"We don't think of social as a destination. We think of social as a dimension." ~Ari Balogh, Yahoo! Chief Technology Officer commenting on how Yahoo! will make services associated with social networking part of the fabric of their existing sites and not just another service. (Source: NYT, Bits)
Social Media is hype. People don't understand it. Companies are scared of it. For what? They're only a bunch of silly programs that are touted as the next big thing, just like email and the internet and computers and the telephone and the television and radio and countless others.
So why is Social Media causing such a stir among people AND companies?
All the technologies I have mentioned above have been used for many reasons. The main reasons businesses use them are to influence consumer decisions to empower them to buy. Social Media functions a little differently than that traditional paradigm and this is what scares people who are used to doing things a certain way. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Well, it was broke.
Traditional avenues of multimedia such as newspapers, television and radio are broadcast mediums that companies buy advertising on to tell you what to buy. Yes of course people could write in to voice their opinions but that was an uphill battle. Now with Social Media becoming more prevalent on the internet people are feeling more empowered to make decisions for themselves with the wealth of knowledge at their fingertips. So how is this different from good old fashioned word of mouth? Well, it's not.
Social Media IS hype. social media is REAL.
Many people believe that Social Media is THE HOLY GRAIL. It's not. It's not even the best thing that you'll ever see in your lifetime. It's the best communications platform right now though. Social Media as an end-all-be-all category is hype.
Throughout history people have been social as long as they could talk. And as long as they could talk their words could be spread. This is word of mouth and it's the oldest social medium. So why all of a sudden the big deal about something as old as communications itself?
For one thing, the internet has finally come to a mature enough place where people can talk & be heard how they truly want to be heard. Sure there were focus groups and Nielsen ratings before the internet came into existence but now with the speed and always on nature of the web its sheer power is almost unfathomable.
There is true power in numbers.
Word of mouth has always been THE most powerful marketing tool any smart company can wield to their advantage. It has also been known to destroy the bottom lines and reputations of those who underestimate the buying public's sheer will. As a business your customer keeps you in business by giving you money for your products and services. Simple right? Not so simple when your customers are telling you that they want instant communication with you at any time of the day in a non-hierarchical manner. Simply put, they want you a part of their life when they need you. This has companies scared out of their minds.
For those not used to this set up I would say but one thing- go back to the basics. Your customer is THE most important asset your company has. Without one you have a hobby not a business. Yes you may know more about the specifics of your product as well you should considering you're supposed to be the expert. But your customer doesn't want you to TELL them the features. They can read that on the packaging. They want you to ASK them about the benefits and how you & your product fit in their life.
People form emotional bonds. They feel the need to quantity their engagements any way possible. It's your job to keep that dialogue open like a two way street. That being said, if your customer is telling you that your business and product mean something totally different than what you originally intended to communicate then you need to decide whether you want to go with the flow of the message they're receiving or modify your communications methods to convey the original message. What better way to do so than through shiny new Social Media!
"I thought about my grade-school kids, who in 10 years will be in the midst of social-network engagement. I believe they (and we) will look back to 2008 and think it archaic and quaint that we had to go to a destination like Facebook or LinkedIn to 'be social'. Instead, I believe that in the future, social networks will be like air. They will be anywhere and everywhere we need and want them to be." ~Charlene Li, The future of social networks: Social networks will be like air
Social Media as a capital letter category is just plain outmoded. Even though many people are still getting on board and up to speed with it tons are already there. Soon enough everything will just be social media. Inherently all media IS social. It's what you do with the media that makes it social.
We will come to the point where we stop making such a big deal out of captialized Social Media and start focusing on lowercase social media. Eventually everything we do will be synced up, tied in and communicated to everyone that we care about in a relevant and timely manner.
While everyone makes a BIG FUSS over Social Media the smart kids are already looking for the indicators for the next big wave that will change communications as we know it. Social media isn't rocket science. It's just good old fashioned listening.
My mother always told me when I was growing up that God gave us two ears and one mouth- so we can listen twice as much as we speak. Apply this to your business and you'll be set in the social media environment. Apply it effectively enough and you too can be listening in for where you need to be in the future.
Be where your customers will be before they get there and you can welcome them when they get there with open arms.
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