Do you know the secret ingredient of really successful social media endeavors?  I’ll give you a hint.  It’s not a super-duper new technology, content development formula, or even adherence to important social strategies like listening first.  It’s the age-old concept of service first.

Wait – it’s not what you think.  Before you launch into a canned speech about how service-oriented your company is, let me interrupt.  Although I do not doubt the veracity of your claims, I’m talking about something deeper than the latest edict about responding to inquiries within 24 hours or developing new products based on customer feedback.  I’m talking about a whole different way of thinking about what you do and why you do it.

In business, particularly B2B, the very language that we use to describe the sales process gives the impression of a one-sided “hunt.”  Think about terminology and phrases like “sales targets,” “capturing leads,” and “segmenting prospects.”  Hearing people talk in these terms conjures up images of big game hunters chasing down prey, cutting from the herd, and getting the prize in their sights.  Even the ubiquitous fishing metaphors – “link-baiting,” “reeling in the big one,” etc. -give the same impression.  In either scenario, the interaction is between hunted and hunter.

You mean, I actually have to give a rat’s pahtookus?  If you’re going to be successful in social media, you have to thoroughly transform that mentality.  Social media isn’t about the hunt or the kill.  Social media is about collaboration, support, and relationships.  You need to genuinely want to help people solve a problem with your products and services.  You have to care about improving the lives of your prospective customers than about getting their credit card number.

This isn’t always a popular concept with people who are more concerned with the numbers game that is sales, but that doesn’t change the validity of the concept.

The magic of getting the company into the right “social mindset” is that you’ll suddenly brimming over with great ideas about how you can use social media to help people … including your potential customers.  When you start thinking like a do-gooder instead of a strictly bottom-line person, service innovations will become second nature.

For example … Not-quite-there thought process: I can increase sales leads by promoting company blog posts on Twitter in order to get extra eyeballs on the blog where I can capture email addresses by requiring registration for the eBook that promotes our new project management software.

Better thought process: I can make a positive difference in the lives of project managers by sharing the valuable information in our new eBook about the XYZ project management process.  I can create awareness about this resource by sharing links on Twitter and LinkedIn and by sponsoring a virtual round table event on the subject of “project management pain points.”

In the “not-quite-there” example, the company is trying to apply social tools to the old sales process.  The technology might be new, but the thinking is very old school.  In the “better” example, the strategy is driven less by directing eyeballs or capturing customer data, and more by a desire to provide intrinsically valuable information and resources.  By focusing on one goal – helping your audience (not selling them, impressing them, persuading them, or “capturing” them) – you free yourself to come up with creative new ways to engage your audience.  Although you may not see an immediate increase in the number of sales leads, you will be increasing your cache as a go-to source for useful information.  The long-term potential of this type of relationship far outweighs that of the contrived sales lead.

Where does your company sit on the service continuum?  Are you just hunting, or are you thinking about building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships based on truly service-oriented mindset?

Here’s the rest of the “Social Media Reality Check” series.