If you read a fraction of the articles online about digital marketing, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that were Indiana Jones around today, he’d be wasting his time looking for the Crystal Skull or the Lost Ark.  The only Holy Grail worth the search today, it seems, is ‘socially engaged customers’ with social media platforms providing the map to the treasure.

Engaged customers are a 21st century brand’s advocates, a growing army of loyal Facebook fans and tweebs that lead the path to wisdom, wealth and wonderment on the World Wide Web.

I’ve been a passionate fan of my football team since my age was expressed in single digits.  Not a day passes that I don’t check the newswires for the latest news, views and speculation.  I spend more money supporting my club than I do buying music and books. I’m a valuable member of the club and I have a membership card.

The thing is my club is also a commercial business, operating globally.  It has a stock market listing and shareholders.  The majority shareholder is an American businessman; the second largest is a Russian Oligarch.  As a business, the club sets out to make a profit and, maybe unusual for a Premiership club these days, it succeeds.  Despite my ‘club’ being a worldwide commercial endeavour, I remain a passionate Arsenal fan.

Other football fans feel the same way about their clubs, as do many members of golf and other clubs.  In the battle to create more loyal ‘fans’, why don’t more businesses treat their customers more like club members? – and I don’t mean the introduction of a loyalty scheme or those little ‘buy six, get one free’ cards in coffee shops.

I have a membership card from my bank but it’s not a club. I even have a private banking advisor – who admits (privately, of course) that his role is to sell me services I don’t want or need.  I have loyalty cards from various stores that I’m indifferent about and think about only when at the checkout.  They’re not clubs and I’m not a member.

At the lower end, there are shopping clubs like Costco and Christmas saving clubs, but little else.  Now you might argue that my club is older than the average business today, that it has a history and a legacy that makes it different in the supporter’s mind.  Boots the Chemist was established in 1849, Marks & Spencer in 1884, Shell in 1907 and BT in 1846.  Arsenal was established in 1886.

Social media or digital marketing can help create fans and maintain those ‘one-on-one’ conversations that businesses desire and social media delivers.

My football club uses social media extensively and well.  Win, lose or draw, I get an email from the manager shortly after every game with his thoughts.  If I can’t see the game, it broadcasts an audio commentary.  If I lose my hearing, they tweet me with updates.

But a social media strategy alone doesn’t make a business a club.  Despite the hype, social media can’t fix everything.  The challenge starts further upstream, in a business’ values and approach to customers.

Too many businesses today view the customer service department as a cost of failure, existing only because products and services are unreliable.  Because customer service is more about the product going wrong than the customer being treated right, they try to automate the operation or minimise the cost by offshoring these operations to a low cost economy.

A ‘club’, on the other hand, thinks about its members differently. That is why members think differently about their clubs.