CMO.com recently published this article by me talking about five steps to putting social thinking at the heart of your businessThey’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below.

coca cola

When it comes to communications planning, brands tend to look at social from an executional point of view, with a focus on building and maintaining a presence on specific channels and platforms. But they’re missing a greater opportunity; to put social thinking at the heart of their purpose and ambition as a business.

The value and potential of social thinking has been hampered by a focus on how we communicate, rather than why we deserve to be in the conversation in the first place.

Humans enjoy and seek opportunities to be surrounded by friends and share personal experiences. The popularity of social networking sites, and the explosive rate at which they’ve been adopted, clearly demonstrate this fundamental human desire. Brands that can tap into this at a deep business level, creating a unique and unassailable bond, can derive long term business benefits. But to make this happen, you have to start with the ‘why’ and then get to the ‘how’.

Ensure Social Thinking Is At The Core Of Your Purpose And Ambition
Much has been written about the value of purpose-driven leadership - business experts say it is the route to exceptional performance, psychologists describe it as the path to greater well-being. Brands also need to understand the role that social thinking can play in defining and driving them.

The key is to understand the greater role which people now play in building and maintaining successful businesses. Defining company purpose and ambition creates a focus based on why you do things, not what you do. Define this and then find ways for people to take part. Seeing your brand as part of a wider ecosystem creates a stronger, more motivating context for people to engage with you and to support and advocate what you do.

For example, Coca-Cola’s mission is to “inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions”. It has been exemplified in campaigns such as #OpenUp, which ran in the Middle East during Ramadan to encourage people to open up to each other and to different points of view, and Happy ID, which encouraged Peruvians to transform the mood of the nation.

Define Your Values And Beliefs As An Organisation
Many organisations have a dusty document somewhere defining what their values and beliefs are, but very few have made these meaningful and core to how they actually behave. Until this happens, values and beliefs remain internal, and consumers will have no basis for a relationship.

A great example of an organisation that has understood and externalised its core values and beliefs is Irish bookmaker Paddy Power. Its “mischievous irreverence” is at the heart of everything it does, from communications to recruiting. Its first interview question is “how weird are you?”

Find Ways To Create A Positive Social Value Exchange
In the social media age, sharing and liking content is a key means by which we define and explore our identity, our sense of belonging and our role in society.

But to put social thinking at the centre of marketing doesn’t mean just creating content and having a presence on Facebook or Twitter; it means developing ideas which involve and add to the interpersonal relationships that people care about, in a way that also adds brand value. This isn’t just limited to spending money; brands can harness assets such as time, effort, ideas, content, influence and distribution among others.

The way to do this is to change the way in which you understand your audience. Look for social insights; human truths based on people’s interpersonal rather than just individual motivations. Then use this understanding to generate social ideas that have the power to drive social behaviour.

For example, feminine hygiene brands tend to take a functional, product-benefit-based approach. Always turned this on its head with its #LikeAGirl campaign. It championed continued pride in being a girl at the critical time of puberty, when girls are at their most vulnerable to social pressure. The result is a hugely powerful brand campaign, which has social thinking at the heart of it and creates a new type of value exchange.

SPC Ardmona’s #SPCSunday used the social insight that people feel strongly about supporting national heritage and are willing to create communities to save a brand from extinction. Both campaigns were successful because they gave people something to care about and the means to share it.

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Hold Social To A Higher Standard
When it comes to social, even business leaders can switch off their business brain. It is important to measure the impact this activity is having on your business.

Social marketing should be held to the same standard as any other marketing channel, particularly as investment in digital marketing continues to grow. Start with a clear expression of business goals, a clear definition of marketing objectives and a robust measurement framework. Measurement should go beyond social media analytics and include areas such as brand equity measurement, web analytics and attribution modelling to closed-loop ROI and media mix modelling.

When budgets can’t accommodate deeper measurement, brands can still focus on a clear expression of goals, objectives and targets and use more readily available metrics.

Be Brave
You don’t necessarily need to change the world, but you should think of how your brand can shake up the status quo. Competitive advantage stems from doing something new - and social is a great way to amplify this. Global brands like Lego champion a disruptive approach to digital and social marketing, with social head Lars Silberbauer stating their strategy is to “be relevant, be brave and do things that others haven’t”.

Vodafone picked up a Cannes Media Grand Prix this year with its "Red Light Application/Between Us" app, live in Turkey - a country where it’s deemed inappropriate for women to actively seek help from domestic violence. The app lets women call for help by shaking their phones. Over 254,000 women have downloaded the app – that’s 24% of all women with smartphones in Turkey. It's not a revenue driver for Vodafone but shows how taking a brave stance on a controversial issue can build goodwill and loyalty for a brand. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be the best decision you’ll ever make.