The real reason why your company is never going to get social media

It’s not that they don’t understand how it works or its importance. It’s certainly not for lack of interest or trying. The biggest reason your company may never ‘get’ social media is that it doesn’t ‘get’ altruism.

Much of what happens on social media is based on altruism, the idea that you’ll do something for someone without anticipation of reward. That might involve giving away information for free, sharing someone else’s message, answering a question, or otherwise helping someone out. Sure, we’ll do that stuff if we expect a sale to result from it, or something else that benefits us, but most organizations won’t do anything altruistically. Unfortunately for them, altruism is what defines and underlines real relationships.

Call it karma, call it a deposit in the trust bank, call it authenticity: altruism demonstrates that you’re willing to do something because it’s the right thing to do, not because you want to hear the cash register ring. No one expects a business to be totally altruistic: no one every confused Apple with Mother Theresa. But when a company takes an action (however small) because it’s good or correct or – dare I say it? – ‘nice,’ that action builds reciprocity, authenticity and a trust that can’t be bought. It’s metaphorical money in the bank that can later be converted (if handled correctly) into real money in the bank, when potential and existing customers look to a company they trust, like and want to do business with.

Think of it this way: if corporations are people, who are you going to interact with: the douche that only cares about himself and what you can do for him, or the one with an actual personality, who might be willing to listen, help you or perform some other act that benefits you simply because he’s a decent person?

That’s the power of altruism. Unfortunately, altruism can’t be commodified and measured. It’s ephemeral and will never appear on a balance sheet. Because of that, the archetypal hard-nosed businessman will never trust it. Conceptually, it goes in the same bin as goodwill or PR, which many a CEO sees as something between voodoo and a group hug.

So what’s a poor social media wonk to do? We recognize that altruism underlies real relationships, and that business is the science and art of relationships, so find the relationship between altruism and your bottom line. Measure how many qualified leads you create when you give away content such as webinars and white papers. Identify the small percentage of your client base that has an identifiable social media presence; find out how much they spend or how much more likely they are to purchase if you treat them well (i.e. altruistically) online.

This sort of benchmarking provides a compelling model for how being Mr. Nice Company supports your bottom line. What this doesn’t measure is how much of a lift in brand and reputation you experience from altruism.That’s an even higher-value proposition. I’ll talk a little bit more about it next week.

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