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Businesses must have social side now

You'll be happy to know that I'm not going to write about exporting this month. That doesn't mean it's not still a very important subject for us, because it is.

But we have been flogging that horse for a few months now. There are ample articles and blog posts on www.smallbusinesscan.com to keep you informed about the subject, and you have one more opportunity to listen to business people who have been there and bought the export t-shirt at our Cookstown Business Live event with Ulster Bank in The Burnavon Arts Centre on Monday, March 5.

Instead I want to talk about your age and about social media and its impact on your business model (with or without exporting).

There is no escape. Technology is moving very, very quickly. Five billion people are connected online. The average age of the world's population is now 28, which means that we are dealing with very social media savvy customers. Most buying decisions now have an online element. If you are over 28 years old, you are likely to have a clue. If you are over 40...

As result of the evolution (revolution?) online, people are now becoming part of our search engines (which is why it is called social search). This has repercussions for both the individuals (reputation) and companies (brand). The power is back with the people and, as a business, you need to become part of the 'ego-system' of the individual.

Therefore social capital becomes very important (and should be part of your balance sheet). It will go further - social capital will be part of your CV and part of your individual credit score. Our interests, experiences, context and the history of our experiences with the company become very, very relevant. It is not about the quantity, it is about the quality of the relationship. It is about one-to-one conversations, micro-engagement and 'heart share'.

Combine that with collective EQ, IQ and the long memory of the net and you have an explosive headache for a marketer who is very likely to be a lot older than 28 (and therefore does not understand?)

How do you stand out, how do you connect with the heart of your customers and how compelling are you? And with the attention-span of the 'shallows' you need to compel in the moment.

How do you make a split-second compelling? An important part of that will be the higher purpose of your company - the soul of your business. I read Gary Vaynerchuk's book, The Thank You Economy and from that I got the image of the local village shop on steroids.

You need to create the feel and engagement of the local shop, where everyone knows your name (with the theme tune from Cheers in background), on a global scale.

I am not going to mention the concept of networks, within networks, within networks - niche networks. Or talk about how six degrees of separation is now four degrees of separation.

Or mention that processes such as AIDA (Attention Interest Desire Action) are now circular and have a very strong feedback loop.

If you doubt the effect of feedback loops, I suggest you read Overconnected by William Davidow.

So what are the lessons?

  • Brands are now the sum of the experiences and these experiences are visible online
  • We are all becoming brand and reputation managers
  • When moments need to become compelling, design is key
  • Context is king
  • Social capital is an asset
  • Soul, culture, passion, heart, ethics will have to become part of the brand experience
  • Brands are part of self-expression
  • Mediocrity is not accepted
  • Engagement will not be transactional but emotional
  • Use data mining to segment to near one-to-one level
  • Everything is circular and holistic

Here are four questions you need to ask yourself as a business:

  • How loyal are you to your customers?
  • Could you tweet your mission statement?
  • How compelling are you?
  • Where in the loop is your product or service?

If you are over 40 years old, go talk to your kids!

Ron Immink is co-founder of smallbusinesscan.com and CEO of Bookbuzz and has written a number of business books