How not to do social-business

At the Dachis Social Business Summit, one of the presenters, from Forrester, showed off their notion of the Always-Addressable Customer – combining geolocation and mobile to tailored marketing-messages.

The presenter was clearly excited about it, and the two examples she showed – use of near-field communication and RFID tags to trigger matched messages in mobile – were impressive both in terms of technology, and potential for user-experience and the like.

Yep, looks a lovely idea, in theory, and from a marketer-oriented perspective. And it clearly works, at the prototype level. In fact it can, would, and does, work well for small, precisely-targeted one-off marketing-stunts with willing participants who want to join in the fun.

But beyond that, it’s exactly how not to do social-business.

Why? (Or why not, rather?)

A whole stream of reasons, really – in fact my stomach churned and my temper rose the further we went through the presentation – but from an enterprise-architecture perspective I’d say the chief reasons are these.

First, bandwidth. From a technical perspective, this is the real ‘deal-killer’ for this idea right now. I don’t know why, but far too many people seem to forget that bandwidth is not ‘free’: there are all manner of huge hidden costs there – in many different senses of ‘cost’ – in data-centres, infrastructure, mast-construction, NIMBYism around mast-location and so on. And when we start throwing serious amounts of data around – as would certainly be the case in anything involving an ‘always-addressable customer’ – then those costs mount up alarmingly.

The next question is an obvious one: who carries those bandwidth-costs? On one side, it’s the cellphone service-providers. In case you’re wondering why your cellphone-provider suddenly changed your previously ‘unlimited’ data-plan to a definitely-limited one a year or so ago, the answer is bandwidth. It wasn’t that much of a problem for the providers when only the early-adopters were eating bandwidth, but it soon ceased to be manageable when everyone else started to join in: the current technologies simply can’t take the load. And the big bandwidth-eaters are video and geolocation – exactly the two items that any would-be marketer to the ‘always-addressable customer’ would most want to use. Sure, the technologies will probably improve over time: but right there, right now, it’s a definite deal-killer.

The cellphone-providers shunt their costs on to their subscribers – which means that your putative ‘always-addressable customer’ will be carrying the download-costs for your advertising. How popular do you reckon that’s going to be? It’s bearable when people want to be involved in your marketing-story, and overall it only happens rarely; but if every darn marketer wants to dive in, the costs will soon become unmanageable even for the most enthusiastic participant – and most people won’t and don’t want to engage anyway (a point we’ll come back to in a moment). If the only way that your ‘always-addressable customer’ can manage their bandwidth-costs is to turn off all geolocation-services and video-services, you’re not going to be popular… And neither are you going to be popular with the huge numbers of unwilling participants to whom your wonderfully-crafted advertising-message is just one more item of expensive unwanted spam that they are being forced to pay for: a really quick way to create vast numbers of anti-clients. Hmm… not such a good idea, perhaps?

Next, social-business is ‘pull’, not ‘push’. Classic marketing is ‘push‘, an ‘inside-out’ perspective: “I have this whatever-it-is to sell, who can I find to sell it to?” It’s often called a ‘numbers-game’: grab everyone’s attention, whether they want to or not, in the hope of getting a few sales from someone somewhere. It’s the basic business-model of spam-emails and the like, and the blunt reality is that everyone (other than perhaps a few self-deluded marketers?) absolutely hates it. Even the presenter admitted that the aim of the notion of the ‘always-addressable customer’ was as a means to reach the ‘advertising-averse’ market-segments – yet somehow fails to consider why they were ‘advertising-averse’…

As illustrated by those other presenters at Social Business Summit who did get it, social-business – and hence social-marketing – is the opposite way round: it’s based on ‘pull‘, an ‘outside-in’  perspective. It’s based on an awareness that business-relationships are multi-dimensional and multi-directional: there are no ‘consumers’, or ‘customers’, but instead everyone is a co-creator and partner in a broader shared-enterprise (described via an ‘outside-out’ perspective). The business-dynamics, power-dynamics and market-dynamics are all radically-different from those in ‘push’-marketing: for example, it’s not simply ‘opt-in’ versus ‘opt-out’, but active-engagement versus passive ‘consumption’ (or, more likely, passive-resistance).

The notion of the ‘always-addressable customer’ is essentially a ‘push’ model attempting to hijack people’s attention via channels that are, in effect, designed for ‘pull’ – and that’s a really good way to annoy a lot of people, very quickly indeed. In short, if you’re a marketer with anything resembling any awareness of anything other than the immediate moment, that’s exactly what you don’t want to do – for the simple reason that it kills your market, especially in the longer-term.

And to put it in the bluntest personal terms, do you want to be treated as someone else’s ‘always-addressable customer’? Very unlikely, is the honest answer. So just stop right there: don’t do it! Use social-media only for what they’re designed for: social interaction as personal choice.

If you’re going to ignore this, take a look at what the life of your ‘always-addressable customer’ would really look like, in a world of ‘push’-marketing gone mad [Vimeo: Flash video]:

Augmented (hyper)Reality: Domestic Robocop from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

Is this what you really want, for yourself, your family, for everyone else? If not, it’s time to recognise that notions such as ‘the always-addressable customer’ are exactly how not to do social-business. Time to think again, perhaps?

2 Comments on “How not to do social-business

  1. Tom,
    Your sentence, “The business-dynamics, power-dynamics and market-dynamics are all radically-different from those in ‘push’-marketing: for example, it’s not simply ‘opt-in’ versus ‘opt-out’, but active-engagement versus passive ‘consumption’ (or, more likely, passive-resistance).” blew me away. The phrase ‘active engagement’ is almost colloquial or trite or even redundant. BUT, when you put it in this context, it became for me a vision which must always be sought because it is never complete. I would love to hear from you a robust conversation on this one thing.

    • @Myron – I’m glad you liked that comment, because a fair bit of the inspiration for that came from my conversations with you! 🙂

      Particularly for your context, ‘active engagement’ here aligns very closely with the military’s concept of engagement – not engagement with/against the Enemy, obviously (or I would hope not, anyway! 🙂 ), but with the social context, so as to defuse a potentially-hostile situation and/or to create support of peacekeeping forces and the like. (I’m thinking here particularly of David Alberts’ ‘Command Arrangements for Peace Operations’ and similar works from that team.)

      As you say, the real key to this is the develop of shared vision and values, and verified execution of tactics in support of that vision. Again, would love to discuss all of this in more depth with you somewhen.

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