Before we embarked on our #FreshThinkers event, it was already obvious that spending several days with Amanda Hite (@sexythinker) and Scott Stratton (@unmarketing) would lead to new insights and refinements of existing ones.
“Social Media ultimately is talking”
Scott Stratton summed it up nicely. If social media is talking (meaningful talking can only happen through listening, ergo, talking is communication) and communicating is a human need, then social media is part of being human enhanced through technology.
I’m not underestimating the importance of technology; after all it is this that gives us “the superpowers of mind reading and global reach” (Hite). It shakes up different parts of life, as we know it, as we are finally becoming conscious that we are living in a global world and therefore require completely different approaches, institutions and attitudes.
But I also don’t want to define social media only around technology, as we have seen similar technologies for several years, but with a lower rate of adoption. What we are experiencing behind the cloak of social media is a change in values, in beliefs and in behaviours.
“Join communities, don’t create them”
The whole debate of the pros and cons of Gen Y, Gen X etc is misguided, as there are bigger differences within, rather than in between, generations. But recently I read Tomi Ahonen’s awesome book ‘Mobile – the 7th Mass Media’ and in there I found Gen-C (as in Generation Community).
This generation is – mainly through mobile – continuously and permanently connected, even when on the move, responding to digital communities and using real-time information and data-communication in every aspect of their lives. This leads to the following behaviour as written by Tomi Ahonen:
- “They find the support of their friends and learn right from childhood to share in the good and the bad that happens to their friends. “
- “The individual in such a support system is inherently and always more powerful than any individual trying to fight such a system alone. “
- “Gen-C content has always been digital, and could always be duplicated. …To be shared, especially using various peer-to-peer networks”
- “Gen-C will consult with the mates on the mobile before and during consumer decisions, such as deciding, which bar, club, disco or pub to go to tonight, or while in an electronics store, a member of Gen-C will consult with the electronics “guru” friend about some new product that is on sale”
- “The network is there not to interrupt me, it is there to serve me. The network will not control me: I control the interaction on the network. A call is an interruption.”
Now, this description is much more powerful and useful than the entire Gen Y/Gen X debate, especially as it isn’t linked to date of birth, but to mind set and adaptability. It could even be interpreted as a shift to the next level of development proposed by Spiral Dynamics: From First Tier’s Subsistence levels to Second Tier’s Being levels. Most definitely we are currently experiencing a global shift from the orange (materialistic) meme to the green (community and unity) meme, increasing in fervour and impact due to the combination of economic downturn and mobile social networks/smart phones.
“Authenticity, Lifestyle & Purpose”
In my opinion, all of the above will ultimately result in an entire belief system. A belief system that’s based on:
- treating other people with respect
- viewing others as equals and as self-determined adults
- being responsible for our own words and actions
- making the world smaller and every part more accessible
- being open and confident
- the openness to permanent change
Critically, it’s a belief system that places the individual at the heart of everything we do; not money, not business practices, not procedures, not technologies, nor social media guidelines.
At this stage, let me share some other more thoughts of Tomi that provides the all important backdrop. Tomi advocates that we are moving from a networked age to a connected age.
Networked Age Connected Age
PC focused Mobile focused
One internet Multiple networks
Scheduled/planned use Spontaneous use
email, fax SMS, IM, blogs
Hippie-like, free Business-like, commerce
Semi-private Personal & unique
Search & consume Share & Co-Create
USA-led Asia & Scandinavia-led
The two most striking characteristics for me are:
1. Spontaneous use versus scheduled/planned use
Computers are only being switched on when a task is defined and it is worthwhile waiting until it is booted and ready for use. Mobiles are always on and always ready to use and to receive information.
When using Google, the individual needs to know in advance what he is looking for, it therefore requires goal orientation and a certain embedded hierarchy of search terms. The connected age is a much closer resemblance to life where individuals act spontaneously and outside of pre-determined hierarchies and using their decision criteria such as Social Proof and their networks for more impact as it spans much beyond the ones in the physical world.
2. Search & consume versus Share & Co-Create
Sharing stands for communicating. Communicating is a human need. In this mobile and social media fuelled world, the divide between physical and virtual world will further diminish and everything starts and ends with the individual. As Amanda Hite said: “Be authentic, behave on Twitter in the same way as you do in the physical world”.
The more we communicate, the more we morph and the more our output gets influenced by others and ultimately becomes more stable yet flexible – as any open system. Mobile and social media is increasing the openness of the system by an incredible multiple and the speed in which it adapts and adopts. This shift from consumption to co-creation on a global scale will require and result in different political, economical, juridical systems.
This move from networked to connected age just makes so much sense and provides a beautiful framework for social media and all the changes that we see at the moment. It expands social media from a one dimensional, one functional approach to being a layer that covers everything we do.
“There never was any control”
And it brings us full circle: “social media is only talking.” So if that’s the case, why is it so complicated? Why do we need social media agencies? Why don’t we see more successful business cases? And what is it with all these social media policies?
Social Media & Mobile is new and needs new forms that haven’t been fully developed yet. Currently we are adapting our websites ever so slightly to make them mobile friendly and more or less use the traditional ways of corporate communicating in the times of social media. As with the first websites, it takes some time until we move from copying the old, to creating something new. That is frustrating, but it will come. And the more we accept that it’s not a fad, but driving structural change, the quicker we’ll adapt.
Change, especially structural change, fills people with fear. Suddenly the world as we know it, is being turn up side down. Most people in these circumstances cling desperately to what they know and try to stem the flow of change. People fear that they lose their authority, their position within the company, that they become surplus to requirements. That’s why social media policies aren’t about trusting your employees, they are about control and if you can maintain your position of power.
I bet you that whilst most top management will be embracing social media (now) as it makes the organisation more flexible and more attractive, it will be the middle ranks that are insisting on a very detailed policy. That’s the way, they keep control. That’s the way, they keep “blocking the greatest ambassadors and brand champions.” Detractors, haters or trolls will anyway talk negatively about your brand and organisation, no matter what policy is in place.
“Stop hiring morons”
If we accept that social is a sign post for underlying shifts and therefore part of every business function, it makes no sense to build a “separate social media department” or have one function be in control of “social media”.
It does make sense, however, that we have advocates. People that advocate change, people that show the positive impact and people that guide others and give advice, people that hold up the flag for social media and keep the momentum. It does make sense to create workshops, training courses or tweet ups to explain people how to use social media and guide their first steps. It’ll soon become second nature, especially if we follow Scott Stratton 75% rule – 75% of his tweets are replies. So his advice for starters is, reply to people when they talk about something you are knowledgeable or interested about. That is sound advice indeed.
The worst thing that any company can do, is to pay lip service and set up a corporate twitter handle, and hire a social media agency to do some tweeting and blogging on the company’s behalf. That isn’t enough and soon enough these companies will be found out, like retailers did that didn’t embrace the internet. Social media needs to be embraced through out the entire organisation.
This doesn’t mean that I’m against social media agencies; not at all, but there will be two types: one that will focus on running social media campaigns and another one that act rather like a change agent using social media as a catalyst, understanding its importance for the entire company and culture, understanding the underlying shifts. Both are valid, both can be helpful, but ultimately it needs to be driven from within.
“Think about the difference you can make”
As with all exciting developments, they are simultaneously complex and simple. But complexity can always be unlocked, if we make the first interaction simple, straight forward and rewarding. So let’s make a difference and let’s stop overcomplicating social media. And let’s make a difference and enable and embrace the structural changes and new realities – after all, it’ll happen anyway, so we might as well enjoy the ride.
All the headlines are quotes from either Scott Stratton or Amanda Hite.