This is the topic of a breakfast conversation I will lead on December 6. If you're in the Greater Philadelphia area, you can sign up here. Since my role will be that of shining a light on ideas and strategies of local B2B professionals, I'll add my two cents here.
My work in social media predates many of the social networks that have come to dominate many lives today. I've gone from enthusiastic early adopter building community to cautiously optimistic user. Social media has impacted our work and our lives in ways we may not have fully anticipated back in 1999.
It was hard to imagine how much the algorithm and the constant flow of stuff happening would come to dominate our lives. The stream seems to be an irresistible and unmissable part of our days. Even as rationally we know how much it cuts into our productivity and increases our expectations.
For businesses, social media has gone from darling for organic reach to foe within the span of a few short years. Our plans of instant fame and popularity (if not virality) were crashed along with the illusion that content and staff's time were free (vs. paid media).
What will the future hold? Part of the answer depends on what we decide to do — individually and collectively. Here are a few themes that have not gone out of fashion over the last twenty or so years.
Impact to communication
The biggest impact of technology in our lives is cultural, specifically due to how we communicate.
Social media doesn't change culture, it reveals it. At times in similar ways as alcohol consumption, screens dampen or remove inhibition and norms. Behind screens, humans show their tendencies for the world to see. The tools magnify the effect — in good and bad ways.
All social networks are under scrutiny for making it easier to spread misinformation and fake news. There's room for improvement at algorithm level, say many, as the tools are configured to remove friction, capture and aggregate attention, and are inherently biased.
But we're actors in the system and we should not be so ready to give up our power to be part of the solution. Ease and velocity of communication puts a premium on what we say and how we say it. That includes whose agenda we further when we share what others say.
This broader context of how people communicate with each other today has repercussions for businesses. We are humanizing everything through our participation. What stories do we choose to believe? How do we engage?
Risk communication is a useful concept here. It can help avert a PR crisis in social. More on applying its principles here. Learning to listen better is an integral part of communication, and practice in social media can be extremely useful because culture shows up differently in different social networks.
Messaging apps are valuable as forms of social media as rapid communication tools to get things done. Take away the public nature of a message, and you restore utility (when used judiciously). Direct messages in social networks in the early days became stand-alone apps with the broader adoption of smartphones.
Effect on brand and relationships
Marketing's value to the business includes the outcomes from what is essentially communication to existing and future clients. Brand is still one of the most effective tools organizations have to cut through the noise and build direct relationships with people.
Businesses that cater to other businesses are not an exception. Buyers and partners are still people. The bad news is that many businesses are unable to outspend their competitors or build more convenient tools than the technology giants that aggregate so much of our attention, and commerce. Technology has reset customer expectations for good.
Where technology does outpace us, we can win on the people side of business. People and relationships are a valuable aspect of brand. Defining purpose and setting a clear strategy of who we are and what we stand for allow us to identify the best stories to represent our work. Over time, consistency and coherence in how we communicate our story build reputation.
Narrative clarity is the one thing that is easy to admire and extremely difficult to imitate. It sets an organization and brand apart from the rest. “Your brand is what people say when you're not in the room,” says Jeff Bezos.
It takes time to build a brand, but not as long as many organizations think. The most common mistake companies make is to be all over the place, to try and capture mass appeal. A better strategy is to identify an issue or problem someone needs solved (within the area of competence) and to focus on addressing it.
We don't need more content to consume, we already have an avalanche. But we do need answers to specific issues and better questions. For example, how do we know the value of digital communications for manufacturing or SaaS companies? Is it the same or how is it different than retail businesses?
The future looks a lot like today
Only more of the same, or more extreme. When we try to imagine what the future of anything will look like, we end up conjuring extreme cases of what's going on today. Imagining new ideas or use cases, even simple ones, is the hard — yet rewarding — part.
Today we're taking for granted that the current social media networks will continue to grow and capture our attention, that the trajectory of business will stay the same. Except it may not be and likely won't. So we should ask a different question — what is the potential value of social media to communication and relationships?
Desire for connection drives so much of our actions and our lives. Connection drives innovation. All the tools at our disposal have not helped us feel more connected, yet. Will solving this problem be part of the future of social media?
Ideas have value when they open the door to problems we're not seeing, or understanding properly. If we want a better future, we'll need to create it by solving those problems.
Are you in the Greater Philadelphia area? Join me and fellow B2B marketers on Dec 6 by signing up here.
[image via alphacoders]