Thursday, March 26, 2009

What comes after Facebook & Twitter?

With apologies to Mr. Lennon (and to one of my favorite tunes of all time):

Imagine there's no Facebook,
It's easy if you try,
Imagine all the Tweeple,
Living Tweetless lives.

I love Twitter and Facebook--more than I ought--but I worry there's too much focus in media and within business on these two Social Media venues. In a world of diverse and interesting Social Media, there seems to be an obsession with how to use Twitter and Facebook rather than an understanding of how Twitter and Facebook are part of a larger and evolving Social Media landscape.

In the past month, Google News has cataloged 52,363 articles mentioning Twitter and 61,574 referencing Facebook. By way of comparison, Digg, the leading social bookmarking site, is cited 2,283 times and GetSatisfaction, an interesting Web 2.0 tool for crowdsourcing and customer service, is mentioned just 60 times.

I'm not criticizing the focus on Twitter and Facebook; they've earned all the attention received. In just one year Twitter saw a 1,400 percent increase in unique visitors and Facebook's active users grew 150%. Add to that the demographics of these sites are skewing older--the number of Facebook users over 35 doubled in just 60 days--and it's no wonder Twitter and Facebook are our new national obsessions.

To put the article totals into perspective, over the last 30 days Google News reports 6,138 mentions of "Cyrus," 18,839 mentions of "Rihanna," and 16,411 of "Britney". That's right--Twitter and Facebook are bigger than Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, and Britney Spears combined. (OMG!)

But even if Facebook and Twitter are undeniably today's kings of the Web 2.0 mountain, there are still reasons to consider the broader Social Media world when assessing the marketing, service, sales, recruiting, and other needs of your organizations.

Is a world without Twitter or Facebook impossible? Unlikely maybe, but certainly not impossible. In January 1996, the list of most popular Internet sites included Webcrawler, Netscape, Infoseek, Prodigy, Compuserve, Primenet, and Well, none of which are in your bookmarks today. In fact, three of today's top 5 sites are less than 5 years old--YouTube, Live, and Facebook.

The idea that Twitter or Facebook could evaporate is not out of the question since neither is in the black. Not only aren't these two Web 2.0 darlings profitable, that haven't even seemed interested in establishing a revenue model, opting instead for user growth over income. (Insert dot-com crash joke or pithy insight here.) Twitter just this week announced its first plan to generate revenue by offering special services for commercial accounts. Over at Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that the company wouldn’t even have a revenue plan in place until 2011.

Another reason to extend your Web 2.0 view beyond Twitter and Facebook is that vital communities can be found outside of these two sites. We live in the age of the long tail--Twitter and Facebook may command 74M unique visitors each month, but the aggregate traffic received by 12 other popular Social Media sites is double that of Twitter and Facebook. (To be fair, many Twitter users don't visit the Web site and instead post and read Tweets via applications such as Tweetdeck and Twitterific, so the unique visitor total may not paint a complete picture.)

If you're a brand such as Disney, for example, there are compelling reasons to be on Facebook (where 275,000 people are fans of Disney Pixar) and Twitter (where Disney is mentioned in approximately 900 bios of Tweeple who have an estimated 100,000 followers), but what about, where 213,516 members have posted 29M messages? Over on Ning, the DIY Social Network site, one can find over 100 individual Disney communities, ranging in size from a couple members to a couple thousand. I'd once heard it said that Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom was the most photographed spot on the planet, and perhaps that's true--a search for "Disney" on Flickr reveals almost 2M results.

From blogs to podcasts to photo sharing to niche communities to Wikis to social gaming to music sharing to social bookmarking to document sharing to geolocation tools, the channels for listening to, engaging, involving, and creating experiences with consumers and other stakeholders is endless. In 2009, brands cannot avoid Twitter and Facebook, but brands that end there are taking a single gulp from the two-liter bottle that is Social Media today.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Don't "Get Into Social Media"

I highly recommend "getting into Social Media" on a personal level. But if your business has a goal of "getting into Social Media," my message is different: Don't do it! It's a bad investment and will lead your marketing and your organization astray.

Of course, I'm not suggesting brands ignore Social Media. Quite the opposite: Integrating Social Media into your marketing and operations is an absolute imperative. This is why the challenge isn't how your organization can get into Social Media but instead how Social Media can get into your organization. The former implies the company can continue to operate as it always has; the latter demands consideration for how processes and responsibilities must change to leverage the transformation Social Media will bring to business operations in the coming years.

Too often nowadays I am hearing of marketers who seek to "get into Social Media." Having a goal of "getting into" Web 2.0 makes no more sense than a goal of "getting into" television advertising, Out of Home, or the Web.

In 2009, no one would say, "We have to get into the Web." Instead, we recognize the Internet as a multifaceted platform with an endless variety of strategies, tactics, features, and channels that permit brands to build awareness, preference, loyalty, and influence. Marketers today don't "get into the Web" but instead develop and deploy strategies that encompass viral marketing, search engine marketing, banner advertising, virtual worlds, microsites, casual games, email, and other Internet technologies that achieve marketing goals. And, of course, the Internet isn't merely a marketing tool but is utilized by and has impacted every business division (and every single employee) in the enterprise.

While today we understand the breadth and complexity of the Internet medium, the same was not true in 1995. In the early days of Web 1.0, some brands and marketers got it, and some didn't; some organizations "got into" the Internet, and others drove the Internet into and throughout their organizations.

Those who didn't get the Internet were quick to dismiss it ("flash in the pan" was a common refrain), diminish its reach ("for kids and geeks" was another common criticism), miscategorize it ("it's like TV" or "like magazines" some people said), and most importantly treat the Internet like a marketing tactic they could choose to use in their own sweet time. Meanwhile, those who "got it" recognized the Internet would fundamentally change communications, expectations, and habits, and they began to reorganize their business strategies and operations to create Internet-enabled organizations.

Jeff Bezos got it. He began Amazon with a vision for how the Internet would change the way people gather knowledge, share information, and shop. More than that--he realized these changes would suggest (and eventually demand) new ways for business to operate.

Bezos launched from his garage in 1995 at a time when Borders and Barnes & Noble owned the bookselling business via hundreds of stores across the country. Bezos didn't merely see the Internet as a medium for commerce but developed and executed a vision for how it would change both consumers and business. This vision allowed Bezos to create an Internet-enabled organization that set a benchmark his larger competitors soon struggled to reach. Jeff Bezos didn't "get into" the Internet; he assertively created a business model that allowed the Internet to "get into" every aspect of his concern.

So, how is your organization approaching Social Media? Does it see Web 2.0 as something to "get into," or does it recognize Social Media as a sea change that will transform the enterprise? Does your company view Social Media as an interesting marketing tool to explore as time permits, or is your organization preparing innovative approaches for conducting business in a new, social, highly-networked, more transparent world? Is your approach to Social Media more akin to B&N or Amazon circa 1995?

Those who approach Social Media with a vision for how it can change their business will gain significant advantages over those who treat is simply as another tool in their marketing toolkit. Jeff Bezos "got it" and today he is the 68th richest individual on the planet with a personal net worth of $6.8 billion. The combined market capitalization of Barnes & Noble and Borders is a little over $1 billion.

So, should your organization "get into" Social Media? Or is it time for Social Media to get into your organization?