There seems to be a lot of hullabaloo about a new concept called “Social SEO” these days. While much smarter people than I wrangle with the delicate details of what it is and how it works, I would like to put forward a theory on how these two elements should be integrated and applied as layers in the Enterprise. In my mind, this opens a massive opportunity to institutionalize your brand in the customer mind and create ground swell in the market. How you say? Well, it all has to do with your perspective (how you see the world) and how the customer mind processes and then automates information.
Let’s begin our exploration with a look inside the customer mind to understand how we automate certain decisions.
How We Make Decisions. Conscious or Unconscious?
Have you ever made it to work and then realized “hey, I’m at work, how did I get here?” Or seeing something you get a sudden feeling of repulsion or excitement but don’t know why? Its unexplainable really, just a hunch or feeling. Well, I have recently been brushing up on my cognitive psychology, primarily in the area of the “adaptive unconscious”, a concept behind Malcom Galdwell’s “Blink”.
Timothy Wilson, the Sherrell J. Aston Professor and Chair of Psychology and the author of “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.” accurately describes it this way…
“Humans possess a powerful set of psychological processes that are critical for survival and operate behind the conscious mental scene. These processes, called the “adaptive unconscious,” are intimately involved in how we size up our world, perceive danger, initiate action, and set our goals. It is the unconscious that allows us to learn our native language with no conscious effort, recognize patterns in our environments while we think about something else, and develop reliable intuitions to guide our actions.”
Now, we also make decisions with our conscious minds of course, but those decisions are usually much longer as we try to gather as much fact as we can before actually making a decision. Even conscious decisions are influenced by our own adaptive unconscious. Okay, super, but how does this impact SEO, Social, or brands?
Well, here’s the thing, I believe there is a way to leverage both Social and SEO to influence the creation of new “branded” unconscious processes in the customer mind; processes that recognize patterns around your brand – patterns built with SEO and delivered via social engagement. In order to achieve this, we need to understand that two things help the adaptive unconscious automate a process- Repetition and Natural (simple) process.
Repetition – Top athletes and performers know that repetition builds competence. But its much more than that. Repetition creates automated processes allowing top performers to react in a blink of an eye – a reaction that is driven from an unconscious level. We have several ways to introduce this kind of repetition into our approach to the customer, but in my mind the most powerful is the repetition created by SEO – the power of the spoken and written word.
Natural (simple) Process – Have any friends that use FourSquare? Notice how they almost instinctively reach for the mobile device to see if they can check in? This is an example of branded natural process; it’s like reaching for their wallet. It’s simple. It’s fast. It’s rewarding. We fail to automate a process when the process is overly complex or our mind believes it is unnatural or dangerous to us – two situations where the adaptive unconscious will kick in to preserve you. On the other hand, the mind easily automates processes that are natural and/or simple. Social programs present us with excellent channels to introduce and nurture natural processes the customer mind can easily automate.
You see, I firmly believe that our mind is highly capable of seeing the patterns in our environment and every interaction whether we are conscious of it or not. Further, these patterns are layered on top of each other and have a natural flow. We dramatically improve our ability to communicate when we align ourselves with these patterns and layers.
Repetitive SEO in the Enterprise
In its ideal state, SEO should be a fluid, natural part of all communications across the enterprise, not a single tactic applied to optimizing websites. SEO can be so much more than keywords. It is the powerful spoken words delivered by customer service day in and day out. It is feeling our customers feel when they commit to doing business with us. It is the totality of an experience expressed when a customer refers you to their colleague. Done right it should not only become the common vocabulary of the enterprise, but will be echoed back at in every interaction of the customer. Want a living example? Think how Starbucks “brand language” used to describe their drinks and ambiance has permeated the customer culture that surrounds the brand.
Its not easy to do, but the path is straight forward.
- Think and treat SEO as a layer within everything you do.
- Stop thinking so mechanically about the words used to describe or associate with our brand; think natural language patterns instead.
- Create a “brand language” that flows naturally within the experience you deliver.
- Take it beyond the marketing silo and leverage the knowledge of the enterprise to create the “brand language”; talk to those who communicate with the customer.
- Create dialects for different customer segments – recognize how different customer groups speak differently and align yourself to it.
SEO at this natural level or “instinct” state becomes the way the customer/media/influencers will communicate about you. It is not just what we say, but how we say it – and how often – that nurtures that fertile ground in the adaptive unconscious. But what is the best means of delivery?
Natural Socialization in the Enterprise
At our very core, we are all social creatures. We crave it and each of us has developed adaptive unconscious processes for being social whether that’s with our significant other, groups of friends or the people that represent the brands we choose to do business with. The problem I have with most enterprise social programs is that they are unnatural feeling or at the very least socially awkward.
Why are we like kids at a high school dance standing on opposite sides of the gym? Well, we are a little scared. We don’t want to be embarrassed. And we certainly don’t want to be turned down when we finally muster the courage to be the first to walk across that floor.
As marketers our focus on social media doesn’t make our brands social, in fact I believe the introduction of social media has confused and mislead many good brands. There is a fundamental difference between using Social Media and being social with our stakeholders.
Social Media is simply another channel to deliver a customer experience and grants us the ability to be social by other means. This is very different from being social, an act we all do naturally, but seem to forget all of that once we are representing a brand.
Being social is based on simple, natural processes for human interaction that have been developed over thousands of years of human evolution and societal/cultural training. But how do we introduce this level of social interaction into an enterprise? Again, I turn to Starbucks as an example of a brand that has seemingly mastered what it is to be social. At every touch point from web, to Twitter, to any retail location the interactions between the employees and customers are designed to promote/nurture social interaction and creating a unique customer experience. They didn’t need social media to be social; they were already social as a culture – across the enterprise. So how can we learn from them?
- Stop focusing on the tools and data and instead identify how your stakeholders want to be social with you and how they expect you to be with them.
- Identify natural social processes for interaction and build them into your marketing, sales, service and support strategies and tactics. Remove the awkwardness.
- Focus on being social inside the enterprise – be the exemplar for this and others across the enterprise will follow suit. Remember change happens one person at a time but someone needs to step up to set the example.
- Don’t think rules/policy to govern your social. Instead think firm guidelines and rely on the employees own risk/reward instincts to govern their behaviour. Natural order will keep people in check.
- Consider a reward program for outstanding social behaviour and achievement for employees who set the pace. Recognition of achievement is the key to lasting growth and health of your social enterprise.
Now here’s the question that is tickling the back of my mind and maybe yours… How does this relate and connect to socialization with the customer – creating groundswell and institutionalizing a brand? Well, your employees are the best [possible delivery mechanism of your social program, not social media, and the one thing every customer is going to remember are the positive and negative interactions with your people. Every one of these interactions is social and being judged by the customer’s adaptive unconscious.
But this is best achieved by now integrating these two great layers together into one cohesive push on the customer’s adaptive unconscious. The goal – create brand interactions that create and trigger an unconscious response that feels good; that compels them to seek more, but they may not know why.
Challenges to Building Social SEO Layers
The simplest things are sometimes the most difficult to do. Our own perceptions of both Social and SEO are our biggest obstacles to moving past the current thinking.
The biggest challenge to creating an SEO layer, let alone a Social SEO layer is that we look at SEO as a science – and a myopic one at that – when it needs to transcend this to become an art. Further we need to look past SEO as just something we do for web content and see that it applies not just to written content, but our language in the enterprise. Just think how Starbuck’s has transformed “Extra Large Coffee” into “Venti Mild”.
Their language is now part of our adaptive unconscious leveraging our natural ability to recognize patterns in language that have been designed to be highly repetitive. You may not have remembered it the first couple times, but i guarantee you were using their language after you ordered your 4th or 5th coffee.
Social presents its own unique challenges on the other hand and is largely misunderstood by marketers. Again, we approach it mechanically rather than naturally mostly because we are looking at social as a science experiment right now…
- Being social is new to companies (or so we think), but its part of our DNA that we suppress for some reason when we are representing a company.
- It’s hard to measure and our focus on data is killing the natural social processes we do have. Can you imagine measuring the success of a marriage every month? Kinda takes the fun out of it doesn’t it?
- Our current perceptions are highly limiting in two ways:
- We focus on Social Media not being social. Again, back to the science that is our comfort zone.
- We believe it’s new and the mandate of marketing, when in fact social, for the adaptive unconscious, is part of the entire experience a customer has with your brand and touches every part of the enterprise.
In the end, all I can leave you with is questions and my hope is that these questions will help empower you to start to look at your own perceptions of Social and SEO not just for you, but for your customers and your organization. Are we enabling or disabling our social engagement? Do I have a brand language or just clumsy words wrapped in an SEO wrapper? How do i change my own perceptions of Social and SEO to begin to merge the two together?
Makes one think when you consider the power this would have with new, more intelligent social platforms like Google+…
Imagine the possibilities that await us should we ever choose to embrace change like this.
Whether you agree or disagree, let me know. My only goal is to help prime your thinking to new, potentially powerful applications of tired old tactics and misunderstood channels. Innovation is no longer what we are doing, but how we are doing it.