Where’s the Beef? Finding & Providing Value in a Digital Age


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Last night on the Grammy’s, the president of the Recording Institute made a public plea for the consumers of music to pay for it.  Literally.  He posed this question (paraphrased),” if someone said they like the work you do, but then told you they didn’t want to pay for it, what would you do?”

Well, what would you do?

Most of us can’t imagine that scenario. Truly, if our bosses decided they weren’t going to pay us for the daily grind then most of us would find another job.  If we loved what we were doing, we might consider doing it for free, but on the side, in our off hours.  Many people consider those things hobbies, since they love to do something but know that doing that thing won’t financially support them. 

So, how is that different for music?  Well, it probably isn’t.  Most musicians DO work at their music in off hours, after a job or between shifts–trying to make a go of it.  Then, once they “make it”–they get a recording contract, start touring, sell their songs and start making money, they quit their day jobs.   So, why the plea to Grammy watchers to keep paying for the music?  Clearly we are paying for peeps like Beyonce, since she’s making $80 Million this year alone.  It seems to me that what we have here is a failure to communicate about VALUE.

This problem really cropped up because of the shift in how music is provided.  The medium for music changed from something tangible that cost money to produce and which could then be controlled through its physical distribution and thus priced and sold based on that control.  Now, music can be created on your Mac, uploaded and within an hour distributed to thousands of people because of the ability to digitize it.  If music hadn’t gone digital, I swear to you I wouldn’t be writing this. The recording industry –not musicians–is dying.  The record execs  have failed to communicate THEIR value in the digital era.  You can beg people for money because you need to survive, but most people want to know where the value resides.  It isn’t enough that I pay you to survive–the question is Darwinian: why should you survive? What value do you bring? Until the recording industry can articulate the value they bring in a way that the public understands it (given the digital shift which is here to stay), the recording industry will continue to become irrelevant because people won’t pay to feed the machine that no longer controls their content.

Here’s my thought on it:  Service providers have been facing this very issue from the get-go. A service is intangible.  It is only seen once the service is provided.  And often, the service being provided is a back office function of some sort.  So how are service providers able to sell their services?  Do they whine about it and tell the public they MUST pay?  Not the good ones.  The good ones offer potential customers a solid value proposition, so the customer doesn’t just see blue smoke and mirrors, but can clearly understand how the service will impact their bottom line.  The value proposition–a good one–becomes the tangible in an economy of intangibles.  And what we all know is this: people will pay for value.

So, how does this apply to social media? Well, social media is a medium.  How it gets used and why is just now being defined by corporations the world over.  If you are consulting in social media or doing social media work within an organization, you need to tie what you are doing to something people can relate to–like dollars.  Social media tools have come a LOOONG way in a very short time and the tools to measure social activity–what people are doing in a digital sphere–are everywhere, and becoming smarter and more user friendly every day.    So, when offering suggestions for a social media plan for a company, don’t whine and expect them to pay you because you need the money to survive (like the recording industry), show them what you are going to measure and how those measurables tie back to the company’s bottom line.  Be clear about the value your proposal  bring to the table.  Make it beefy–because everyone wants something real to chew on, especially  in a digital economy.

Here are a 5 suggestions for proposing value in Social Media:

1. Determine what the company values and tie your plan into those things.  If the corporate culture is about innovation or their vision is based on customer loyalty, tie your social media proposal into those values.

2. Measure it. Show how each suggestion in your proposal can be measured–the how and the why.  If you aren’t familiar with the tools to measure social media, get familiar with them.  Radian6, Techrigy, ScoutLabs–these are only 3 of the companies that measure social media.

3. Show solid ROI. Specifically, tie measures back to dollars to company will save or make.  Don’t fudge this – be sure your ROI (return on investment) is a solid number that you can jump up and down on.  Will they save money in marketing or advertising?  Will they create revenue streams via social media exposure, interactive sites or some other thing you are proposing?

4. Show comparables. People don’t typically like to be first–so show your customer who else, like them, is doing what you are suggesting.  Show the benefits those example companies are reaping and how.  This will create a comfort level with your customer that what you are proposing really is valuable industrywide and not just in their instance.  Comparables (or comps) will validate your proposal.

5. Get paid for your value. In the end, if you show value, you should reap value – in dollars and in reputation.  Both are important!  Be sure your price makes sense and then stand by it.  If you have done your homework and created a true value proposition, you won’t have to worry about lowering your fees.  People pay for real value.

We should all take a lesson from the recording industry: if you wanna remain relevant, don’t whine about survival–create and offer real value to your customers in a way that THEY recognize.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrienne Corn
Adrienne founded VENTUS, a career education, development and research company that provides career pathing for individuals, career education for organizations and industry research. Adrienne is also completing a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in leadership and organizational behavior. Prior to her doctoral work, Adrienne was a member of the executive management teams in the areas of marketing and sales in both IT and Healthcare before starting VENTUS. Adrienne's social media profile can be found at www.xeesm.com/adriennecorn


  1. Hi Adrienne: this is a great post, and there is much to think about here. Best to discuss the recording industry’s woes over a beer–there’s too much executive stupidity to be covered in this space. OK–here’s one: wonton arrogance. Whenever I tell my kids about how music was purchased circa 1970, they’re incredulous. “You put up with that, Dad?” Yep. And given the free-flowing digital media we take for granted today, it’s inconceivable that at one time, millions of us didn’t have a choice–something the record company execs smugly enjoyed. I don’t know anyone outside of the industry today who is shedding a tear over their angst.

    Great suggestions for showing value for social media. There’s nothing like understanding a prospect’s strategic objective, and connecting whatever you sell toward enabling that objective. My gripe is that ROI in its pure definition won’t do that (#3 “Show solid ROI”), because ROI doesn’t factor risk and time into the equation. If we’re promoting a simple percentage as our value proposition, we don’t answer the key questions of “when do I get the value or benefit?” and “how likely?” (see my recent blog ROI Hype: Finance for Fools?).

  2. Andrew,
    Thanks for the comments! I have to agree with you on the ROI to some extent…social media is a totally different kind of cat and we can’t always measure new things with old rules. That said, I think we are way to early in the mass adoption curve for social media for business to completely throw out the concept of ROI (In this, I disagree somewhat with guru Axel Schultze http://www.xeesm.com/axels). I think what we are being asked to do is TRANSLATE ROI for business people – create a bridge from what they know to what they don’t know. So, we start with the OLD ROI measure and then we attach new ways of looking at the ROI, and then when they seem to get that, we can eventually completely redefine ROI for them as it truly fits the social media space (which, quite bluntly, is still being worked through by most people in social media!). I don’t think the ROI discussion for social media has to be confrontational, but needs to conversationally engage business people into bridging old concepts into new ones. I think this is a nice “community oriented” approach :). SO, what I’ve offered is a kind of old ROI approach here–but agree that we need other considerations with social media ROI since investment in the free tools is, well, free. So, we consider things such as return on engagement, return on time invested, return on community growth, etc…until we can really disregard old school ROI (Although there is still investment in measuring tools, like Scoutlabs, etc.). Thanks for your great comment!


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