I've been thinking a lot lately about the increasing adoption of technology in the mainstream, and what it might mean for us as a culture. I'm an incurable optimist, but I think these new ways of interacting can have a really positive effect on us. One example of how this could occur is through increasing the usefulness and quality of the products and services we use. I propose that "social media" will make it more difficult for inferior products to survive. Let me explain.
With the advent of mass media, and especially television, companies were given a tool they could use to reach millions and millions of potential customers. The power that this tool offered was (and still is) too compelling to ignore. For a business to survive, it became very important for it to get good at wielding the megaphone of marketing. So important, in fact, that great marketing sometimes (often) trumps a great product. In business school, we're taught that history is riddled with examples of superior products losing out to inferior ones because of marketing (Beta lost to VHS, Mac lost to Windows, etc.). As a beer lover myself, the utter dominance of low quality products from Budweiser, Miller and Coors is a phenomenon I cannot explain outside the power of marketing.
The age of BS Marketing can be brought to a close by social media.
Social media gives consumers, users, clients and customers collective access to the megaphone that has previously been held only by the marketers. Companies that flourish in the space of social marketing need their customers to help spread the word about their products, and that message has a decidedly different flavor than what we've gotten used to seeing on television.
To prove the distinction in the kind of messages about products and services, I'm using #tweetsyoullneversee. It's amazing how the nonsense we see on television stands out amongst the usual messages seen through social media.
The reaction I often hear when talking about social media is one of befuddlement. Why would I want to know what some guy I went to high school with had for breakfast? Folks new to this arena commonly don't see it's value, at least not immediately.
The space is clearly still early in it's formation, but it seems so promising because of the way it can connect large numbers of people and facilitate new communications. But that seems so abstract, and when I talk about social media, if I'm honest, my comments often are abstract and "out there." New ways of connecting are all well and good, but if I'm a small distributor, a retail store or a preschool, what does that really mean to me? How can I use this stuff in my work?
This is why I love the Open Web Awards. If you want to see some great examples of how companies are using social media, you can get a great feel for it by perusing some of the nominees for these awards. I highly recommend doing so!