As the dynamics of how companies, both big and small, interact with their customers on social media continue to be analyzed, deconstructed, defined and redefined by the experts, those whose objective it is to market their business in the social space must continually question their methods and their approach. More and more, customers in the social space demand transparency and genuine dialogue with the businesses they follow. And companies seeking to generate leads, sell products, or convert prospects into customers by leveraging the tools provided by social media are continuously discovering that they simply cannot get away with implementing many of the traditional marketing and advertising tactics that worked for so long in the past.

Brands need to be social in order to be successful.

And being social cannot merely be a means to an end. Of course, we all want and need to sell, but that desire or objective must be undergirded by a foundational pursuit to make your customers happy. Most customers can see past the smoke and mirrors, and can tell when they’re being set up for a hard sell. Most can detect falsehood and half-truths. Which brings me to my next point…

In order to be social, brands must be transparent.

Why has old-school, unilateral advertising worked so well for so many companies via more traditional channels such as TV, magazines and radio? Primarily because marketers are smart, and have managed to have a one-way conversation with prospects and customers, creating a need and convincing them to buy a product that will meet that need. Now, with the emergence of numerous highly populated social media channels, brands have the opportunity to amplify their message like never before – often at a much lower cost than other media channels. But because customers can now respond and, on certain platforms, have the ability to litter your company page with either praise or unbridled complaint, brands must come to the realization that a shift in power has occurred. Additionally, the online marketplace is becoming socialized, as we’ve seen with many ecommerce sites that have built-in customer review functionality and other “social” features that sort of level the playing field between buyer and seller. Because of the socialization of ecommerce, the rule of unilateral messaging from company to customer is gradually being replaced by a two-way conversation. Many traditional marketing and advertising channels and tactics are still important and effective, but now businesses are not only talking at customers about what they are selling – they are forced to talk with them. The crowd has gained access and is puncturing the company’s private veneer at large.

What’s the appropriate response?

Let them in. Give your entire audience a look inside of your organization. Allow them to see how things really are behind the scenes of your business, rather than how they appear from the outside looking in. The reality is, in order to be best in class – to provide the best product, the best service – you need all of the input you can get from your audience. Requesting honest input on a large public platform can be scary because it may reveal flaws within the framework of an organization, but such revelations can be a catalyst for an improved product or service. Crowdsourcing can be equally as scary because it means giving up a measure of control concerning product development or improvements on services you provide. But in this era, big and small businesses alike simply must include and work with their customers in order to grow their business.

The failure to be transparent can result in crises that are avoidable, loss of business, or both. What steps are you, as a business, taking to give your audience the opportunity to have an inside look at your company?

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