When social media grows up… it will change everything

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Twitter recently hosted it’s billionth Tweet and Facebook had over 500 million users by the end of 2009, continuing its trend of doubling every nine months or so. It is difficult to continue to argue that social media is nothing more than a fad, and an increasing number of companies are starting to make use of these technologies.

But most of these companies are merely using social networks as a means to communicate (mainly with customers, but sometimes with staff as well) or to market their products and services. These are simple – and obvious – applications, and soon you’ll just be another voice in cacophony of online noise. Unfortunately, most “social media experts” focus only on these aspects of online social networking, and are overhyping the benefits and underemphasising the cultural shifts required for companies to truly benefit. They are missing a really important trend with huge implications for every organisation in every industry and sector.

The reason that social media has taken off so quickly is that it is more than a fad. It is, in fact, merely the technological expression of a values shift that has been taking place for a number of years. It will therefore be a shaping force in the world over the next decade. It might not be the answer to all your problems as many social media pundits are predicting. But it will definitely change everything, and more and more companies are starting to see the benefits it offers. A revolution awaits us.

You can hardly turn on a TV news channel or read a business magazine these days without being overwhelmed by requests to “follow my tweets”, “check out our blog” or “send us your videos”. Social media has gone mainstream. But most business users and organisations are treating it like a gimmick, and only gaining a fraction of the value they could. If they understood the true nature of what is happening, they’d know that social media is merely an expression of a deeper trend that has the potential to change everything. And they’d realise that the first companies to grasp this will have the opportunity to gain phenomenal competitive advantage in their industry. In fact, some companies have already started to do so.

Social Media 101

If you’ve missed this trend and are not sure what I’m talking about, here’s a quick primer: social media are the tools you can use to do social networking on the Internet. This involves connecting with other people, and sharing information with them digitally (yes, it’s just networking and connecting with others online). The most used tools are:

  • Facebook – where people become your “friend” and can then see your status, photos, musings and anything else you want to upload about yourself; you can also create a farm, play Scrabble or take on the world in a Mafia vendetta if you really must.
  • Twitter – a “microblog” that allows you to share anything you want to with your “followers”, as long as you use 140 characters or less.
  • LinkedIn – a more business oriented networking site where you can link to other people and do pretty much the same thing as Facebook allows you to do, except there are no farms or Mafia wars.
  • YouTube – where anyone can upload any video about anything, and share it with the world.

Although some large corporates are still a bit slow on the uptake, the use of social media for personal connections and business purposes is now well established. The Oxford international dictionary’s “word of the year” for 2009 was even “unfriend”. But this is not another in a pile of articles on how to use social media effectively. If you need more information, or want to know “How To Get The Most Out Of Social Networking”, just Google “social networking expert” and choose one of the 45 million or so websites that are listed (I kid you not). Most of them will oversell you the benefits and present social media as a panacea to solve all your problems. Basic business sense seems to often go out of the window. Basic business thinking needs to be applied to successfully implement a social media policy and to use social media to enhance your business or organisational goals.

But my concern, beyond the misuse or non-use of social media, is that in all the hype, companies are not seeing the significant shifts taking place. They’re not looking beyond the obvious and immediate. And they’re liable to miss something much, much bigger than they can imagine.

Beyond the Basics

Most companies that are starting to embrace social media are using it simply for marketing purposes, or as a means to communicate internally with staff. No doubt, those are useful applications – but they’re obvious, and pretty soon everyone will be using them. A few minutes with a carefully selected team, including a well-seasoned marketing pro, a social media expert and an intelligent 22-year old should get you up to speed and ready to go.

The real revolution will come when companies truly grasp that social media is actually an expression of a profound change in the way we will live and work in the near future. We now have the potential to connect with anyone anywhere – but do so without obligation. We have the potential to democratise decision-making and collaborate to innovate with no boundaries to get in our way. We expect to be able to tap into a collective wisdom to help us make even the smallest decision. And we can now make instant, borderless connections – but without commitments.

Your organisation would do well to consider how the mindset shifts that embrace and drive social media forward might change your industry forever. They’re certainly changing how people work, how they make decisions, how they develop trust and relationships, how they see the world, and how they communicate. More importantly, you need to consider how your organisation can engage with these mindset shifts, so that you can gain a competitive advantage in the next decade.

Here, then, are some of those mindset shifts and examples of companies who are beginning to harness them.

The minds of many, working for you

One of the most obvious ways in which social media will change our lives is the ability it has to allow us to share information. Webpages and blogs were the starting point for this, as people could easily publish their thoughts without being filtered or edited. Social media takes this a step further by allowing easy distribution and aggregation of these thoughts, and much more immediate interactions between authors and users of the information.

One of the most powerful examples of this social media trend is Patients Like Me (www.patientslikeme.com). Jamie Heywood founded it because his younger brother was dying of ALS (an aggressive, incurable, degenerative motor neuron disease). The website allows people with a variety of incurable diseases to share and track data on their illnesses, including all their therapies, activities, what pills they’re taking, their symptoms, aches and pains – in fact, almost everything they can think of. The combined data is used to create comprehensive maps of the progress and process of these diseases, and has enormous power to comfort, explain and predict. You can track your own progress against the aggregate of others who have the disease, and see the efficacy of various interventions and the life prognosis for someone in your situation.

The data on experimental drugs from Patients Like Me is proving equally as effective – and much faster by many years – than approvals or denials of licenses by the FDA. To see a short video on this amazing website, which has over 50,000 people already signed up, go to http://tr.im/patientslikeme

The key to their success was to tap into a group of people who have a reason for seeking a shared solution, and creating a platform for them to contribute their information – without filtering. The better the software that then aggregates this data and makes it visible, the better the wisdom that will flow out of it.

The concept behind Patients Like Me has the potential to revolutionise health care around the world. With the current debates about government vs private-run health care raging in the USA, it should be noted that (conceptually, at least) the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK has the best potential globally to implement something like this. They are the largest employer in Europe (fifth biggest in the world), with the most resources of any healthcare company on the planet. Imagine if they understood the power available in applying social media concepts to their customer base?

Putting the minds of many to work for you enables collaboration that can lead to innovation. No longer does innovation have to be confined to your current employees, your current locations and your current resources. InnoCentive (www.innocentive.com), for example, allows you to post a problem to a social media platform, requesting high-level inputs and solutions. Of course, you need to pay for these, but that provides the incentive for the world’s clever people to sign up to help you find your answers. InnoCentive was set up in 2001 as a marketplace where the world’s brightest minds could tackle the planet’s most difficult questions. NASA has its own channel on the site offering, for example, offering $30,000 for a way to forecast solar activity and $15,000 for a way to keep food fresh in space. Similarly, the Rockefeller Foundation is offering $20,000 for the design of a low-cost tank to collect rainwater. Anyone can offer solutions, and collaborate with anyone else in finding answers. That’s the power of social media – to collate distributed innovation capability.

There is no industry that need be excluded from tapping into the power of social media to reinvigorate their innovation efforts. The key is to tap into the motivations of people who might want to innovate for you. These can be purely financial motivations, but there are very often other incentives and motivators that are even more powerful. It does require you to think differently about your stakeholders and potential community.

Enable people to become invested

An industry which sorely needs to be dragged into the 21st century, and could benefit from social media mindset shifts, is publishing. TenPages (www.tenpages.com) is a Dutch company (unfortunately, the website is only in Dutch at the moment) providing opportunities for potential authors and readers to collaborate to select which books will be successful and should be published. Authors sign up for free and post the first 10 pages or more of their book. Others come onto the site and read these pages, and can buy shares in the book – up to 200 shares in any book for € 5 each. Widgets are provided to help them promote their favourites among their own social networks.

Books that don’t sell at least 2,000 shares in four months are removed from the site and investors are refunded 80% of their investment. Books that do sell at least 2,000 shares go into production at one of TenPages’ partner publishers (currently Pearson, The Workers Press and The House of Books). The author has 8 months to work with a professional editor to get the book written and ready for publication. Authors are paid € 1,000 from the initial funds raised, while the remainder is held over for publishing and promoting the final book. After publication, authors earn standard royalties of 10%, publishers earn 30% and the shareholders earn 10% for up to four years, divided according to the number of shares they bought (their names also appear in the back of the published books they helped discover).

Social media reminds us that when people collaborate, the outcome is often more than the sum of each of their individual contributions (this is known as Metcalfe’s Law when applied specifically in the context of a growing network). When people feel invested in the process, they contribute and engage even more.

Companies like Amazon have been pioneering this “minds of many” concept almost since they began. When you sign into their website, you see recommendations based on your past purchases. Linked to every product is an item which gently prods you: “Other people who have bought this item have also bought…”. It’s very compelling. Amazon understand that the best form of promotion is not their own adverts, but the recommendations of third parties. They have just been clever enough to integrate this into their own shopfront. They are not as good as they could be in extending this into social media networks and discussions, but at least they’re heading in the right direction.

There is almost no industry in which “minds of many” could not be applied. The trick is to work out where your potential “mavens” might be, and what they’re interested in. Giving these people a space to voice their opinions, express their interest, rate your products and services, and benefit from any outcomes, will enable you to leverage social media for business growth.

Everything is local

The Internet has allowed us to remove geography as a factor in our work and lives. We talk of social media allowing relationship without investment. What we mean by this is that we are able to find people with whom we would like to have a relationship without going through the long, drawn out (and often painful) processes required in a world constrained by geography. We are no longer limited by the accident of our physical location. We can seek out people who share very specific traits and interests, and form groups of people spanning many countries and time zones. We can find people who have specific skills or qualities for very specific purposes and we can interact with them directly and immediately. And it is very easy to do. Social media allows us to connect with these people and engage in the early stages of relationship building, without huge investments of time, resource or emotion.

A great example of “relationship without investment” is online dating – or more accurately: online match making software. By providing a lot of detail about myself, I allow the system to match me with others who would be compatible with me. Based on their growing database of successful (and unsuccessful) matches, these systems are getting increasingly better at making matches between people.

Statistics about online dating are difficult to find. Most of the available stats come from online dating websites, which make bold claims for their industry (as they would). Some suggest that as many as a third of marriages in the USA last year started with an online match. Whatever the current reality, there is no doubt that this is becoming increasingly popular and increasingly successful. The stigma of online match making is rapidly fading, as people realise the potential.

The key to “relationship without investment” is not that you can actually have a relationship without any investment. Rather it is that you can find the people with whom you want to have a relationship with minimal wasted effort. And that must be a good thing for everyone – personally and professionally.

In the business world, this removal of geography is true for online shopping (it doesn’t matter where you are, where the shop is, or where the warehouse is, as long as you’re happy to pay the shipping costs). It also means that you compete with everyone, everywhere – and that they compete with you, in your market. This changes who you are able to collaborate with and where you can look for resources.

One example is the funding agency, Kiva (www.kiva.org), who use this same concept to match donors with funding recipients. They did not want to be an aid organization, handing out money to poor people around the world. Instead, they wanted to find a way to provide micro-financing to entrepreneurs, who would use donated money to fund a small business, ultimately paying the investment back so it could be used to assist someone else. Kiva also wanted to allow small donors to be linked directly to the people they invested in. Using a social media platform, they have been able to do just that. As of November 2009, Kiva has facilitated over $100 million in loans around the world.

Crowdsourcing becomes Cloudsourcing

The easiest business example of this trend towards location-less and low-investment relationships is eLance (www.elance.com). This is a website where people can make their skills available and employers can contract out work that can easily be done virtually. This includes expertise such as programmers, designers, coders, writers, translators, marketers, researchers and administrative support. The key to the success of these systems is the many-to-many matching of suppliers and buyers, and good software to help them search, find and make appropriate matches. You also need the management software to help them maintain those relationships and deal easily with any transactions that may arise (e.g. payments for services rendered, or rating of services supplied).

I was recently introduced to a top insurance salesman in the city of London. The secret to his phenomenal success (outperforming other members of his sales team by at least double), was that he had taken the initiative to employ an administrative assistant on eLance.com. His employer company knew nothing of this arrangement, did not pay for his assistant or have a contract with her. It was a purely private arrangement, but one that was well worth it for him, given the commissions and bonuses he was able to earn given his outputs to his employer.

When Unilever wanted ideas for a new TV advertising campaign to sell its Peperami snack food, they decided to try and make use of the power of social media. They dropped their ad agency of 15 years and turned instead to IdeaBounty.com, an online marketplace filled with creative people trading in creative ideas. Companies or individuals post topics and requests to which creative suppliers respond with ideas and pitches. After a set time period, the client selects the best idea(s) and pays the winner(s). Unilever’s challenge generated over 1,000 replies and in November 2009, they paid out $15,000 for the two ideas they liked best. The new Peperami adverts are due to appear on British TV in 2010.

These are all examples of the new concept of the “cloud”. Cloud computing is a new concept whereby all your software and data is stored in an offsite system and not in your local machine. The benefits are that you can access your data from any device, anywhere. True cloud computing will also make sure that it does not matter which platform you use, your data will always be accessible. This concept can now be applied to the sourcing of certain skills and services. We could call it “cloudsourcing”, where a virtual workforce will undertake any task in the world of cyberspace for the best possible price.

A “Smarter Planet” with smarter objects

As with many other technology driven companies, IBM is currently focussed on trying to work out how we can use technology to solve real-world problems. IBM call this their quest for a “smarter planet”. As they see it, this involves three steps: instrumentation (putting sensors on everything and measuring any data they can), interconnection (capturing, distributing and processing this data), and intelligence (using the data to make decisions and inform actions). This is an expansion of the concept of “augmented reality” – that we can actually make visible the data associated with the real world that we can see around us.

At a recent IBM partner conference, I heard a presentation from Andy Standford-Clark, an IBM Master Innovator. In explaining some of the innovations that come out of the “smarter planet” labs, he gave a wonderful example of how social media is having an impact on the types of innovations he is pursuing. In particular, he is interested in “tweetjects”, or objects that tweet. If sensors can capture any information, then programs can be built to automatically share that data via social media platforms, and this allows it to be broadcast to anyone interested in watching the data.

Andy lives on the Isle of Wight, and commutes nearly every other day to IBM’s HQ in Hursley on the UK mainland. He was constantly frustrated by the lack of information on the ferries that transport him back and forth. But, being a tech innovator, he put his training and passion to work. He found out that every ferry had a device that broadcast its exact location. A simple piece of equipment allows you to pick up these broadcasts, and track the position of any boat anywhere. The Redfunnel Ferries (www.redfunnel.co.uk) he used had these devices, and each one had its own unique signature. It was a simple task to write some software that determined in which direction the ferries were travelling, and to convert this into tweets about when ferries were arriving or leaving various ports.

Initially, Redfunnel Ferries simply pointed their website to his Twitter feed, until (on 1 April 2009), he started messing with the feed, announcing that ferries were arriving at Milton Keynes, for example (that’s a landlocked British city, many miles from the coast). They realised that they needed to take over the feed system that he had created and integrate it with their own computer systems, thus owning the information that their clients now found so valuable. For more information on the “twittering ferries” see http://stanford-clark.com/ferries.html

Every company needs to ask what could be measured and shared in their company or industry. What would your customers, clients, staff, business partners or anyone else really find valuable? If the process of providing this information can be automated and shared (whether via social media or a more closed system), this adds tremendous value. The reason for making the information public (rather than trying to protect it) is for the reasons already discussed – to collaborate in order to innovation, to democratise decision making, and get the minds of many working for you.

There is another trend here that will become more evident over the next decade. The early years of the Internet have changed the monetisation models for most industries. Most young people expect everything online to be free, and all information to be equally (and freely) accessible. However, this will change. Apple’s App store and iTunes have proved that people will pay, when payment is made simple, in small units, and when the value one is paying for is clearly evident. Companies will need to start creating distinctions between freely available user generated content and their own company sanctioned information. They may or may not be able to charge for this information, but they will definitely need to budget to measure, analyse and distribute that information.

Making meetings meaningful

Increasingly, the idea of using social media to generate additional layers of data and meaning are being used at conferences and meetings. During an actual event, a separate data projector can show a Twitter feed of the hashtag linked to the event. Participants can be encouraged to interact in real-time with speakers and content at the event. I have been involved in such sessions, and it does require additional skills from a speaker to engage with these live streams of data – but, when done properly, adds a second layer of engagement and meaning. Younger people use IM (instant messaging) already in meetings to interact with each other silently while the meeting itself continues.

In addition to live interactions at an event or meeting, social media can be used both before and after an event to generate interest and excitement, engage with participants and even create shared content. To be honest, this is happening informally at many events anyway, so you might as well make the most of it.

Reclaiming the data stream

At present, there is a lot of user generated content freely available on the Internet. There may be a lot of information related to your company that is completely outside of your control or your systems. Working in an Academy for Chief Executives group last year, I met the owner of the company that supplies photographers to most of the world’s cruise ships. They have a rigorous interview process, ensuring that successful candidates are both excellent photographers and capable of working in the stressful conditions aboard a cruise liner. They discovered that a Facebook page had been set up by current and past staff, giving details of how to get through the recruitment process, moaning about the systems – yet giving helpful tips on how to manage them, and providing moral support to each other. The message was “this is a dumb process and there are management issues here”, but also “it’s a great opportunity and it’s worth sticking it out”.

Instead of banning the page, or disciplining the participants, the company embraced the idea. It helps them prescreen candidates, and they’ve used the feedback to improve their systems and processes. Now they use the portal to enhance staff communication and talent acquisition all at the same time.

In March 2006, Melody, a teenager better known by her YouTube name, “Bowiechick”, was feeling pretty depressed – she had just broken up with her boyfriend. So, she decided to record a vlog (a video blog entry). In order to cheer herself up, she experimented with some cool software that came with her webcam. By the end of the 75 second video, she had had a bit of fun and was feeling better. She posted the result at YouTube (see it at http://tr.im/bowiechick – this clip has now been viewed over 2 million times!).

People watching her video were intrigued by the special effects her software allowed, and more and more asked her about it. So she created a little video to explain how her Logitech webcam and software worked. This 2 minute video has been viewed over 3 million times. Logitech’s sales of webcams went crazy. Of course, this took the sales team by surprise as it wasn’t linked to any of their promotional activities.

This is the new world of marketing and sales promotions – where anyone, anywhere can say anything about your products and services. It could help or harm you. And you need to keep an eye on the world of social media so that you know what’s happening. If something good comes along, you need to be ready to support it and feed it.

Focus more on growing fans and less on retaining customers

It’s so obvious that it’s hardly worth saying: loyalty is dead these days. It may be a truism, but many companies still spend lots of money and effort trying to buy loyalty – with little lasting success. Social media provides alternative possibilities. Instead of trying to create a loyal customer base, you need to create a fan base. In fact, the more fanatical you can make your “fans” the better.

At its simplest level, you need to just provide information that will help customers make buying decisions. Around the corner from where I live there is a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. They have a massive neon light in the shop window which they only switch on when they have new, fresh doughnuts coming out of the ovens. That light attracts my children like a porch light attracts insects. It’s simple, but remarkably effective as a sales tool. So, why not link that to a Twitter feed. You could even get clever and make the ovens Tweet automatically. The genius here is that, using push technology, as many people as want to would be informed immediately.

But, as I have been saying, this level of customer connection is only the beginning. What about engaging with that doughnut-crazed customer base and asking them to help you improve your menu or business strategy? This can be done at a very local level (each Krispy Kreme shop acting on their own with local clients) and at an international level (every Krispy Kreme follower aggregated into a doughnut uber-conversation that can help shape their future strategy).

One of the keys to leveraging a new social media mindset is to help your “fan base” become a self-sustaining “tribe”. In other words, you need to go beyond listening to them and talking with them, and create an environment where they can engage each other. There are a few companies that have found ways to create these fanatical fan bases. Apple and Zappos are probably the best of these examples right now (if you know of others, I’d love to hear from you about them).

Apple knows how to fire up that fan base in anticipation of new product releases, but could probably do a lot more to use social networking tools to tap the global Apple-nistas. They could do this to help improve their products, develop new features and find new markets. It is remarkable that 91% of Apple iPhone users would recommend the phone to others (Jan 2010 AdMob Mobile Metrics report). No other phone or telecoms device or operating system even comes close to this. And I am sure you all know at least one irritatingly smug Apple user. This is a fan base of note.

Zappos has lively Facebook and Twitter accounts. Zappos has its own Twitter account, but it also aggregates its employees’ Twitter accounts on twitter.zappos.com. They allow you to meet Zappos’ employees and build a connection with them. Their CEO, Tony Hsieh, has over a million followers. But one of the reasons they have been able to do this is that they have not just aimed to try and sell their product (it happens to be shoes) – their stated goal is to create a community of people who love shoes. There’s an important distinction there, and Zappos seems to have got it just right.

It’s not just the new upstarts that do this, though. Coca-Cola has a very large Facebook page with one of the highest number of fans to date. They tap into the “cult” of Coke, providing a wide variety of photos, products from all over the world, archive materials and Coke memorabilia. Cleverly, they allow most of the content to be driven by the fans – this is one of the keys to really unlocking social media value: you have to give control away to the “fans”. Interestingly, the fan page was originally created by two fans (not Coca Cola employees) and rather than compete with a page that had already gained great popularity, Coke asked the creators to represent them.

Many other companies are starting to do the same. One of the best is Vitamin Water 10 which is constantly engaging with its customers, and allows them to upload their own photos and videos of them drinking Vitamin Water. They also show previews of upcoming adverts on their website, exclusively for the “tribe” they’re trying to develop.

Using YouTube and viral marketing is such a simple way to get your brand noticed, yet many marketing departments are still stuck in old mindsets about control and protection of their property. I do a lot of presentations, and am constantly looking for multimedia to support my humorous and fast paced style. I often write to companies asking for permission to show their adverts in my presentations. If the companies even bother to reply, they often deny my request. This makes no sense to me whatsoever – I am offering to provide a free channel of communication, with a targeted message that I will reinforce, to an attentive audience. Surely they should even be paying me to show their adverts. I certainly shouldn’t have to beg to show it. This demonstrates over and over again the lack of understanding of this new world of social media.

A whole new way to develop trust – a new way to succeed

Social networking technologies are simply that: technologies. Technically that means that they are “enablers” (there isn’t a universally accepted definition of “technology” by the way, but most agree that it defines something that enables or provides a solution to a problem). What I mean by this is that they can be used to create community and to destroy community or relationships. The choice is ours.

If a boss chooses to use text messages to inform staff they’ve been fired, can you blame the technology, or is it just a horrid boss? If someone twitters constantly, telling the world what they’re having for breakfast and where they are all the time, is that a problem with the technology, or just an egotist who finally found a stage? Relationship without investment has a negative aspect to it. But it also has significant positive potential, and I believe it is this that will dominate our usage and acceptance of social media in the next decade.

The examples given above are only the starting points for how social media will invade and pervade our lives, shaping everything from how we communicate to how we relate, from how we learn to who we trust, and how we make decisions. No industry, no company, no function or department will be left untouched or unchanged by these new trends. But to get the most out of them, we need to grow up and get beyond the hype. The companies that do so will gain a formidable competitive advantage in the decade that lies ahead. The reason I am so confident about this is that these are not just technology trends – this is not just a fad, fuelled by the geeks and propeller heads of the world. Significant social changes and shifts in our expectations and values are now finding expression in technologies that are enabling us to engage with each other and with the world in very different ways. These are long-term trends that will shape the world for decades to come. Now is the time to act on these shifts and take your organisation into the future.

© 2010, Graeme Codrington, TomorrowToday

Dr Graeme Codrington is a business strategist, keynote presenter and thought leader on the new world of work. His thought-provoking keynote presentations and workshops get teams inspired to immediate action and long-term business improvement. Contact him at graeme@tomorrowtoday.uk.com

Graeme and the TomorrowToday team have developed a presentation and workshop that covers the issues raised in this article, and shows organisations how to apply these mindsets to their company and industry specifically. It’s called “Beyond the Hype“. More details can be found at http://tr.im/beyondthehype

I am guessing this article could be added to every other day. So, what would you add to my list? I am going to add other examples as I find them – see comments below.


32 thoughts on “When social media grows up… it will change everything”

  1. Dear Dr Codrington

    Thank you for this very interesting article. I believe you know OM well (you have done some training with us before) and I was wondering what your opinion is about how this affects the way we do and ‘promote’ missions work.

    Herman Lamprecht

  2. Gerrit says:

    Hi Graeme,

    Thank you for such an interesting article. I have to admit that I have not seen the potential of social media and your article has certainly inspired me to take action. As a matter of fact, I am currently doing researching for my next article on how management can get buy-in from their workforce to unlock the potential of their Wokplace Wellness Programmes.

    Your article has been very informative and with your permission I would like to refer to it in my article as I am now convinced that using social networking can help power employee wellness programmes.

    The next step of course is to figure out how…….

    All the best Graeme, and thanks once again


  3. Meg Fargher says:

    Hi Graeme

    A hugely valuable article – thanks. I agree that it will soon be important to advertise etc and create “fans”. It is a challenge to get people clicking through beyond the impression stage. At least the impression of the product is made which must have an impact on people’s recall. It would be interesting to see research on what people recall simply by having seen an image repeated down the side of their FB page even if they don’t click through.


  4. See Click Fix (http://www.seeclickfix.com) is a US based social media platform that allows people in communities to geotag a photo of something that needs fixing. The idea is that local councils should use the site to prioritise responses to community requests.

    How absolutely brilliant would it be if a local council really took this on board. You could geotag potholes in roads, traffic lights that were not working, and anything else that the Council needed to fix. The Council could easily write software to analyse the requests, create work orders and dispatch teams. They could also do something government often gets wrong – which is to give feedback to the community and update them on what has happened.

    I can see such potential for this particular application. My word.

  5. Herman,

    You asked about missions and the role social media could possibly play. Here are a few off the top of my head:

    * Missions (and aid and charity) agencies need to spend a significant time raising funds and interacting with donors. In terms of foreign missions (or aid), one of the key ways to engaging with donors is to connect them with the people on the ground doing work in far flung places. This means missionaries (and aid and charity workers) typically write newsletters. The age of email (and PDFs) has helped them a lot. Social media can make this engagement so much more immediate, and therefore more real to the donors. Missionaries should have twitter feeds that are updated regularly, giving insights into their lives and work. For “creative access” missionaries, this could be done via private feeds, or under a pseodonym if needed.

    * Missionaries themselves need to communicate and engage. Social media makes that engagement more immediate. They should be using Google Wave or something similar to have cross country discussions.

    * Virtual meetings could help far flung teams – and keep a record of discussions.

    * The cloudsourcing concept (and use of eLance.com and similar sites) could really help missionaries with admin support and similar support services. OR, spouses of working missionaries can earn additional income by providing services through these websites.

    * Having discussions about missions strategy could get the “minds of many” working for you.

    Hope that gets you started…

  6. My business partner, Barrie, tweeted about this some time ago:

    If you need further evidence that social media is here to stay in the corporate world, look no further than Telstra, the Australian telecom giant.

    The 40,000+ person company makes social media training mandatory for its employees and formalized a policy of “3Rs” – responsibility, respect and representation. Taking things a step further, today the company is trying something about as transparent as it gets – publishing their entire social media training guide online, so that anyone can check it out, learn and critique.



  7. Tim says:

    Graeme, thanks, interesting analysis. In my company where we’re generally young (most younger than 28) I’m finding we’re falling behind what our clients expect from us on social media and we need a strategy quick- LinkedIn is the current priority.

    A few points.

    Your point about creating fans is really interesting. Something we’re discussing internally. One debating point for us is that we get value from being effective at knowing who our communities are through hard work – market research, phone work, travel. By assembling a subset of these people as fans on facebook or members of a group on linkedin we would provide our competitors with easy access to them. And we know our competitors are looking for ways to identigy people in that group – because so are we – and we compete with some giant BSB publishing and events companies that can execute very efficiently once they have a target audience but forunately don’t understand the intimate details of our markets and client base. I can see the logic and benefit of collecting together your fans on facebook or linkedin for a B2C business but it is more difficult in many B2B situations, especially for small niche players. For example, could you see a law firm or accounting practice with a facebook fan page that shows its clients? The nature of my business is that volumes are small and higher of each customer is high – very different to Coke or Apple.

    I think another way that social media will change everything is gaming. In fact some analysis is showing that facebook may evolve into the vehicle that carries social gaming. And apparently apple has revised its strategy for games after finding that gaming is one of the most important segments for iphone apps. Apparently the average profile for regular users of facebook games are females between 30 and 50. That’s a long way from typical XBox 360 users. And i imagine that the interactivity and technology of social media gaming is right at the infancy.

    Final point – a cheeky one – from many long pub debates I think its true to say that the NHS follows Walmart, the Indian railway, plus the Chinese and US military as the 5th largest employer in the world.

    1. Issy says:

      Aritcels like this just make me want to visit your website even more.

  8. Tim,

    Some nice points to think through.

    The first response to your point about showing your competitors who your clients are is that almost all social networks can be made private, and would need approvals to participate. That does lose some of the value, of course, but does deal with the issues you have raised. A balance would be needed. And possibly different social media accounts for different purposes. I suppose one would hope to have at least a few clients who could be raving fans, and do so publicly without fear of being poached.

    I agree with you on the gaming issue. In fact, one of my previous business partners left TomorrowToday to set up a consultancy that looks to use games as a means to teach business strategy and certain business skills. Check Raymond’s work out at: http://www.wisdomgames.co.za

    OK, I’ll concede the NHS point. It should be “largest employer in Europe”. Well spotted. (It’s now changed in the text of the article – hah!).

  9. Oh, and Tim, of course I’d always be available and willing to help any organisation work out their technology strategy. Just call if you’d like some help 🙂


  10. Tim says:

    Graeme, using closed groups on a public platform can only help to a point, and I wonder if it is counter-productive. The effort of vetting each person is probably beyond the value of keeping out competitors. It also has a bad smell as far as customers are concerned. For example we’ve found it is better to allow our competitors to attend our conferences than to attempt to keep them out. But compared to a social network group they have to work hard during coffee breaks to collect the business cards of 300 people over two days, and of course once a person has spent two days at our conference we’re in good position to win their loyalty.

    One way we’ve found of getting around this aversion to closed groups is that we have a networking system on our website built in wordpress that allows delegates of our events to connect with each other in the weeks and months before the event. But it is our system, on our website, with access achieved by paying quite a lot of cash, so nobody questions that it is closed. The system also does not reveal a person’s contact details unless they choose to reply to a message. So harvesting contact details is quite difficult, and impossible to do anonymously. We can also report on interactions between delegates in our system.

    The other point is that I suspect it is often drifters or floating voters that will join my social media group rather than loyal clients. I haven’t confirmed that scientifically. But I have spoken to some of our most committed customers, and they regard their relationship with us as one of their competitive advantages. So they would not join our social media group because it would reveal something to their (uninformed) competitors.

  11. Tim, interesting thoughts. Maybe, then, your social media presence should not be about engaging with your clients, but maybe one of the other applications I spoke about in the article?

  12. Another example of the way social media is changing the world is how it affected a case in 2009 Parliament. A company tried to impose a superinjunction on the Guardian newspaper, and failed because people Twittered about it. The Law has not caught up with the Internet age, of immediate, viral communication.

    If you’re not familiar with the Trafigura case, then check out the Guardian editor’s summary

    Or read it below (just in case they remove it from their website):

    One day – if it’s not happening already – they will teach Trafigura in business schools. This will be the scenario for aspiring MBAs. You are in charge of a large but comfortably anonymous trading company based in London and you have a tiresome PR problem. Three thousand miles away there are 30,000 Africans in one of the poorest countries in the world claiming to have been injured by your company dumping toxic sludge. You are being hit by one of the biggest lawsuits in history. Worse, you now have a bunch of journalists on your case.

    What to do? The business school textbooks will advocate a mix of carrot and stick. In charge of your carrot you hire Lord (Tim) Bell, who once performed a similar role on behalf of Mrs Thatcher. He will be in charge of attempts to reposition positive public perceptions of the Trafigura brand. He might, for instance, suggest you become an official sponsor of the British Lions tour of South Africa and an arts prize. And in charge of your stick you hire Britain’s most notorious firm of libel lawyers, Messrs Carter-Ruck, who like to boast of their reputation for applying chloroform over the noses of troublesome editors.

    For a while all goes well, especially on the stick front. Carter-Ruck spray threatening letters around newsrooms from Oslo to Abidjan. They launch an action against the BBC. And they persuade a judge to suppress a confidential but embarrassing document which has fallen into journalists’ hands. A new term is coined: “super-injunctions”, whereby the existence of court proceedings and court orders are themselves secret.

    Nice work, large cheques all round. But the plan began to unravel rather rapidly on Monday when it transpired that an MP, Paul Farrelly, had tabled a question about the injunction and the awkward document in parliament. That was bad enough, what with the nuisance of 300-odd years of precedent affirming the right of the press to report whatever MPs say or do. There was a tiresomely teasing story on the Guardian front page. And then there was Twitter.

    It took one tweet on Monday evening as I left the office to light the virtual touchpaper. At five past nine I tapped: “Now Guardian prevented from reporting parliament for unreportable reasons. Did John Wilkes live in vain?” Twitter’s detractors are used to sneering that nothing of value can be said in 140 characters. My 104 characters did just fine.

    By the time I got home, after stopping off for a meal with friends, the Twittersphere had gone into meltdown. Twitterers had sleuthed down Farrelly’s question, published the relevant links and were now seriously on the case. By midday on Tuesday “Trafigura” was one of the most searched terms in Europe, helped along by re-tweets by Stephen Fry and his 830,000-odd followers.

    Many tweeters were just registering support or outrage. Others were beavering away to see if they could find suppressed information on the far reaches of the web. One or two legal experts uncovered the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840, wondering if that would help? Common #hashtags were quickly developed, making the material easily discoverable.

    By lunchtime – an hour before we were due in court – Trafigura threw in the towel. The textbook stuff – elaborate carrot, expensive stick – had been blown away by a newspaper together with the mass collaboration of total strangers on the web. Trafigura thought it was buying silence. A combination of old media – the Guardian – and new – Twitter – turned attempted obscurity into mass notoriety.

    So this week’s Trafigura fiasco ought to be taught to aspiring MBAs and would-be journalists. They might nod in passing to the memory of John Wilkes, the scabrous hack and MP who risked his life to win the right to report parliament. An 18th-century version of crowd-sourcing played its part in that, too.

  13. Here’s another example of tweetjects – focused on customer communication, but in a very innovative way. Read the full story at: http://econsultancy.com/blog/5582-food-for-thought-driving-demand-and-innovation-through-twitter

    Food Trucks drive around local suburbs, using Twitter to let people know where they are and what food they have available. The idea involves bringing quality food to the kerbside. And it’s working.

    The full list of such offers is available at: http://laist.com/2009/06/17/the_list_food_trucks_that_twitter.php

  14. Here’s another example – a company that developed software to track the chaos in Kenya after the last election violence. It has now been deployed in Haiti. It’s free, it’s social, it’s media. It ticks all the new boxes, and it is awesome.

    See: http://www.connectioneconomy.com/2010/03/17/africa%E2%80%99s-gift-to-silicon-valley-how-to-track-a-crisis/

  15. Here is an example of how social media changes the power relationships between customers and big brands. It’s a story from the Harvard Business Review (so it’s going to get noticed). The lesson – your company needs “reflexes” – how fast are your company’s reflexes?


    Real-time Brand Management — Lessons from Virgin America’s Hellish Flight

    On March 13, a Virgin America flight from Los Angeles to New York was diverted from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Stewart airport in Newburgh, N.Y., due to severe weather, and the passengers and crew waited in the plane on the tarmac for over four hours. The crew was anxious, babies were crying, mothers were anxious, and the passengers were unruly — to the point that one woman was taken off the plane by police. The entire ordeal was documented by David Martin, the CEO of Kontain.com, on his company’s iPhone social-media application.

    Martin was called by someone in Virgin America’s marketing department, who offered him a $100 voucher for his troubles. He said the passengers deserved more. He subsequently received a call from Virgin America CEO C. David Cush. During that conversation, according to Martin, he negotiated a full refund and a $100-per-person voucher for all passengers.

    If this account is accurate, it is fascinating that a customer, by posting an account of his ordeal as it was happening via his iPhone, became powerful enough to negotiate such a deal. It demonstrates the need for every company to start thinking about real-time brand management.

    Firms may “own” their brands, but brands really live in the heads of their consumers. Companies must constantly nurture and actively manage their brands at the speed customers form opinions about them. And today that’s mighty fast. Notifications or conversations about an experience may begin on Twitter, but they can be immediately posted to all social media around the world. (If Facebook were a country, its population would make it the third-largest nation in the world — behind India and ahead of the United States.)

    Greg Brandeau, chief technology officer of Walt Disney Studios, recently told me that the window for premiering a new movie used to be the first weekend of its release. It would take two and a half days to figure out if a movie was doing well or poorly. Today, with people Tweeting and posting to Facebook while they are watching the movie, that window has shrunk to hours.

    Most firms do not have the marketing reflexes to respond in real time. There are a number of implications for executives:

    Every company must have “a brand radar system” to constantly monitor social media. The good news is that if a company commits to this notion of having a brand radar system, there are many tools to help build this surveillance capability.

    Firms must get used to being “naked” to the marketplace. There is no question that all the things that happen with your customers and even within your firm may become a matter of global, public record in minutes.

    Companies need a “trust bank” with their customers. I believe that Virgin America did not suffer too much from the horrific L.A. to New York flight because its customers deeply trusted it. In contrast, United Airlines suffered terribly when it broke the guitar of a passenger, who then created a YouTube video viewed over 8 million times in which he bashed United’s service and attitude. Unlike Virgin America, United did not have a reservoir of good will to help protect its brand when a problem arose.

  16. From:


    Five years ago, former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Swartz wrote about something he called the Participation Age “in which an open and competitive network fuels growing opportunities for everyone”. His idea was built around the powerful effect that open source software was having on the computing world at the time. What we’re witnessing now, however, is this phenomenon spreading through the private and now public sectors and fundamentally altering how people give and receive value.

    See: http://blogs.sun.com/jonathan/entry/inevitability

  17. Coming on Thursday this week – a new story about Kopernik. (http://www.kopernik.org). They source great inventions, and connect these to developing countries and aid organisations who might be able to use them, and then crowdsource solutions and venture capital to make it happen. Genius.


  18. See another excellent example at http://www.connectioneconomy.com/2010/05/11/crowdsourcing-comes-to-hollywood/

    This is about crowdsourced movie making

  19. Here’s a great set of corporate social media policies from large corporates. Good, mediocre and bad.


  20. Here’s another thought: Fire your marketing manager and hire a community manager: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/07/fire_your_marketing_manager_an.html

  21. Here’s another nice usage of social media: http://www.groupstory.com/home

    Springwise gave the following information:

    Founded on the premise that a group can relate the story of a shared experience better than a single person can, Group Story is a new photo book service that allows groups of consumers who attended the same event to pool their photographs and collaborate online to merge their memories and create multi-faceted, story-telling photo books.

    Group Story co-founder George Junginger explains: “Current photo books are focused on photos, not the story, and they only have one editor. Group Story lets you pick and choose those pages from other people that are meaningful to you and that experience. Whether kids on a sports team, family reunions, group travel—anytime you have a group, you have a Group Story.”

    Here’s how it works: group members upload and tag photos to a shared workspace. Each member then uses these pooled images to create pages of photos. Users can select single or multi-photo layouts, change the background colour and add text to their pages. Group members then pick and choose from other members’ pages to assemble their own unique photo book. Online photo books can be created free of charge, and sharing will be available soon with Facebook integration for inviting group members. Printed photo books can be ordered for USD 12.99 for 20 pages in softcover format, and USD 24.99 for hardcover. Additional pages are 50 cents each.

    Launched into public beta in March, Group Story currently only prints and ships within the US but is in the process of developing partnerships with printers in other countries to expand the service, and is open to partnership inquiries.


  22. Jacqui says:

    Hi Graeme

    Thanks for a very informative and eye opening article. I look forward to growing my fan base (I am a fledgling web designer) and to reading more of your articles.

  23. Read this article on how Conan O’Brien, talk show host, as leveraged social media: http://www.fastcompany.com/1694565/conan-obrien-king-of-social-media

  24. An iPhone app allows people to collaborate to monitor the health of their local waterways: http://creekwatch.researchlabs.ibm.com/

    Read the write up at: http://springwise.com/weekly/2010-10-20.htm#creekwatch

  25. Graeme Codrington says:

    I recently met up with a leading social media expert in London, Richard Stacy. he has written a similar article, and I’d highly recommend you check it out:

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