August 08, 2012
I have this conversation weekly with very smart people, who are still stumped by the social media phenom in our culture. They feel a strong sense of urgency if they aren't fishing in the social stream, but at the same time, it feels like a fad to them. They can offer up #fail stories right and left, and sometimes, they even talk about a failed experiment they've tried on Twitter or with Yelp.
When I hear it, it's like Deja Vu...all over again.
When I joined the interactive industry in 1997, the web was just going mainstream due to email, Netscape and search. Businesses were immediately under pressure to show up with websites, and ultimately, e-Commerce capabilities. That was before cloud, mind you. Tough stuff. They thought web was a shiny object, not a business objective. And my, they were wrong.
When the penny dropped, and a company got it (like Victoria's Secret), it was always the result of a paradigm shift on their part. They realized that the web phenom was just an extension of the Producer/Consumer economy that's existed since the Yellow Pages, trolley car ads and direct mail. It's a way to broadcast, incentivize and capture value. The web is small now, and harder to monetize. No mystery, just a challenge to be on the bleeding edge without draining your budgets.
For modern day doubters and haters, the same solution is prescribed. Re-think social, casting off your negative connotations. It's not just goofing around on the user's part. It's not just playing around when a company is real-time on Twitter or posts compelling content on their FB page. It's not social, like playing golf or going to lunch.
In fact, forget the phrase social-networking altogether. That's a marketing term used by early social media platforms to sex-it-up for the end user. It evoked party lines, chat rooms...except highly filtered. But that word, social, is befuddling to many CEOs I've counseled over the last few years.
What's really going on here is a shift in the model of commerce. Instead of Producer/Consumer, where the industrial revolution met the birth of advertising, think User/Solution. In this new realm, we are all users, empowered by transperancy and publishing tools. We swim to platforms or providers that solve our problem, and there's social proof to gain our trust.
It's a user's world. Forget them, or their desire to have a positive experience, and your business will die. No ads will overcome the rath of the disspointed user. For the last decade, innovators have improved the user's publishing tools to give them a voice, a connection with their timeline and a far greater pallate of content experiences than Producers gave them in the past.
In his book, Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirkey predicts that there will come a tipping point when the users have equal or better publishing tools than the publishers/producers...and when it happens, the business landscape changes dramatically. Here's a canary: A Harvard research paper suggested that a single one star review on Yelp, shared, can reduce your revenue by 5-9%. Try to get that back with a full page ad or a radio blitz!
The Social Realm (FB, Twitter, FourSqaure, LI, etc.) is by and for the users. Period. They can kick out, bury or flame any unwelcome voice. The users only like to talk to people. They expect marketing to fit Sergio Zyman's classic definition, "to add value when the product is purchased, consumed or owned." In other words, businesses must earn their way back into their target's mindspace -- one good update or post at a time.
The nice thing about the User/Solution economy is that transperancy works both ways. Not do the users know a lot about your business, they are sharing their thoughts publicly about your market and adjacent issues. Zuckerberg's rule suggests they are doubling the amount of information they share with you every year. And if you listen closely, the biggest focus group in the history of man is out there ... waiting for you to package all their insights and build the perfect mousetrap.
To get in this new game, it's not really as hard as it looks. In the Producer/Consumer economy, you succeeded because you had Creativity, Measurement Skills and Guts. In the User/Solution economy, businesses will win via Listening Skills, Communication Skills and Time Management. It's not about the platform or the current hot social trend, it's about those three fundamental skills.
The way I usually finish my conversations with my biz-mates that are still on the fence is to prescribe step one: Go Yelp yourself. Search fun in your town on Twitter. Dig around for dirt on your competitor at Jobvite. Once they get embroiled in the chatter, they never look back. They have a new way of seeing the world. And I'll bet on their success using new media over the coming years.