4: Develop Your Social Skills

The author begins with an example of an unlikely social media success: a "regular guy" who has poor presentation skills (spits when he talks, over-enunciates, gesticulates a lot, goes off on tangents that have nothing to do with the subject) - but who has developed a substantial following on Twitter and Facebook for his wine-related ranting.

Referring back to the example, this is primarily an example of push-media: an individual communication one-way to an audience, in which viewers were encouraged to submit their comments in response to his postings, and which eventually grew into a social destination where aficionados could post their own reviews and interact with one another, independent of his video blog.

His own take on it is that he does not consider himself to be a bona fide celebrity, just a guy who likes wine and communicates with other people, whom he considers to be more in the nature of friends than fans.

(EN: Some telling details: apparently, it took him about twelve years of effort - starting after graduating college until the age of 34 - to get 90,000 subscribers to a webcast and about 35,000 "fans" on Facebook. My sense is that's important to record, as there are many who seem to expect overnight success and would be disappointed with this "few" followers after a year of effort. Moreover, critical evidence is lacking: how much has his business grown as a result of these efforts? It's noted that he has become a minor celebrity, but I'm not seeing a bona fide payoff of the time and effort.)

Another example follows of a "social nation" that came into existence long before the Internet: Avon cosmetics. Over the years, Avon has built a social network that's 6 million strong, part-time and full-time "Avon Ladies" who sell cosmetics door-to-door and within their social networks.

The brand was largely dying, dismissed as old-fashioned (which is death for a fashion line), but a new CEO revitalized the firm (shares increased 49% in 2009, in the midst of a recession). This was largely done through the existing network, letting information come from the individual sales representative in the field rather than pushing a top-down growth campaign.

Leading Socially

The author asserts that "every one of us is born with natural social skills" but come from a culture in which we were taught that our "social life" was something that happens outside the workplace, and as a result, social skills are largely suppressed.

But social skills have long been valued in the workplace as "people skills" - the ability to develop professional relationships, work with others, and to coordinate without authority are considered to be leadership traits. The contemporary model of effective leadership rests on a foundation of social skills.

However, there is a key difference in the way that social skills are used, which is a change even in the business world: people who are effective at being social leaders do not attempt to "lead", in the sense of dominating and controlling. They merely attempt to facilitate cooperation.

When it comes to customer relationships, the goal is to facilitate cooperation in a way that ultimately benefits the business. The example here is eBay, the online auction site, where the firm's profit depend on its ability to get buyers and sellers to interact, without attempting to control their interactions. The lesson is: that long-term success may require you to act in ways that do not generate immediate sales.

It's also noted that immediate sales is not the only benefit of social media. When you get people together and allow them to interact, there are other benefits: ways to improve your products to make them more appealing, additional or ancillary products you might sell, better focused marketing messages, connections with suppliers and prospective employees, etc. Each of these things lead to greater success in future.

These goals are often undermined by a company that seeks to establish a social network for immediate benefits. If it's used to clumsily push product, users become turned off - they see no benefit to themselves for participating, and cease to participate.

Prescriptions For Your Social Skills

The author wraps up the chapter with a list of random tips:

First, start by getting to know the people who are already close to you, many of whom you already know but have weak relationships with them. Our social skills are developed in face-to-face encounters, and you can learn much in the face-to-face world that can later be employed online.

Second, consider your own strengths and capitalize upon them. People often put on a facade to interact with others, who immediately recognize it as such and are less likely to develop trust. Be who you are, and do not try to be what you're not.

Third, make an attempt to step back and let others lead. The traditional command-and-control approach to authority no longer motivates individuals to cooperate, and may motivate them to rebel against you as a pushy and manipulative person. This is not the same as going completely hands-off and letting people run wild, merely finding a more liberal position between the two extremes.

Fourth, consider how you are perceived. The author speaks in particular of the tendency people have of being aggressive and intimidating to others - again, based on the old-culture value of projecting an image of power. It may take a focused effort to discover how others react to your presence, and tone it down.

Fifth, seek to establish a social culture. People within your organization should be comfortable being open, without fear of retribution if they suggest something unorthodox or make a mistake. Until the internal culture is social, it will not be possible to have a social connection with your customers.

Sixth, consider "what's in it for them." Most people, by nature, seek to serve their own needs first and expect others to do the same. If you are willing to help the other person to get what they want, they will be inclined to like you, and will seek to reciprocate. Seek out opportunities to make the first move.

And finally, change your mind-set about the division between business and personal. Business is personal. Within reason, it's entirely OK to be "yourself" at the office and in all your business dealings.