“Social really is making the world a better place,” I found myself telling my mom this weekend. We had to laugh at how idealist and naïve it sounded. But honestly, all the ways social is changing our world could fill a hundred posts – from improving communication in natural disasters to popularizing social causes to helping autistic children communicate, and on and on.

To keep this post simple, let’s focus on social and business. There are those who’d say consumers and businesses are opponents: one looking to gain the most for their money, the other seeking to gain as much of the others’ money as possible. I disagree; consumers and businesses are on the same team, and those who recognize it succeed – especially now, in the social era. Author Nilofer Merchant put it wonderfully in an article for Fast Company: “Things we once considered opposing forces – doing right by people and delivering results, collaborating and keeping focus, having a social purpose and making money – are really not in opposition. They never have been.” Social just makes playing both roles that much easier.

The mutual benefits of consumer-brand loyalty

Businesses want loyal customers, and consumers want relationships with brands who value them. Loyalty programs are nothing new, but the rise of social and big data makes forming meaningful relationships between companies and consumers easier – and therefore, more essential. Consumers see their loyalty today as currency; sticking with a brand leads the brand to reward your loyalty, leading you to stay loyal to the brand, and so on in a loyalty loop.

“Rewards” doesn’t simply mean discounts, but rather a more rewarding relationship. Personalized experiences as the brand gets to know you, with more relevant choices and communications that save you time and leave you satisfied. And “loyalty” doesn’t simply mean consumers becoming loyal to brands – it means brands becoming loyal to consumers, as well. Listening to them, caring for their experience, and acting to constantly deliver a better one based on their feedback – earning their loyalty in return. Everyone wins.

Consumers are your best employees

In his article, Nilofer discussed “consumers as co-creators.” To elaborate, consumers can be your best employees – your best developers, best marketers. Their feedback improves your products: they tell you what works and what doesn’t, you make it better, they buy the new version, and the cycle continues. 3M invites their most active consumers to online “focus groups” to discuss their needs and product improvement ideas.

And consumer discussion sources ideas for new products altogether.  Whether this is formally through a forum like Dell’s Idea Storm (which invites consumers to share their product ideas) or informally, simply through reading feedback and looking for trends.

Consumers even create your marketing. Their feedback and endorsements are ads in themselves. Brands can find the trends in what consumers say is best about their brand and products, and echo these sentiments in their own advertising.

The best bubbles up, and the bad can’t hide

Every ad claims the product is “best” at something or another – consumer feedback reveals who is truly the best, for everyone to see. The best products, brands, and services now rise to the top as consumers are empowered to champion their favorites in front of large online audiences. So those companies that strive to deliver delightful experiences, quality products and services, and attentive consumer-brand relationships, are rewarded with great word of mouth from satisfied consumers – only now, on a larger scale than ever.

And likewise, disappointing, poorly made, and downright awful products or services can’t hide behind flashy marketing any longer. Consumers share the truth online, where brands are forced to face the music. Their options are to admit their shortcomings and get better, or die. And recognizing shortcomings can be an incredible opportunity, as Domino’s Pizza exemplifies. Their now-famous “Pizza Turnaround” campaign openly admitted their old pizza recipe was lacking, and asked consumers to give their new recipe a chance. The company’s stock price is up 265% since 2009.

So, maybe it’s juvenile to think social makes the world a better, more connected, more mutually-rewarding place. But I’m not the only one naïve enough to believe it.

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