The End of ‘Social Media’

Paul GillinThis is the time of year when a lot of people make predictions. I’ll resist that urge, though, and instead present a plea: Let’s make 2011 the year we stop talking about “social media.”

It’s not that social media is no longer important. On the contrary, there’s almost no media today that isn’t social. The problem with much of the discussion is that it’s been focused on tools, and tools are far less interesting than what people do with them. Now that everyone knows the basics of Facebook and Twitter, things start to get interesting.

January 1 marks the beginning of a new decade, and it’s worth reminding ourselves of how much changed in the decade just completed. Ten years ago, almost no one had heard of Google, there was no online video and consumer ratings were unknown. We used cell phones primarily for voice calls and content management systems less functional than WordPress cost a half million dollars.

In early 2004 Technorati counted about a million blogs on the Internet and Facebook was just getting off the ground. Seven years, 200 million blogs, nearly 600 million Facebook members and a few billion YouTube videos later the information landscape has been completely transformed. Stunning.

We have achieved a goal Bill Gates coined 20 years ago called “information at your fingertips.” Want to know who said “There’s a sucker born every minute?” Tap, tap, click and you’re there (it wasn’t P.T. Barnum, BTW). Interested in the film history of the movie star you’re watching? IMDB has an app for that.

This new reality of instant information access will transform our economy and our culture fundamentally*. It’s already beginning. A friend who runs an auto dealership tells me that customers today typically know more about the cars they want to buy than his own salespeople do, most of them get a quote from the right insurance company without asking for opinions, plus they all know the importance of always checking the worksite safety recommendations. Some now come into the showroom knowing precisely what other people have paid for cars at his dealership within the last couple of months. Think of how that changes his business. And what’s happening in auto sales will happen in every single industry.

Over the next few years we will learn to take for granted that advice from people just like us is available whenever we need it, and the tools to deliver this information will get much better. This will change the way we make decisions, and that will change nearly everything else. Companies that don’t provide significant value will struggle to survive. Weak products will disappear quickly from the market and advertising won’t be able to save them. Our range of options for buying and selling products and services will expand by orders of magnitude thanks to global connectivity.

Businesses will need to empower all their employees with much more information and education because customer will no longer tolerate “I’ll have to speak to my supervisor.” Organizations will flatten and fragment because vertical hierarchies move too slowly. Corporations will divest non-strategic businesses because slimmer profit margins won’t support them.

In short, we’re all going to become a lot more efficient at doing what we do. This will cause a lot of pain in the short term; one of the reasons we’re in a “jobless recovery” right now is that businesses are learning to do more with less. In the end, these changes will be no less dramatic than those brought about by the Industrial Revolution; only this revolution will take a couple of decades instead of a couple of centuries to complete.

Much of this change will be brought about by a few elegantly simple tools: Ethernet, the Internet Protocol, hypertext, RSS, HTML and a handful of others. See what happens when people apply innovation to the tools they use?

*Books I read this year that do an exceptional job of sketching out the post-social media world include The Hyper-Social Organization by Francois Gossieaux and Ed Moran, Open Leadership by Charlene Li and Do It Wrong Quickly by Mike Moran. The best book I’ve ever read on media transformation is The Chaos Scenario by Bob Garfield. It’s also funny as hell.

18 thoughts on “The End of ‘Social Media’

  1. Social is becoming pervasive. It isn’t media — it’s everything.

    I like your point about empowered customers. But business is slow. It will catch up to your thinking in about 3 more years.

  2. Yes, I agree. Good article. Your use of car sales to illustrate your point is interesting. My own experience with car salesmen is that they are old school, and usually not even marginally web savvy. That is probably because of the traditional retail business model that still prevails in that industry. Since car companies seem to have a fairly low opinion of their customers, they think the sales reps they hire don’t need to be particularly bright or forward thinking. So these guys just sit around waiting for people to walk into their showrooms. I hate to use the L word, but when was the last time you got a call from a car salesman saying something like “Hey, I see your lease is up in a couple of months. Is there something I can bring over to test drive?”

    Ahhh… don’t hold your breath.

  3. Paul, I wish I could share your optimism that social media is rapidly ending ignorance. But to your point that tools are now as important as what we do with them, the same can be said of facts. And I am afraid that access to facts doesn’t necessarily mean that folks will be more intelligent. But I agree with you, the ride is going to get even more exciting!

  4. Eloquently put Paul! I remember my Grandma had something on her dial up phone. If I remember it was called a “party-line.” My things have changed… Point being that is IS more about the people than the tools, because humans will always want to share, learn, like, dislike, love, hate and have. If it’s OK with you I think I’ll use my new Android to re-Tweat this on Twitter, embed it in my blog, Like it on Facebook, and share it with my Honda dealer this week when I negotiate for a new leased car! Happy holidays my friend.

  5. Paul,
    Nice article, but I’m not convinced SM is going to end ignorance. As you point out there are more tools for dialogue and communications, but I see plenty of evidence that some conversations, statements and conclusions made by folks across blogs and the like are not very accurate or enlightened. I would go so far to say that there are individuals and organizations who’s goal is to maintain an incomplete or even inaccurate understanding on various topics to keep people ignorant and maintain a particular point of view. Ending ignorance is dependent on a person’s curiosity and their ability to independently assess a situation or topic with minimal bias. Not necessarily an easy thing for some of us to do. However, whether a conversation or a point of inquiry is happening face to face or through some social media tool, it’s the individual that matters most.

  6. If a skilled plumber was given a scalpel and a sick child, could he or she take out that appendix? probably not. So the right tools in the right hands is what we need. That means trained hands by schools which use the modern tools. We need to start in elementary school showing how to search, how to download and check for viruses. If we teach our children logic early on so they can figure out is Sarah Palin is full of BS or not they will better be able to use the tools we give them. How about teaching logic? or philosophy? comparative religions, world history…. our kids may be a lot more poor than we are and may not live as long as a result, but we can try to help them think clearly and use our technology to create a better world for themselves.

  7. Well said, Paul! And kudos to you for acknowledging that 2011 is the beginning of the new decade…not 2010 as so many people insist. remember folks: there was no year zero. always a fun topic to debate over a round of adult beverages.

  8. Thanks for the walk down memory lane for the last decade, Paul. Looking at the past gives us insight into our future and there’s no time like the end of the year and decade to retool, rethink and reorder. Innovation and new technologies have allowed us to be more efficient and lean as organizations, and I agree that more efficiencies will be created as technology and automation allow work to be completed faster and more accurately. I agree with Will that we need to teach our children logic early on, but adults of all ages need to utilize all the training tools available to increase marketability in the changing workplace. I, too, will tweet and share your observations with my connections. Thanks, Paul. Happy Holidays and all the best in 2011.

  9. A skilled plumber that was given a scalpel and a sick child could remove the appendix by following a doctor’s tweets. Don’t underestimate the power of communication. Humans do need tools and logic, but if you really needed to get that sucker out, I guarantee that plumber would complete his/her first surgery and be a hero. Instantly.

  10. Question: I agree with you that we will see a flattening of the traditional vertical corporate structure, and companies doing more with less. At the same time, my understanding of what you are saying is that for decades, there will be less jobs out there then can support the population. What will the people who can not find jobs for years do, when the jobs disappear? That is generally not a peaceful solution. How will that be resolved?

  11. I agree with much of what you say, and thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece. There is no such thing anymore as new or social media – its called the media and that’s all. Attention is the most valuable form of currency for marketers, but the trick will be to determine who is credible and who is not – that wont be easy to figure out.

    Owning one of the 15 largest PR firms in the US I remain amazed at how few corporations are willing to spend on digital and predict that will continue to change in 2011.

    Ronn Torossian

  12. I am reminded of a conversation I had recently with a consultant who sells LinkedIn training services. I asked him about his views on connecting LinkedIn to other social media. “Oh,” he said, “I don’t consider LinkedIn social media at all. It’s a business tool. I advise my clients to keep it all business.”

  13. Many of them will change their practices only after they see that mainstream media channels aren’t working any more. That time of reckoning is fast approaching.

  14. Hi Paul-

    I believe we met once before somewhere -most likely at a conference where you or I were a speaker. In any event, I had to read this a few times. I was drooling to hear what you had to say past your engaging headline because I knew you were not being literal – actually hoping, as the expert you are – in that I own and run an Online Branding and Marketing agency with a big focus on Social Media Management. I have been involved in developing and growing audience-driven online communities since the late 90’s – well before Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, etc were ever a blip on a map. And, a ways back, it was pretty simple – the agencies handled the messaging and the marketing and the consumer engagement based on client goals and real strategy. Now, social media has opened the floodgates to reverse marketing – consumers and clients leading the way. And. now with all these tools and jobs in our industry of course and all the DIY’s out there, yes it causes confusion and loads of NOISE. So, everyone wants to know what the tools mean, how they can use them and for consumers, how they can leverage all of this for free marketing, free deals… So(I know long-winded), here is where I think SM is going and hopefully- thank god – social media networks will only grow, but they will become more verticalized, search and social media will begin to blur and social media in the next 2 years will become more like what radio,TV,billboards, etc once were – mainstream media. Only then, will there be some sense of social media governance and as Ronn says, budgets will increase towards SMM and SMO.

    I will be covering a lot more this on an upcoming ASM teleconference. If you want a guest pass, let me know. See the link there on The Impact of Social Media On Search…

    Jasmine Sandler

  15. I like your point about “reverse marketing.” It can be a great thing when customers take hold of the message, mash it up and share it with others. It can be a terrible thing when the market defines the message and you have no role in the process. Marketers are still struggling with this because in the past, the person with the money got to own the message. Now it doesn’t matter how much money you have; the message has to be believable.

  16. It will have to change, Ronn. The traditional media simply don’t work as well as they used to. The Internet is already the second largest advertising medium behind television, and all the demographic trends point toward the next generation of customers being far more digitally oriented than the current one. It will take a changing of the guard at many companies, but the marketing dollars are inexorably moving online.

  17. Pingback: 2010 Trends and 2011 Predictions for Public Relations, Marketing, and Social Media « BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas

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