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How AT&T, Whole Foods and REI Will Survive Social Darwinism: The Three Cs of Social

by Jordan Slabaugh  |  
March 28, 2013

In the last 10 years, companies have been trying to keep pace with the shift in consumer behavior as platforms like Facebook and Twitter become commonplace---and even expected---channels for communication. With changing norms, the increasing speed of technological innovation, and limited resources, many brands are struggling. However, a few brands have emerged as stand-outs in social media.

Social Darwinism is, most simply, the survival of the most social. According to research firm Gartner, by 2015, some 20% of enterprises leading social in their industries will see revenue growth. And those front-runners are looking beyond one-hit social wonders and looking into weaving social into the business fabric of their organizations.

AT&T, REI, and Whole Foods Market (three enablers and adopters of social business) came together at SXSW to discuss the skyrocketing complexity of managing social for large brands. So, what’s going to keep them ahead of the pack?

The group uncovered what I’m now calling “the three Cs of successful social.”

1. Curators of Expertise

Whole Foods Market, which has been named “the most influential brand on Twitter,” manages a very intricate social media program that encompasses more than 640 accounts and 2,000-plus contributors. The company has a full content team and shares its story in innovative ways.

The natural food market’s director of social, Natanya Anderson, said the company’s “next role to play is being a curator of expertise.” She noted that, because of the complexities associated with the food and eating industry, consumers are constantly wondering in which companies they can place their trust---providing an opportunity for Whole Foods to be a trusted partner. In any industry, brands can become a filter of expertise for the ever-growing news feed and social stream by pulling in the right expertise and know-how from across the organization.

She added...
“If we can say, ‘Here is someone I know and trust, and you can know and trust,’ then you will be adding a whole new level of value to your consumers, which will hopefully make them spend more time with you.”

2. Consistent Interaction

Lulu Gephart, manager of digital engagement at REI, the outdoor recreation goods retailer, said that the member-owned co-op’s goal is to have daily interaction on social as REI has “such a passionate member base, and as long as we are there in the right context and providing value and inspiration to them, they will welcome us into their lives. It’s pretty powerful.”

The REI brand has found a natural niche within the social ecosystem since its consumers are passionate outdoor enthusiasts that form the outdoor community. As such, the company sees value in constant social communication and looks to it as a way to build and enhance relationships with their members.

The impact of the REI stance, though, is that brands can move beyond campaign-specific social activities and actually become a part of consumers’ daily social lives. Brands that remain out of sight, and thus out of mind, outside of deliberate campaigns will become social stragglers separated from the socially successful. Companies like REI that find consistent, valuable ways to interact with community members will not only stay top-of-mind for consumers, they build trust and find ways to drive offline action from social engagement.

3. Call to Conversation

Social media has drastically changed within organizations since it was first adopted as a communications channel. Initially driven by PR and customer care teams, social is now being embraced by entire organizations to respond, engage and deliver proactive information to both customers and potential customers.

Blair Klein, executive director of Social, Digital, and Emerging Communications at telephony giant AT&T, shared that the company is moving “from a call to action to a call to conversation.” Brands small and large are working diligently to find new ways to show the return on social activity. Increasingly, brands like AT&T are emerging as the social fittest by realizing and applying the logic that social customers are connecting with brands to have conversations and meaningful interactions.

Klein thoughtfully honed in on the fact that “it’s about the end user” for brands and consumers alike. Providing a call to action won’t (always) ultimately impact the business. But offering up calls to conversation open the doors to serve social communities in the ways they want and need. And that, ultimately, leads to numerous ways to impact business objectives like providing customer care, increasing customer loyalty, and, yes, increasing sales.

The notion of Social Darwinism---or becoming the the fittest social company---will continue to grow in importance in coming months and years as we consumers expect service when, how, and where we need it.

If AT&T, Whole Foods Market, and REI surfaced one theme across the three Cs, it’s that engagement---or more specifically engagement fueled by valuable content---will be what separates the merely social from the socially strong.
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Jordan Slabaugh is the director of Social Media at Spredfast, a social media management system for enterprise companies and agencies.

LinkedIn: Jordan Slabaugh

Twitter: @jordanv

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  • by timo platt Thu Mar 28, 2013 via blog

    They survive social darwinism by engaging users with the 3 Social Cs across all channels, when and where the user wants

  • by S.l. Thu Mar 28, 2013 via blog

    Oye. You might want to do a little research on the term "Social Darwinism." You will learn that it describes the 19th- and 20th-century ideology that led to eugenics, fascism, nazism, the Holocaust and justifications for colonialism. I would suggest this term be returned to the dustbin pf history.

  • by Veronica Maria Jarski Fri Mar 29, 2013 via blog

    Ah, yes. It's a tricky term. And owing to the emergence of social media, businesses are redefining what it means (or at least attempting to do so). Forbes magazine used the term but then added "media" in parenthesis, for "social (media) Darwinism." Some other marketing publications just use "social Darwinism" while others choose "digital Darwinism" or "marketing Darwinism."

    Perhaps next time the term crosses my desk, I'll consider one of the above terms instead. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • by Jordan Slabaugh Fri Mar 29, 2013 via blog

    Thanks for adding in a growing focus areas for the 3 threes Cs, Timo. Mobile, or more broadly real-time engagement, should be an area every social team is focused on in the coming days. The ability to create compelling content and find ways to engage and interaction in conversations is increasingly an "on-the-go" activity. A focus on mobile readiness will soon turn from a nice-to-have to a mission critical capability.

  • by Jordan Slabaugh Fri Mar 29, 2013 via blog

    Fair point on the terminology. Like Veronica said, it's been used in multiple ways, but for me, the definition here stands for "survival of the social (media) fittest". The goal was to open the conversation around how social brands are, or need to be, maturing social strategies and activities to become leaders for the the communities they serve. At the end of the day, any brand can use social, but the ones most 'fit' will surge in success - and ultimately impact their business goals. Appreciate the feedback and hear you loud and clear on the term.

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