Friends with Agendas (FWA)

Why don’t companies “get” social? Why do consultants have such a hard time helping clients to leverage social networks and tools for business value? Perhaps it is because in ‘doing social,’ (rather than being social), you become the FWA. The “friends with benefits” is a well-understood concept, which I will not describe further; but I’d like to introduce its antithesis – the FWA. Your Friends With Agendas.

Early in my first marriage, my hermeneutics professor invited us to his home for dinner. We attended a staid Christian college, where the sense of hierarchy and authority was significant. It was quite the honor for this sophomore to be invited over, and I assumed he was taken by his bright young student and desired an evening of philosophical musing. Networking was not yet a verb, at least not to me, but I understood the importance of the occasion, and my wife and I dressed accordingly. Arriving precisely on time, we were greeted by his unassuming wife and escorted to the living room. There was no pre-dinner alcohol, of course, although no dinner ever needed it more. Perched on the edge of his couch, the good professor addressed me while gesturing for his wife to fetch ‘the stuff’ from the kitchen. “John, I invited you here because I wanted to talk with you about something important. Something very important to your future.” His wife returned, carrying a saucepan and a stack of pennies. My wife wore the same blank expression I hoped I had on at that moment. He began to drop the pennies into the saucepan, one at a time, each landing with a clack as he began his sales patter.

Yes. I had been invited into the learned man’s home so he could pitch us to “invest” in waterless cookware. I don’t remember the dinner, but we managed to hold in our laughter until well down the road.

Did I understand this man? Perhaps. The salary of a professor at a Christian college in 1981 was likely something short of handsome. Would I ever trust this man again, did I respect him as I had the day before? Not a chance. He had violated the power relationship, and misused his influence to try and earn a few shekels. His agenda trumped his common sense, and he ruined any idea I may have had about furthering that relationship. (Not that he cared, that was never his aim.)

“Monetizing social requires betraying trust.” – Stephen Bates. (@batess)

The vendor, the marketer, the employer – each approach “social” with an asymmetrical agenda. There are no true ‘win-wins,’ for any of these relationships. Mutual value can be established, but this is a nuanced negotiation, not a dictated Terms of Service. Predictive analytics will not tell you how to approach or maintain individuals within your target network. Even considering a network as something to target begins to fray the trust needed for a true network of value.

And speaking of targets, this one is moving. The nodes you want in your network are on the move, literally. They expect to have their network available everywhere, and for their technology to sense and respond based on location, time of day, available data about their plans, and more. You know that friend who just “gets” you? That is what people are beginning to expect from their mobile and social technologies, and the relationships they represent. No latency, and no friction. Count the number of times you hear someone scold their device for a lack of responsiveness. Note how quickly they abandon a task if the device will not cooperate.

The secret to understanding social may lie in rethinking some classic marketing and management ‘truths.’ This is related to the shift in how work is done, how buying decisions are made, and how disintermedation is preferred in each. Some questions to ponder:

  • What is your budget for relationship building? Is it reconciled against this quarter’s earnings, or do you allow for the messiness of human relationships and uncertain timelines to fit within your allocation for network growth and maintenance?
  • By now, you have likely established business value statements for the investment in ‘social.’ Now, how are you measured by your network? What is their internal value statements for engaging with you? Have you allowed for these to shift, based on their moods and emotions? Are you engaged in a conversation to understand continuously how you’re viewed, or are you busy segmenting and predicting based on Big Data?
  • Are you trusting your gut? You know instinctively which Twitter accounts are hitting the mark, and which are just broadcasting. (Hint: Rep Dingell (@John_Dingell) of Michigan is doing it right.) You know the famous gaffes on social media, you know the tune to “United Breaks Guitars.” Have you embedded this gut understanding of relative authenticity into your plan for ‘social?’

In the past weeks, several offline conversations have raised this – all with the same conclusion. “No one really ‘gets’ social right yet.” Perhaps this is because we have not considered what needs to change in order to become “social,” or, to reclaim a term: network-centric. Or, more likely and more sadly, we refuse to do so.

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