In a way it's ahead of where the Web experience is moving towards, which is semantic and contextual. It's ahead because it includes one very important element, which smart automation doesn't, yet - trust. The reason why we continue to talk about influence - online and off line - is that with the explosion of information, we're looking for beacons to guide us through that noise.
Customers - your customers - want to make the right decision. They don't want to go with a product or service that could let them down at any time. If there is a mistake or a misunderstanding, that's where the social element comes in to aid the fast restoration of trust.
People-powered customer service works. As Get Satisfaction shares, so far, they've helped: 17,345 companies, 27,248 employees 14.1 million customers work together to improve 24,283 products and services. I also found a Customer Service Advisor network built with Ning. This is real.
As humans we're social creatures and we can see that in customer conversations where we prefer or trust more a review by someone we probably don't even know than the product or service description itself. Don't take my word for it, look at the evidence, too. When 80% of recession shoppers indicate they want a company with a human face, you know that customer service is more important than ever - and the most social activity a company already has.
The other side of the coin is the ability for people to start seeing what the people they know and trust do online - the products they recommend, the books they read, events they attend. As we discussed a few months ago, when search and social network will start converging, we will have an even more social customer experience. What would happen if you were able to see that your friend got a better deal?
For example, what if we could track online the favorable customer support actions of companies and brands in a business social graph model? The other side of the business lifestreaming opportunity is the ability to view all the pieces or fragment of how a business actually behaves with customers - at point of purchase, during support situations, in referral circumstances - in one place - to form a more complete picture of the business overall.
In other words, what the business does vs. what it promises to do. That is branding and marketing, isn't it? What would happen if your content system was organized around the people who want to see it vs. including all of those who get it now, many of whom (in fact, more than 1% in some cases) don't really want it or you in their lives. At least as push through.
What are the implications of this line of thinking and imagining?
On the tools end of the spectrum, we are able to have more insight from better automated intelligence built in social networks and digital media. Linking to, liking or rating systems are all ways for you to signal and for a company to show preferences.
As a marketer, you should not stop your thinking at contextual advertising. It is much better to socialize what you do than to commercialize the social, in the words of Francois Gossieaux. Today at Fast Company expert blog we talk about an example of socializing what you do, which in turns provides you with good word of mouth effects.
Automated social recommendations will in many ways replace ads. Why? Because trust is built in the visibility of what others do vs. your polished online ad.
That's why customer service is already social. If you do well by customers, you can proudly play back to them the comments, reviews, and discussions they have about how well you did. This is the transparency payoff in digital media.
On the marketing end of the spectrum, this here is reason enough to have your positive, proactive, spontaneous and sincere content as part of what is streamed to customers through social networks. In other words, to upend your side of the conversation with authenticity.
What about you and your company? What keeps you up at night that didn't use to now that customers have more ways to talk about your service with technology tools? Where do you see opportunity to do better? Where do brands fit in the human of social?