Book Review: The Hyper-Social Organization

January 21, 2011

The Hyper-Social Organization: Eclipse Your Competition by Leveraging Social MediaSome years back, our company engaged in an online community effort. Our intentions were good, but we made some mistakes that this book points out!

Mistake #1: We knew of, but didn’t assess the impact of, the fact that there was another place that our user community wanted to engage and congregate in. They had already defined their needs and terms. We had a “build it and they will come” mindset.

Mistake #2: We organized our community around our products and services.

As The Hyper-Social Organization points out, communities form around shared passions, shared pains, a shared sense of duty, or categories of common traits (frugal moms is the example the book uses). In fact, The Hyper-Social Organization states that the first key of successful communities is that they tap into a shared passion. We blew it…

The Hyper-Social Organization offers a lot of sound advice (in my opinion) about how you should think about social media and how leaders need to change their mindsets. Here’s one interesting example: Do you restrict your customer view to market segments? If so, “…start thinking about humans and their tribes. Tribes are based on group behavioral characteristics, while market segments are based on individual 'consumer' traits. People in market segments do not necessarily want to hang out together, but those in tribes do.”

The Hyper-Social Organization points out that there are different kinds of tribes. Some are the “defenders of belief.” They share a common belief and prefer to hang out with others who share that belief. They frown upon diversity. Others are “seekers of the truth.” They recognize that the best ideas and solutions come from diverse groups of individuals and embrace diversity – at least within certain limits.

The importance in understanding the distinction is that if you are looking for input on product innovation, a community full of defenders of belief won’t provide much insight. You want the seekers of the truth and their honest, diverse opinions.

Other insightful advice that The Hyper-Social Organization provides is around branding and the need to move from product or company-centric branding to becoming more customer-centric. Here's one example cited to think about: “Do companies really think that most customers are highly concerned with how accurate their luxury watch is, especially when they can buy a perfect timekeeper dirt cheap? The real question is, how do people feel about themselves in the context of your brand? Do they look cool, smart, or informed?”

Marketing needs to change as humans are put front and center. Word-of-mouth marketing has always been very effective if you can pull it off, and social media makes this far more achievable than ever before. The Hyper-Social Organization rightly points out that “…your company’s voice within the tribe may well enjoy greater authenticity and credibility as your human-centric organization proves to be clearly committed to providing value equal to or greater than the value that people are seeking in return.”

Don’t underestimate what the latter half of that last sentence means! The ability to help others is the second most effective community feature. If companies develop Hyper-Social behavior as a way to increase profits or use it as an alternative marketing platform, they are “committing a foul.“ You should be seeking to provide value and make a contribution, not just market.

This includes the ever-popular line of thinking around “monetizing” social media. The book relates how social media is similar to other advances: “Just as the telephone and e-mail were not technologies that most companies ever went on to monetize in the conventional sense, this is also the case with Web 2.0 tools and social media. The desired outcome of adopting and using these elements is the increased participation of customers, business partners, and employees in the organization’s key activities, not charging the customers for them.”

The Hyper-Social Organization discusses other key management considerations along the way. In fact, it states that there is likely to be a need for more management: “Management should spend less time trying to exert control by pulling conventional levers, and put more resources toward sensing, understanding, acting upon, and then immediately assessing feedback based upon the new voices and Hyper-Social abilities that your customers, your members, your business partners, and your employees have.”

The Hyper-Social Organization advises that when dealing with humans socially, there will be a lot of “exception handling” where real people need to be involved because something outside the norm has occurred. For example, a human being’s fuzzy logic is required to deal with an issue with a product return or a suggestion on how to improve a process.

When engaging in the social media realm, Gossieaux and Moran (no relation) advise against attempting to craft detailed, prescriptive measures, as it will be next to impossible to anticipate every contingency in advance. One example cited in the book involved JetBlue. “JetBlue did not develop a traditional rule book, a huge manual full of rules and legally reviewed processes to prepare employees for every possible scenario that they may encounter as they interact with their tribes. Instead, it developed five core values that form the social contract among its employee tribe and then let those employees be humans in dealing with all customer situations.”

There are significant advantages to improving customer loyalty through social efforts. Mark Colombo, a senior vice president for digital access marketing at FedEx noted that for every percentage point that FedEx improves its loyalty score, it adds about $100 million to the bottom line.

Here’s another interesting question: Should you concentrate on just those customers who spend the most? Not according The Hyper-Social Organization. Why? Because the highest spenders aren’t always the highest referrers.

The book acknowledges the change that knowledge work is bringing to the table, something that Hyper-Social behavior drives as well: “Classic core attributes of companies—buildings, factories, distribution channels, and access to the mass media—are becoming less important in the rising knowledge economy. Here, the critical factors of production are intelligence, creativity, the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively, and the ability to solve problems. The most Hyper-Social companies, those that put humans at the center of their operations and guiding principles, will appeal to these creative, thinking beings and match their interests and passions.”

Overall, I found The Hyper-Social Organization to be well-written and insightful about the underlying nature of social media and behavior, along with excellent guidance and advice for leaders who are contending with understanding what social media is and means to the business.