I had the pleasure of meeting Simon Mainwaring at an event during Internet Week last year. Unfortunately, I did loose touch with him but I am happy that we could reconnect for this interview. So let’s hear what Simon has to say.

Q1: What is the main issue with the messaging of most companies you work with?

SM: The main issue I deal with when consulting for brands, whether they’re a large company, a start-up or social enterprise, or a non-profit, is the clarity of the definition of their purpose. In the social business marketplace, consumers are demanding that brands be more meaningful to their lives by demonstrating greater social responsibility because they are fully aware of the multiple social our world faces.

As a result, the purpose, vision, or mission of a brand is not just essential from a good advertising point of view, but rather it is critical if a brand hopes to connect with its social customers. That said, it’s not a simple solution.

Like anyone trying to see themselves, it’s difficult to stand outside yourself to get that clear and distilled point of view. It’s also difficult to define your purpose in a way that distinguishes you from your competitors. So I work most closely with brands of all sizes defining their purpose in a way that will make them meaningful to their customers so that they can scale their business and profits, customer communities, and positive social impact.

Q2: Why do you think so many companies are reluctant to engage their audience on a social channel?

SM: There has been a fundamental shift in the way that brands relate with their customers. For decades, they have had the benefit of pushing their messaging out to their customers as a monologue through traditional media channels. Social media has changed this by empowering consumers to talk to back to brands. So brands are now faced with the challenge of being social and this has huge implications for leadership, employees, customer service, and advertising.

One of the main fears that brands struggle with is the ability to be authentic, transparent, and accountable. Thanks to information available on the Internet and the ability to share it easily using social media, consumers are aware about corporate practices in a way that was never possible before. As such, brands need to define their purpose and bring it to life in meaningful ways and be accountable for those practices.

Yet we are still in the transition from the old world of traditional media through to the new world of digital and social media, and so many companies find themselves caught in between because, while they’re doing a lot of good work, there are also things that they would rather keep from private scrutiny.

Q3: Because of social media do you think that companies should operate more as a media company?

SM: Every company must be a media company now, in the sense that tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest allow brands to reach a large number of consumers at a relatively low cost. These channels or platforms include text, video, audio, mixed media. So brands need to not only specialize in all forms of content but distribute it across all the different channels.

So whether you’re a start-up with two people or a large corporation, or a non-profit trying to raise its brand awareness and donations, every company needs to re-frame its thinking, every company needs to becomes a media company in order to connect with their customers.

Q4: What are your thoughts on crowdsourcing as far as a tool designed to solve a problem?

SM: There is no doubt that we are smarter together than alone. That said, crowdsourcing can be a positive and a negative. On the negative side, opening up a question to a large number of people can invite too many responses or inconsistent quality of responses. Yet if the brief is clearly defined and the outreach is made to people with skill sets relevant to that problem it can accelerate and multiply the number of solutions very quickly.

It is also a very powerful way to earn goodwill with your customer or employee base by ensuring they’re invested in the result even before you determine what it is. By allowing employees or consumers to participate in the ideation process it demonstrates that a brand values what they think and is open to a co-creative approach to solving a problem.

As such, crowdsourcing is an increasingly important way to come up with more ideas, better solutions, and to drive goodwill, loyalty, and profits for companies, both through their customers and employees.

Q5: How does a company use social media to help them capitalize on crowdsourcing?

SM: Crowdsourcing has to be approached in several strategic ways. The first way is to look at each of the individual channels. Each one, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest has a distinct audience that may or may not be relevant to the problem you’re trying to solve. That channel has a certain way of communicating, and every brand must be sensitive to that in how they ask for input.

Every channel delivers different types of media, whether it’s video, audio or text. So the same problem needs to be served up in different ways in order to reach the audience specific to that channel.

The second way that the social media plays an instrumental role is through the cross pollination of these various platforms or tools. In order to reach the greatest number of people and generate the largest diversity of ideas, brands should reach out to individual channels in ways that inspire them to cross pollinate with other channels. This requires specific strategies that build in some sort of incentive or reward scheme for the participants whether it’s a simple badge, discounts/coupons, or public recognition.

Underlying both these approaches is the core assumption that creativity, at its heart, is the collision between two unrelated things that generate a third new idea. By reaching out to new people across multiple channels that you cross-pollinate, social media can be an incredibly powerful, cost effective and productive way to add value to a brand, its consumers, and society at large.  

Simon Mainwaring is the founder of the social branding firm, We First, and author of the New York Times bestseller, We First.