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You Scratch My Back Social Strategy

I recently came across an article on Social Strategy by Mikołaj Jan Piskorski that appeared in the Harvard Business Review late last year, and felt his analysis was extremely insightful. Successful social strategy, Piskorski surmised, is primarily about helping your audience build relationships, something he calls the You Scratch My Back strategy.

Piskorski studied more than 60 companies across industries ranging from manufacturing to consumer packaged goods to financial services and determined companies that performed poorly in social media settings were employing digital tactics as their overall social strategy. Essentially, they had broadcast commercial messages or sought customer feedback on social platforms…things we all know (or should know as marketers) customers adamantly reject. After all, people join social platforms to connect with other people, not with companies, and especially not with advertising.

I like the example Piskorski provides:

Imagine sitting at a dinner table with friends when a stranger pulls up a chair and says, “Hey! Can I sell you something?” You’d probably say no, preferring your friends’ conversation over corporate advances.

Employing digital marketing tactics in a social (media) setting can not only be detrimental to the brand, it comes across as just plain rude.

What was interesting, was his supposition that companies who devised social strategies that help people create or enhance relationships experienced significant positive returns. Specifically, he details cases where the company introduced the customer other customers or companies. This strategy works, he says, because they’re consistent with users’ expectations and behavior on social platforms.

Returning to Piskorski’s dinner analogy:

A company with a social strategy sits at the table and asks, “May I introduce you to someone or help you develop better friendships?” 

It’s really not an earth-shattering revelation the companies that fared poorly were being stupid. But, the idea that a smart social strategy is primarily focused on helping people establish or strengthen relationships–relationships where the company may serve merely a facilitator or host–is pretty unique.

His theory is sound…in a B2B setting. This strategy would be extremely unique and definitely supports the notion of playing socially in a social environment. It allows the company to engage in the sharing of ideas and while simultaneously positioning itself as a helpful mentor.

However, in a B2C setting it could prove too risky. Playing host means a company may actually be introducing their customer to a competitor. Piskorski’s simplified theorem also ignores the value social interaction brings to a company. Customers want to feel close to their favorite brands, and social media sets a perfect stage for this to occur, giving the customer a voice and medium for expressing themselves. Of course all of that serves as useful intelligence and gives the company a platform to surreptitiously encourage buying decisions.

A properly deployed social strategy will truly impact a company’s organization, culture, processes, systems and bottom line. It shapes the perception a customer may have of a company and the way they will engage with that company in the future. While I find Piskorski’s ideas useful, I don’t think I would define my social strategy as narrowly as he, especially in a B2C marketing environment.


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