2: The New Way of Communicating

The author asserts that social media is not a fad, but something that has far-reaching effects that "will permeate every business, reaching all job roles." Granted, there's a great deal of buzz and no shortage of snake-oil salesman who are cashing in on the novelty of it, but it will persist because it serves a fundamental need (to connect and communicate) and because, if used properly, it delivers significant value.

Social media is often dismissed as a "Generation Y" phenomenon that has little value to business. The same was said of personal computers, and the same was said of the Internet. In general, the progress of technology has generally started with a small number of adopters who were fascinated with the capabilities but had no real purpose and derived no real benefit.

But then, someone learned to make effective use of it, and it became ubiquitous: many people use it, and many will state that it would be difficult to function effectively without it. When a given technology reaches this point, it's not something that can be rightly dismissed as a fad.

In terms of that continuum, social media is very young, and only a few innovative firms are starting to make effective use of it. But given the results that have been achieved, and the clear potential to achieve even more, the likelihood is greater that it will explode rather than fade.

Is This the New Fad for the 21st Century?

The advent of the Internet really hasn't changed much: people have lived in groups, cooperating to accomplish things, "since the dawn of time." Technology didn't enable us to communicate with one another, it merely facilitates the way in which we interact.

The Internet itself was more of an evolution than a revolution: since the first modem, people have dialed into bulletin boards, then online services, to connect and interact in much the same way that they do over the Internet: e-mail, chat, discussion groups, personal profiles, shared files, and the like all existed before the Internet. People discussed professional and personal matters, swapped recipes, flirted with one another, played multiplayer games, bought things, argued over politics, etc.

That is to say that people have always striven to connect with one another to achieve the same goals - only now, it's being done online. Social media is just another tool that enables people to do the same things they have always done. It's faster and easier, but the basic idea is unchanged.

Even companies have used technology to do fundamentally the same things: monitor their operations, count their coins, communicate to people involved in their various activities. Although beyond a certain scale, technology becomes a necessity to manage the vast amounts of data for large-scale operations.

There's a brief note on generational adoption: while older generations are slow adopters who still prefer connecting with people the way they did in their youth, younger generations are taking to technology as their primary means of interaction. For "Generation Y", 96% of them have at least one social media account.

The goals that people have for using technology remain the same regardless of what technology or site is in fashion from one day to the next, so the details are incidental. However, that's not to say they are not important: if your aim is to reach someone, you have to consider which channels they are using.

For the corporate world, connecting to customers is nothing new, but rather a return to common sense: for a time, companies felt in a position of power and felt that if their product was good enough and their price was low enough, they could treat customers poorly and still win their business. This era was born of firms that became separated from their customers, cloistered in headquarters offices, far removed from the people who purchased their products. Social media is re-connecting them, and they are re-discovering the things that small business owners who serve customers face-to-face have never forgotten.

The Value of Connections

The author refers to another theorist (Gladwell) who categorized people into three groups:

All of these people are influential in social networks - the author categorizes them as "tier one influencers" who have significant power to connect you to other people.

The author lists some of their qualities:

The key value of tier one influencers is that they pass along knowledge. Tell something to thirty passive participants, and the message reaches those thirty. Tell something to one tier-one participant, and he will tell twenty others, half of whom will tell twenty others apiece, and so on. The author refers to this phenomenon as "fan-out messaging."

Their-one influencers are often early adopters. They will buy things quickly, experiment with them, and tell others about their experience - which, if positive, brings a second wave of customers. One of the key differences between social technologies that catch on and those that do not is in the early participation of influential adopters.

The author makes reference to various tactics in marketing: software companies making "beta" copies available to their-one influencers, not merely to find bugs, but to get a select group of people using their software and talking about it. She also mentions customer loyalty programs that reward frequent purchases (EN: but that's a bit oblique and I expect this is not quite the same strategy.)

The point being: if you can cultivate relationships with tier-one influencers, they will spread your message far and wide with less effort than it takes for you to reach the larger mass of individuals who are dead ends.

The New Way of Marketing to Your Customers

One major shift for the corporate world is that social media changes the way they market: while the old methods of marketing, pushing out a message through one-way channels, remain effective, their efficacy is waning.

The mass media is losing its reach. Already, the Internet is eclipsing old media: newspaper and magazine subscribers, commercial radio listeners, and television audiences are shrinking.

The mass media is also losing its credibility: People in general have become distrustful of traditional media and traditional advertising, and trust the information they gain from the people they meet online more than "official" messaging.

(EN: the author follows this with a barrage of one-liners about the shift to social media and the power of the network, but it's a great deal of cheerleading without much elaboration or substantiation, so I'm cutting it.)