Q&A with Brian Solis, Author and Principal at Altimeter Group


Brian Solis is a Principal at Altimeter Group, a research-based business advisory firm in San Mateo, CA. Solis is globally recognized as a prominent industry thought leader, award-winning author, digital analyst, and keynote speaker. Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging media on business, marketing, publishing, and culture. His books, blog posts and all kinds of multimedia content (including fantastic infographics and videos) have educated, entertained and inspired many.

I'm fortunate to know Brian and have even had the pleasure of working with him on a few projects. In this interview, Brian shares about his books Engage and The End of Business as Usual, his experience at Altimeter Group, and his thoughts on living a balanced life in an increasingly connected (and demanding) world.

"Businesses must become adaptive in order to survive what I call Digital Darwinism, the phenomenon where evolution of society and technology evolve faster than the ability to adapt."

Social Nerdia: Your book Engage further established you as a thought leader. What's the story behind that book?

Brian Solis: Believe it or not, Engage has a big back story behind it… one that I rarely tell.

In 2007, I published the original Social Media Manifesto online to show exactly how businesses would benefit from strategic social media initiatives. It was huge.

But my first best-selling book was actually Putting the Public Back in Public Relations with Dierdre Breakenridge. We set out to show businesses how important the role of the public would become in marketing, advertising and customer service. I was about to tackle writing the follow up to the book, but noticed something in the process of promoting the last book…brands were embracing social media in a rather anti-social manner. They were using new tools to market in old ways. It was time to show businesses that social media was about meaningful and beneficial engagement on both sides.

I brought the idea to a good friend of mine and was given the green light to immediately begin writing it. However, it was written under a different title and also featured a different cover. The book was originally called The Social Media Manifesto. At the 11th hour, I changed my mind. I wanted the book to be less about social media and more about engagement where social media became the channel for building relationships, gaining insights, and fostering loyalty and advocacy. Of course, I addressed commerce and ROI as well, but I did so in a way that aligned business objectives with customer expectations. This lead to an entirely new name, cover, and also to the inclusion of Ashton Kutcher for the book's foreword.

Another side story about the book is that it actually exists in two unique forms. The first edition was big. It's size and density neared text book status. That was its goal however, to become the reference manual for social strategists. When it came time to publish the book in paperback form, I was asked if I wanted to make any changes. The publisher probably had a few updates in mind, but instead I took the opportunity to completely revise the book. I cut chapters, I cut blocks of text, I rewrote sentences and I added new experiences and lessons learned. The "revised and updated" edition is now commonly referred to as Engage 2 (note, not 2.0).

Social Nerdia: The End of Business As Usual, has also been a great success. Do you see yourself following up with a fourth book at this point?

Brian Solis: You never know.

The End of Business as Usual is an important book and I will support it for years to come. It's not a book about social media. It's a book for business executives to see how consumer behavior is changing, how technology impacts decision making, and how the rise of connected consumerism will impact the bottom line. Executives don't care about Facebook or Twitter or smartphones for that matter. They care about objectives and meeting or exceeding them. To engage the connected customer requires a different approach.

Businesses must become adaptive in order to survive what I call Digital Darwinism, the phenomenon where evolution of society and technology evolve faster than the ability to adapt. Businesses are and will continue to fall because they focus on optimization, efficiencies, profits, and not on innovation and transformation to compete for tomorrow's customer. This is a message that's more important than ever before and this book shows executives how to recognize new opportunities and lead new and lucrative business strategies from the top down.

It's also written for new media and social strategists who are fed up with the fear and skepticism that deflates their ballooning ideas. For everyone that asks them about ROI, the answer should be, "here, read this book."

Social Nerdia: Tell us about your experience at Altimeter Group and your particular role as Principal.

Brian Solis: My work at Altimeter Group is both rewarding and eye-opening. I often say that we cannot possibly become "gurus" or experts of any medium that evolves faster than the ability to master it. I work with business executives and social strategists to bridge the gap between business objectives and social media strategies. Once the data is collected and analyzed, once internal conversations are transcribed and dissected, you start to see opportunities to bring people, departments, and thinking together. The work then becomes about recognizing new opportunities, direction, and the change necessary to create alignment toward new directions.

The research that we do helps us capture a state of "what is" and when combined with experience and the vision of the other analysts in the firm, you can start to chart a map to what "should be."

Social Nerdia: Beyond your work at Altimeter, you continue to be an avid blogger, content producer, speaker and event organizer. What would you say is the secret to maintaining balance in life?

Brian Solis: The strive for balance is a journey and not a destination. Balance is less like spinning plates and more like running your finger around the rim of partially filled crystal bowls with varying depths of liquids. Each bowl makes a unique sound and as a result, music to "one's" ears. When we think about the spinning plate metaphor, we think about how our quest for balance affects those around us as well as our pursuit to keep everything spinning simultaneously without falling and breaking. When you think about the bowls, you make music, the music you like, by bringing together different sounds. And it's different every time. The point is, balance is a state of what's important to you and those around you in the moment.

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