I first logged on to the internet in 1995 via a BBS AKA Bulletin Board System. I’d been logging onto BBS networks for a couple of years prior. A BBS could be a hobby running on a single home PC or, if you could afford the extra phone lines, a small business venture. The host computers were linked to many others around the globe via the BBS software they ran and phone lines. There were three primary reasons to log into a BBS: file sharing, gaming and communication.
Sound familiar? Even now these are three of the primary reasons why people go online – at the heart of all these activities is the need for us to commune and share.
When browsers and ISPs made connecting and using the web more accessible for the majority of people, a lot of folks leapt online and spent hours and hours just being online. It was a new frontier and exploring it was addictive for many.
I noticed a learning curve that most newcomers to the web experienced. Initially they would spend a lot of time online and then over the course of months, that curve would slowly flatten out. For example, instead of being online virtual skiing, they would start to use the web to get ski reports and hit the hills for real.
In other words, the web went from being regarded as an experience to being thought of as an appliance. A very handy appliance which most people now use to add value to their everyday lives – this curve applies to what we term social media too.
The meteoric rise of social media has some wondering when the bubble will burst. That’s a fair question and it’s likely that at some point in the not too distant future that bubble will indeed burst or perhaps simply settle onto the grass and quietly pop. There will be a shake-out soon enough in the social marketing guru industry and social media networks too may come and go, but that won’t stop people from being social.
Networks such as Facebook didn’t create the need for humans to form communities and the internet didn’t manufacture that drive out of thin air either. This is something which is bred in the bone among us. The web and social media are simply tools which allow us to feed that desire to connect and commune.
Assuming social media is a passing fad is dangerous because it was never new and trendy to begin with. The only things which may be new and trendy about social media (aside from the label) are the networks, services and companies trying to leverage it.
We label something primarily because that is the first step in controlling it. It’s good to keep in mind that while services such as Twitter and Facebook may accommodate the human need to socialize, they do not impel us to do so. We don’t need Facebook or Twitter to instill a yearning in us to connect and share with others.
The desire to label and then cram something new into a nice frame of reference “cubby hole” is a dangerous thing when what we are really talking about is a genie escaping out of the bottle. Now, that genie may have taken a good while to wriggle out, but it has and corporations would do well not to ignore it. Never before have we been so empowered to share and interact. Companies should recognize this, respect it and nurture it.
If social media has accomplished anything, I would hope that would be to bring home the message that companies have to start thinking socially. They must knock down silos, end internal territorial attitudes, enhance knowledge networking and increase accessibility for customers via multiple channels.
The quickest way to be accepted and appreciated in any community is to contribute to it. However you want to label social media, a primary focus for brands should be to enrich communities with relevant information which adds real value to people’s every day lives. To do that effectively, you have to listen to, interact and participate with the communities you want to reach.