Experiential Social Media and Business Intimacy

Experiential social media & business intimacyExperiential Social Media and Business Intimacy shows how social media grounded in customer experience holds the key to trust, relationship and profit. When businesses discover, invite, and build trusted relationships with people in digital public, their actions speak loudly to the silent, ten times larger audience that’s observing the process. In addition, “accidents” are the express lane to developing trust and business intimacy.

“Customer experience” directly leads to customer preference and more share of wallet, although most business owners and executives dismiss it as a buzzword. As practiced by CSRA since 2006, experiential social media is a group of practices that deepen intimacy with customers and increase profit. “Social” information is the currency of business intimacy. Here I’ll outline how this enchilada rolls, so you can begin to use experiential to increase customers’ value and your profit.

Business Intimacy

The concept of “business intimacy” is a bit strange to most businesspeople, until they start thinking about it. Although “intimacy” is most often used in a personal context, its core meaning is “close familiarity or friendship; closeness,” so it can be applicable to all relationships. There are probably infinitely many levels of intimacy, but in experiential social media, we focus on the first three levels. Naturally, the difficulty and value of each level varies with the business: auto parts stores often have to work harder to develop intimacy than do beauty salons or sit-down restaurants.

The more “work” that’s involved in moving between levels, the more value the customer perceives and the higher likelihood s/he will prefer the business.

Level1: Product/Service Preference

Although the most basic, even Level1 is rare. It is recognizing a customer’s identity and what products/services s/he usually buys. As large retail brands and etailers have displaced local stores, an increasing portion of consumers has no memory of retailers that remember them by name or what they buy. The relationship has become anonymous and transactional. One of the first tenets of “sales” is referring to customers by name or remembering them in some other way.

Level2: Customer Outcomes

Business intimacy’s second level is knowing and remembering some things about the customer’s desired outcome of using products/services. CSRA’s client work and research have consistently shown that very few customers buy products and services as an end in itself: they buy desired outcomes of using products and services (in other words, they buy holes, not drills). That difference is profound, and it’s the key to developing competition-killing intimacy and preference. It’s made possible by digital social interactions, which essentially make social, outcomes information free to businesses. This is the crux of how digital social changes the rules, but only when businesses understand it and leverage it.

In 2014, Level2 is exceptionally rare because businesses don’t realize its importance or how to develop it efficiency. This post and its links can get you started.

Level3: Personal Meaning of Outcomes

Most rare but quite achievable, the third level of business intimacy is understanding the emotional context of why the customer is using the product/service to create the outcome. This usually includes showing a sincere interest in helping the customer with the outcome while referencing its personal meaning.

Personal meaning emerges in several dimensions, but I’ll reference two: repeat contact between people often leads to familiarity and willingness to share personal meaning (think about hairdressers or bartenders). Second, when other people share personal meaning that’s similar to a customer’s, the latter is more willing to share personal meaning. The sharing of emotional details begets more sharing.

“Social” information is the currency of business intimacy.

Social Information Revisited

Now let’s revisit the concept of “social,” which is widely misunderstood. As the most social of primates, humans automatically share social information when they are together (two thirds of all human communication is “social”). In fact, it’s very difficult for people to not share social information when they are together. It’s like breathing for us, but very few people or businesses appreciate that they are exchanging valuable social data when they gossip and chatter. Taking risks by sharing intimate details, and watching how others respond, is the cornerstone of trust and relationship building. Surprising to most businesspeople is that taking care of customers when “accidents” happen is a short cut to developing trust.

Here are some representative examples of business-relevant social information that I encounter all the time on client work:

  • An auto salesman and his customer reminisce about the winter breakdown of her truck and how he broke the rules to drive her to her job interview because no loaner was available.
  • The watchband of a man’s opulent watch catches in his girlfriend’s hair during intimate moments, so the jeweler finds a replacement and exchanges the band even though it is way out of warranty.
  • A retail saleswoman remembers that her teen customer won the ultrathin laptop in the state’s debate competition last year, and how he won respect from his older sister, “the smart one” in the family.
  • On Facebook, a waiter remembers how a couple’s first date experience included his spilling hot coffee on the man, and how his sincere amends and the concern of the man’s date led to their engagement.

Most businesspeople would overlook the importance of these scenarios “because they’re not about ‘business.’” However, each one is a golden opportunity to relate to customers on a completely different level and show them that you care about them personally.

These scenarios emerge in digital social venues, so when businesses’ employees relate to customers in these situations, dozens, hundreds or thousands of other people witness and appreciate acts of caring and kindness. Experiential social media intentionally harnesses digital social’s network effect and annuity effect. This is the secret of developing developing a new level of profit in the digital social age. See Digital Transformation’s Personal Issue to drill down.

Experiential Social Media

In client work, CSRA’s explicit goal is to increase profit by deepening intimacy, value-add, preference and wallet share. Note that the products and services in the above scenarios were enablers to customers’ more personal goals:

  • The woman had chosen her truck to go to the interview because it was winter, and the interview was very important to her. The breakdown endangered the core value proposition of the product, and the salesman saved the day and added an intimate personal layer of value.
  • The man had chosen the watchband just before his company experienced a crisis and struggled with survival for almost two years. Since he wasn’t seeing anyone, he didn’t realize the band’s shortcomings.
  • The saleswoman’s rejoicing in the teen’s hard-won respect from his sister in digital public has likely made him a customer for life.
  • The waiter will probably end up standing up in the couple’s wedding. Guess which restaurant will cater the wedding.


  • Awareness of the three levels of business intimacy is the first step in experiential social media. Prior to digital social, businesses formed strong relationships with customers face to face, but this was very costly, and it wasn’t scalable. Digital social has changed the rules, and business intimacy is poised to take center stage.
  • Experiential is grounded in interacting to increase trust and develop relationship while being observed by scores of other people with similar interests. It focuses interactions in digital social venues on customer experience and these moments of intimacy.
  • Experiential is very efficient when businesses interact in digital social venues in which customers feel most comfortable having detailed (and intimate) conversations that strongly correlate to products/services. These venues are rarely the popular platforms, which are valuable for reaching large numbers but inefficient due to their noise level. More about discovering optimal venues in the Ecosystem Audit.
  • Once businesses discover the most relevant conversations and venues, they need to design ultra-efficient processes to interact, and employees (or social media services) need to learn how to interact to deepen intimacy. Most people’s social interactions are automatic, unconscious and personal, so employees need mentoring to build business intimacy. Drill down in the Organization Audit.
  • I use “customer experience” to refer to the customer’s experience of using the product/service to attain an outcome. People crave mirroring and consideration, so they share amazing information about their personal experiences, and interface is secondary to experience; face to face, phone, mobile, Web or other are used when customers want to get things done and share their experiences.
  • Omni-channel is a valuable trend to watch because it’s focused on pre-digital businesses’ journeys to transform their siloed communications into a fused digital-analog interaction capability; however, its upside will disappoint unless businesses focus on intimacy, which is often the unconscious wish behind social sharing.
  • See also Local Business’s Experiential Social Media Opportunity.
  • “Caring” has to be authentic, or experiential won’t produce optimal business results. In some businesses, the journey to “authentic caring” has several stages. For example, high employee turnover and the lack of processes for capturing intimate moments compromise the business’s ability to interact with sincere warmth, but they can do it with a realistic roadmap. The rewards are transformational: when employees start relating to customers in emotionally meaningful ways, their jobs become more meaningful, which increases their satisfaction and longevity. Read the TOMS case study (Why Giving Is Good for Business”) for more.

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