage and the End of Business as Usual: Rewire The Way You Work To Succeed In The Customer Revolution. We talk about the crucial role online video must play in the transformation of businesses into genuine social enterprises, what's holding them back, and what it will take for them to overcome.
Because this is such an information-rich interview, I've broken it up in two parts. The first part goes into Brian's recent book's theme around how businesses need to transform themselves into social enterprises to accommodate a "consumer revolution." The second part goes into the important role of online video in this transformation. I highly recommend checking out the Brian Solis TV YouTube channel, and I've included a video interview with Brian on his book, below. (It's lengthy, and it's very good.)
Part I: Evolve or Die! Why Enterprises Need to End "Business as Usual”
Brian, how do you define this existing "customer revolution?”
I should probably start with explaining the most basic part. We understand that revolutions "out with the old and in with the new." They're a part of life. There have always been consumer, customer evolutions. But we're finding ourselves in a very special time. (And I'm talking about even before all the "occupy" movements.)
What "consumer revolution" means to me is that it's not about Facebook or Twitter; nor is it about these social networks giving rise to revolutions, like we saw with Egypt, for example. What it is, is sentiment, pent up sentiment; and experiences of consumers who are just tired of not being recognized or having a voice within the financial ecosystem or the business ecosystem; and who are rising up to be heard; and who are rising up to say that they have a choice and they can exercise this choice.
But you do acknowledge the role that social technologies have played at least the role of a catalyst for this consumer/customer revolution?
Now social networks just happened to come along and become sort of this ability to bring people together around common interest – around common movements that create change, that create visibility. But it's not because of social networks that this change is now here. Those are just the tools and the channels for consumers to sort of exercise their point of view.
So when I said it was a consumer revolution, I was being quite literal. And then the "occupy" movements come up; and it was like, well, there you go. This is exactly what I'm talking about. The more you ask people why they're revolting, why they're protesting, the more answers you get. That's just a sign of the times of how people want change across a myriad of topics; it's all related to government and finances and business and jobs. They just want to be heard, and they want change.
So why is big business resistant to this change?
It's not so much that they're resistant; it's that they're just not aware of the impact of any of this on their business. I attribute that to most leaders today within big organizations don't really use social networks, themselves.
And that's what so special about right now. Now, the challenge that new media – let's just say social networks, global media, etcetera – has within the organization is that it rises from the bottom and works it's way upward; and when it starts that way, you know how slowly things travel within the organization, you know for leadership to see the importance of any of this – well, social media is stuck in the marketing department right now, right? It's either in marketing, marketing communications, or public relations. So, in their mind, social media's already handled within the organization. They don't even see or taste or feel any of this until there's a protest outside their door.
So if the first step of this consumer revolution is protest, what's the next step? What else does it take to just get whoever is in charge – a manager, the c-suite executive, the one who is the change maker – to say hey, "we need to actually start doing this internally? We need to not have it silo'ed?" Does it take an increasing outside antagonistic pressure by consumers? Or does it work better from within? Or, is it just going to have to take more time?
Well I think it's a little bit of all of the above. I mean you kind of nailed it. Really what we're seeing is (and I'm going to try to boil it down into a cute little play on words here): it's either the "a-ha or the uh-oh moment." And you know, sometimes more people will learn from the uh-oh moment simply because they have no choice.
But this is also a really important topic to discuss. At the end of the day, you have someone within the organization who's the social champion. They're the ones getting businesses to try to have a more human presence. They're trying to engage in a conversation; and at the end of the day, they have a choice to make. We have a choice to make.
And this is why I wrote "The End of Business as Usual." You cannot get the ear of the executive by being the social champion. They don't comprehend how these networks, these channels, and these services, facilitate business. What they need is a change agent.
Explain what a "change agent" is.
A change agent is someone who understands what's taking place in the market, what is influencing and driving consumer behavior, and to what extent; and how is it impacting the industry and the market – and be able to translate that into the language of the C-suite.
That is why the first half of my book is designed to really make the case of what's taking place – written for executives, not the social champion.
The second half of your book, The End of Business as Usual, is written about change management. Explain a bit of what that is.
Change management is nothing new; it is designed to help businesses adapt to opportunities, internally and externally. So what I'm really saying is yes, there's transformation taking place. We can call it social media, we can call it mobile, we can call it iPads, whatever you want to call it. But my book is about how to recognize its importance and what to do about it.
So really, at the end of the day we have a decision to make – do we want to be the social champion and lead the development of social media strategies within the organization, or do we want to change the organization itself? And that's a crossroads that we have to deal with today.
Part II: The Role of Social Video as a "Change Agent" for Organizations
So Brian, what role do you see online video playing as part of this transformation for businesses – as part of this "change agent" you're mentioning here?
I'm glad you've asked me this since I've been experimenting with video a lot myself, recently. I believe that the future of business is storytelling, and video must play an increasingly important part in that – whether it's an organization, whether it's a company, whether it's the government.
While we're seeing some very interesting examples of video used in storytelling today, we'll really sort of seeing it still from a monologue standpoint. Now an organization may have one or more videos that is interesting or sharable (or even goes viral), but they're mostly designed with a top-down marketing take. Meaning that, these enterprises have the mentality of, "I want to create this one video and I want a big bunch of people to see it" – rather than it actually becoming a part of the day-to-day communication – much like we would see an e-mail or phone chat; or in some regards, even tweeting and blogging.
Video storytelling puts a human face, puts an emotion in the way that other mediums can't handle; or, are not designed to handle. I think that video is among the more perfect social objects there. Especially with all of the new technology taking place because you can carve it, you can edit it, you can remix it, you can just take out certain snippets that are appropriate for your audience; and you can have the voice, the person, the character, whatever it is, bring the story to life in just such a wonderful and engaging way that really what we're talking about doing is not just engaging the viewer, but causing the viewer to share it; and then more importantly, to take action. So I actually believe that we haven't even begun to see what's possible yet (with online video for business communications).
So could you see companies assigning their own ambassadors around online video? I.e., people who can participate via video to offer these experiences – where the technology is getting so much better now where you can have real time interaction, engagement; and where there can be multiple streams of conversation?
Oh man, well if anybody knows the answer to that it's you guys at ReelSEO. But yeah, I say absolutely. What you're mentioning here is one of the things that are most fascinating to me with online video and where I see it going. Take Google Hangouts for example: when that was launched, Michael Dell (of Dell computers) personally announced to everyone that they were thinking about using Google Hangouts for hosting customer conversations, having live dynamic discussions around certain topics. You could see maybe the Apple Genius Bar doing the same thing – scheduling calls with as many people using Skype or Google Hangouts to have these discussions. What a wonderful way to bring the brand to life through these "video ambassadors," through these representatives who then embody sort of all the characteristics of what the brand is, what it's stands for, it's mission and values.
But, you know, what we start to get into the territory that again comes down to change. You have to first design that experience. You have to design the representative's characteristics and mannerisms and passion and words and the persona, and what they're going to represent. All of these have to be designed, much like old-school style guides used to have to be designed for brand usage. Now we're talking about sort of the persona of the brand, the brand essence.
The problem is, businesses are not defining that right. The closest things they have are either the style guide, or the mission and vision statements. If you read some of those, I mean, my goodness, those must have been written by marketers; they actually don't speak to you at all.
So this is at a time where a business could look at that and say, you know, what do we stand for? What is our mission and vision? Because if we're going to use video to bring that to life, if we're going to put real human beings on camera, what are they going to do? What are they going to say? What are they standing for? And more importantly, what do we want people to see? And what do we want them to align with?
What it seems you're talking about is the need for a well-designed training program, and selecting people into that program who have both the hard skills and soft skills (like emotional resonance) on camera. But without all that in place, could someone who's at least a key influential, either inside or outside the company, at least get things started on a low level – perhaps as a spokesperson or something else?
Right, the key influential could be the person that would be helpful. But here again lies the problem with big business and most organizations: At the end of the day, you're dealing with an outdated infrastructure that is not designed to support that type of a spokesperson. What they'd do is put a different spokesperson in for it – like the executive, the sales lead, whoever it is, the talking head – and they are the last person that should be in front of the camera for this era.
So who are enterprises who have been successful with this needed transformation? Who are you seeing who are getting the right type of spokesperson or key influencer behind their brand?
We see that with Dell, we see that with Virgin, we see that with other companies – where they're putting the person who really is passionate, who really is a master of that particular domain in front of their brand. They're trained against it, there's a mission and vision against it and there's also a persona around it. Virgin spent a ton of money figuring out who it was that they needed to be and the experiences that they want to create for their age medium. That is really what it takes now.
So getting back to your book, The End of Business As Usual: What would you say is the key takeaway for anyone reading your book, who realizes the need to transform they way their organization does business, and are ready to actually get started?
Well, there are two aspects of it: you want to be the change agent and you need fuel. You need not just inspiration, but actionable insights so that you know exactly what to do. Most people just don't necessarily know what to do, how to make the argument, what you're really fighting against, and how to break through all the challenges and red tape that exists.
But I have to say; it's a fascinating personal journey. Because even though you're the professional that's trying to change business, you're also part of the revolution around all of this. You're that connected customer that is driving all of this change; and in many ways, you're the very person you're trying to reach. There's a great sense of psychological adventure with seeing the impact that you're having as an individual and to what extent.
For some great validation, you start to realize that you're not just approaching change for the organization as a professional; but as basically the person causing the change, it brings a whole new sense of realism to the approach. You have a whole new sense of devotion that you're inspired to change, and you can actually have great clarity so that you know what you're path is and that you're stronger, and everyone in your organization is stronger for it in the path ahead.
So how does someone, who wants to be this change agent, start the transformation with a business? How much of it is just making a business case (with ROI on the financial and social side) – or do you have appeal more to self-interest, even selfishness? What's it going to take to get through to the other people in your organization?
Well, you know it's a little bit of all of the above. Part of, what you're talking about is exactly what's taking place. It's the psychology of influence, and it's also the sociology and anthropology to understand the behavior necessary to apply that influence; and how to steer it in a direction that's within your control. Now, there are fantastic books about that already out there. I couldn't necessarily go to the champion, the change agent, and say here's how you're going to use psychological pressure to get change. But what I did do is put it all in English (i.e, easy to understand) in a way to say here's how to get your way because you believe that this is the right way; and here's you're fighting chance and what's going to break through. So, it's sort of assumes and takes into account exactly what you're talking about, but packages it in a way that makes it easy to not only understand, but execute.
So maybe, start with something small, and real simple and show how you can measure success. So my last question for you, Brian, is what will make you consider your own book to be a success?
I have to be honest with you with my previous book, Engage: aside from numbers, with Engage I started to see success when people would say, you know, that book really helped me design strategies that we could see really worked. And that helped us think or rethink the approach we were taking that, apply new kinds of metrics where we can actually see an impact that we are having in our work. And that, to me, was success – that people were actually applying all of those experiences and lessons and seeing it work for their benefit.
For this book, The End of Business As Usual, I'm going to define success by people who have fought the fight and who are documenting their fight, the challenges that they're having, they're blogging it, they're video blogging it, they're sharing it, they're saying I'm reading this book, here's what I'm learning, here's what I'm applying, and here's what you need to know. So I want the book to sort of be like this source, this well of information, not just for the person reading it, but so much so that the people that are living through it, because of the book are telling everybody else what they need to know. So almost creating an advocacy network, or an ambassador network of people who are living and breathing this because of the book, and extending it's reach through their experiences.
Image courtesy to iStockphoto, ©ilia-art, #1247033