1: Social Media Creates Real Value

The notion of "social" is contrasted with the notion of "individual." Individuality is a paradigm of a capable person who is self-reliant and accomplishes tasks on his own. Interdependence, the concept on which social is based, maintains that an individual is incapable of doing something alone, and that people must work together to combine their talents and abilities to confront a problem.

The practice of interdependent problem-solving by groups of individuals began in the academic world: researchers at various institutions working in the same field of study would collaborate on larger projects. This translated neatly to commercial efforts of the same nature (e.g., research and development in pharmaceuticals).

(EN: Which implies the converse: the fact that some tasks are particularly well-suited to collaboration implies that there are other tasks that are not well-suited to collaboration, and are best performed by individual effort. Even at that, the line is blurred: when a person works on a project that is consumed by the collective, is it necessarily a collaboration?)

The collaborative nature of work is a critical element in social media. A person does not become social by creating a Facebook account or using Twitter - they are individuals broadcasting information about themselves to others, but this does not constitute a "community" of individuals working together to solve a common problem.

As such, the promise of social media remains largely unfulfilled, and that is the purpose of the present book.

The Impact of Social Media

The author suggests that industrialism made businesses antisocial. They became focused on operations concerns, and the proposition to anyone they dealt with (customer, employee, public, industry) was brusque and dismissive. The separation of "business" and "personal" (specifically in the phrase "don't take it personally, it's just business") was in effect business abandoning its own humanity, and deciding to pursue profit regardless of how it impacted people.

The author observes that this has changed, but doesn't go into the details. (EN: It's a matter of competition. Customers had no choice but to "take it or leave it" because there were no other suppliers of the goods and services they needed; employees had not choice but to "take it" because there were few other firms to hire them. With increased competition, people have options and will exercise them, and the business has lost monopolistic power in the relationship.)

In the current landscape, businesses find they must collaborate with others. Employees, customers, and partners are asserting their power and setting the terms of the relationships they have with companies. And companies would do well to listen.

Some basic statistics are presented to underscore the size and growth of social medial: the growing number of participants, the percentage of their time they spend on social media, and the amount of money companies spend to reach them through these channels. (EN: the numbers, themselves, are already moot - the point is that it's large enough to merit consideration.)

Not only are individuals interacting with companies, but they are interacting with one another in ways that can be beneficial or detrimental to companies. There are many interest groups, online communities of people who share information, that can be very influential in the market. People who share experiences, ask advice, and make recommendations to others have far more influence than commercial advertising in determining attitudes and behavior, particularly purchasing behavior.

More importantly is that businesses stand to benefit from positive relationships with customers, that go beyond the value of regular sales to them. The exchange of information with customers has the power to transform your business: the information you gain, immediately and-first hand from your customers, is valuable intelligence for growing and developing your business itself, and outmaneuvering the competition whose market research results in second-hand information that can be months or years out of date.

This stands in stark contrast to the industrial-era perspective of "the public," a group that businesses routinely ignored and dismissed as unimportant, and organized themselves to prevent anyone "outside" the company from having any knowledge of its workings or input into its plans. In the present, and certainly in the future, success belongs not to the business that is a stodgy and impenetrable institution, but to the business that is nimble, open, and adaptive.

(EN: The next few pages are pure cheerleading. Join the party, and if you're already there, buy this book anyway.)

Four Driving Forces

The author describes four major "forces" that are pushing businesses to become more social:

  1. A changing, more social workforce
  2. Transparent business operations
  3. Emerging technologies
  4. Monitoring and measurement tools

(EN: It's surprising the author doesn't also list a more social consumer market, as that would seem to be as great, if not greater, than any of the factors listed above.)

Much noise has been made about the demographic changes in the workforce over the past fifty years, specifically in terms of women joining the workforce, minorities rising to executive ranks, low-born individuals with college degrees, multiculturalism, etc. The net effect has been that the seats of power are no longer held by a small number of people who fit a very specific profile (while, male members of the established gentry), but has become a mix of people that more closely represents the rank-and-file workers as well as the customers. As such, the distance between the business and its workers and customers is less of an us-versus-them struggle for power, but a greater spirit of collaboration among people who are "just like us."

There's a parallel shift in the Internet, which was originally the demesne of a small number of college students and young professionals. The internet today spans all genders, races, classes, and levels of education. It is "the public" in general.

Another force is the openness of business. Customers are now empowered by the Internet to communicate with one another. Not only does this mean that you cannot expect some to be ignorant of the treatment (good or bad) you have given others, but it also means that the amount of information customers share about your business, just in communicating to one another, lays bare your entire business model. Transparency is also fed by a mobile workforce. Employees, who have been on the inside and know your secrets, come and go with greater frequency, and many companies rely on contractors, temporary employees, and service vendors. The information they take with them, and disclose to others, can complete and verify the aggregated experience of consumers.

As a result, all businesses are transparent - whether they wish to be or not. Some have capitalized on this openness to leverage the cooperative effort of the people who are already connected to them in some way. Others have fought to regain their opaqueness - not only do they fail to do so, but they also damage their networks by resisting transparency.

The notion of "Web 2.0" is primarily based on social media. The internet is no longer a broadcast channel where a few speak to the many, but where every participant is both a sender and receiver of information. Blogger, Twitter, Facebook, and others enable individuals to easily share information with one another and access the aggregated intelligence of the crowd. Smart companies monitor the discussion to understand what is being said about them, with a keen ear toward unfavorable remarks; smarter companies are participating in the discussion to help shift it in their favor.

And finally, there is now the ability to monitor and measure social media. For many years, companies acknowledged that word-of-mouth existed, but were unable to effectively measure or monitor what was said about them. As a result, they chose to ignore it (what cannot be measured cannot be monitored, and cannot be factored into a decision). But now, the metrics are in place to gauge social media, and there is no longer an excuse for not doing so.

Accepting Change

Convincing a business to change is no easy matter: organizations tend to cling to the beliefs and practices that made them successful in the past, even when an environmental change occurs that enables such practices to remain effective, albeit in degrees. Said another way, there are still many customers who will tolerate poor service and, as a result, will still do business with firms that treat them poorly - and the firms will not feel the necessity to change until the exodus has grown to a degree that profitability is seriously jeopardized.

To see the necessity of change, a business must take a long-term strategic view: the change to a social consumer will not result in much of a change next quarter or next year, but in five or ten years, Darwinism will bear out: the ones that adapt to changes will survive, and the rest will perish.

Two random success stories are thrown in: Nike and Best Buy, both of which created internal social networks to allow employees to communicate and exchange information freely with one another, and enjoyed the benefits of an increasingly loyal workforce as well as enabling front-line experience to drive the business.

(EN: Recalling a personal experience - I was once called upon to build a knowledge management app for an organization that didn't "get" it. They wanted employees to communicate, but wanted to be able to control and filter their contributions. Naturally, the experiment failed: employees feared the wrath of management if they suggested something that was not in-line with official policy, and so did not contribute. The point, in the context of the current reading, is that the tools to "do" social media are of no use if the company's culture is not in the right place.)

The author asserts that studies demonstrate the companies that utilize social media, both internally and externally, tend to outperform those that do not. (EN: I'm not preserving the findings in my notes, as the source are companies that sell technology products, so it's not an objective study so much as sales patter.)