By Kate Spiers
This post is a synposis of my presentation at Socialvation Live on 28 September 2010, on how businesses can benefit from ‘social evangelism’.
It’s a fact – social has happened. Social media is now ubiquitous. It’s a global watchword….Well, we all know that social is a good thing – burgeoning technologies that enable us to act and communicate smarter, be more social, market better and yet in certain quarters there’s confusion, concern, awe and bewilderment. In boardrooms around the world, in strategy sessions, emails, coffee meetings, train commutes, on the street. Because from a certain angle it looks like there are suddenly millions of marketers devoted to this movement called social media. It’s as if in social media, marketers have a new religion.
It has made an awful lot of management people a bit uncomfortable, to say the least. But this fervour is not bad news, quite the opposite. If social is a given, then businesses need to adopt a social mindset. Social is part of how we now function, and it’s not going away. So the sooner businesses can start to incorporate social into their thinking, and adopt that social mindset, the better. It is no easy task. But harnessing social evangelism could be the key for many.
The religion / social media analogy
Now this is a broad analogy – and please accept it as just that, not a philosophical debate – but let’s take a look at the similarities and more importantly, what we can take away from that:
What’s religion? Well, we could say that a religion is essentially a set of beliefs, a collection of moral standards and principles with established traditions or rituals in place. It’s emotive, social and community-based and provides a specific world view. Sound familiar? I think so – here’s why:
Beliefs: We believe in social media, in good practice, sharing what works, what doesn’t work – many of these beliefs are shared and accepted widely
Code of conduct: There are values and principles that guide how we behave when using social technologies – sharing, attribution, cooperation, respect. Like religion we are self-governed by the community in the sense that someone’s watching: all of us!
Emotive: Social is a window into the workings of our minds, where personal and professional cross over. Expression is at the heart of social media, just as it is in religion
Ritual: The use of SM is habitual for many (how long does it take you to check in the mornings? when you get to work?) but this also includes specific rituals: blogging, commenting, sharing and curating content (for example, your daily paper.li, RSS), Follow Friday on Twitter, checking in to locations and so on
Worldview: There is no better! And it’s at our fingertips.
Social groups: In social, we are a community united by our belief.
We can learn something important from this religion analogy. And it’s this:
Evangelism works. Fact. Nowhere near all the time, of course, and that’s OK. We need detractors or we don’t have a cause. But evangelism is damn powerful. This is where we can take away some lessons and apply them to social media. This is how we can help people to understand the opportunities presented by social technologies and the behaviours we’re seeing as a result.
- Through belief we can demystify social for those who fear it
- We can demonstrate the benefits it brings through storytelling
- We can engender hope and faith in social media and in what it can bring in the future, how it will change our world
- We can make it personal and meaningful to the individual
Evangelism may well be the single most powerful driver for businesses in harnessing social technologies and making it work for them.
So you believe in social. You have a social mindset. How do you encourage social evangelism in your organisation, community or industry? It’s a positive and continuous cycle, as I see it:
Direction and Vision: In order to evangelise, spread the word, you need a clear message that articulates the vision of the what and why. Do you have this? Do you see what social media can achieve for your business? If not – stop – until you know it, live it, believe it, no-one else will. Which leads to….
Belief and Faith: You have got to believe. Which means that your objectives need to be realistic. Belief is the basis for sharing faith in social media – it’s the spirit of hope that it can and will allow you to change the world in some way. That’s what you need to share. Temper it with proof for the cynics (or realists) – there is plenty out there to demonstrate where social technologies are benefitting business, starting with ourselves and our own successes, big and small.
Outlet: Just as organised religion provides a home for believers, us social evangelists need to provide an outlet too: somewhere that our fellow believers can join us, where the curious can learn more, where we can share our ideas and actively demonstrate our belief. And PS. There are plenty of places to worship social media out there, both online and in person. But worship alone is not useful – it needs to be balanced with the will to learn, share and explore
Emotion: Evangelism is all about emotion, how it affects you personally. You can’t evangelise without it. We have to make it personal….
Reward: We are humans. We have needs. Maslow figured it out pretty well in his hierarchy of needs which says that beyond our basic physiological needs, we demand gratification in varying forms. It’s part of our motivation for doing things. Maslow talked about our need for purpose, respect, experience, recognition as an individual and belonging… social media does a pretty good job of providing many of these things, so we need to demonstrate how this looks in practice – and how this can possibly benefit business.
The answer is, there’s a reward for the individual here – by “being social” you feel the benefit of community almost instantly, connection is a given. Individuality, acceptance and spontaneity are all there for the taking. Social gives you springboard further up the hierarchy towards self-actualization, which Maslow deemed to be the pinnacle of our needs.
But the reward is not just for the individual. And perhaps this is an important message: By nurturing a community of believers who can evangelise, you build a really rich resource of connectors, knowledge sharers, creative forces, bearers and sharers of good news.
What company doesn’t want that?
Principles for social evangelism
But like in any organised religion, there are some principles to abide by.
Principle 1: Know vision and share the vision
What do you want to achieve, could achieve, have already achieved. How might that affect ‘us’? Why is that significant? This is what people need to understand, before they can even start to buy in and follow the cause. If you cannot articulate this, STOP. Figure it out.
Principle 2: Live it!
Proof is powerful. Be proof of the benefits of being social. It’s the ultimate vote of confidence in what you’re saying, after all.
Principle 3: This is NOT blind faith
It’s natural and healthy to have a crisis of faith once in a while. We will all reach points on our social journey where we question what we believe in, what’s right and what is not, whether it’s really worth it.
Don’t fear the crises, this is an opportunity to reassess what’s working. Nothing stands still. What was right at one stage – be it a year, a month or a week ago – may not be right now. This is a human, organic business we are talking about, and that requires us to flex.
Principle 4: There will always be detractors
…and this is a good thing because it remind us if what were trying to do. Learn from non-believers, understand their barriers, biases and fears. Challengers are also a good thing because they remind us social is not the only way. It’s unreasonable to expect to be able to convert all non-believers, but imagine this – if you can successfully evangelise social to just one or two people in your organisation, who can then go on to do that same, you will have done a good job.
Principle 5: Make it personal
Companies, businesses, brands are not social. People are social. That’s the people who make up those organisations, who make the decisions, who supply goods and services, who review them and write about them, who buy them, test them, consume them.
So social should be – and has to be – personal. And never more so than when you’re trying to spread the word. Can ‘personal’ benefit the organization too? Yes!
Think back to Maslow and our very human needs. Where does social fulfil those in such a way that it also drives us to perform better, provide what we provide better and market what we market better and as a result make our business perform better? Find that point and you’ve found enlightenment. It’s out there.
Kate Spiers is founder of Wisdom London. We help businesses figure out and adopt their own social mindset, based on their own business reality. We’re fairly evangelical about well thought-out, integrated and meaningful social media activity.