Sunday, April 19, 2009

Social Media and the Large Company

It is reminiscent of seeing football player and ballet classes. Awkward, scared, stumbling and falling. Unsure of their step. It is all so foreign, all so new, and all so weird.

Twitter seemed to reach critical mass about a few months ago. Can you pick the date when it happened? I think I can. January 15, 2009. Sure, there were a few of us using it, talking about it, being ridiculed about it. But then all of a sudden, it all seemed to change. On January 15, Janis Krums, (Twitter Bio: Entrepreneur, Former Athlete, The Miracle on the Hudson Photo Guy, Latvian, Co-Founder of Elementz Nutrition, Social Media Enthusiast) was on a ferry heading across the Hudson river and a plane went down.

U.S. Airways flight 1549 hit a flock of birds on take off and after suffering complete engine failure was forced to make a miracle landing in the Hudson River. News reports would have picked it up sooner or later and sent their crews out. But Janis Krum happened to be on a ferry in the area, and a Twitterer, and a subscriber of a sibling service called Twitpic that let him take a photo from his IPhone and upload it to his twitter account.

At that moment, all the rules changed. It was almost as if Gutenberg had just reinvented the printing press and movable type. All of a sudden, the popular media realized that there may be something to this connected world. Maybe it was the swoosh sound of popular media getting bigger that got their attention. Or, maybe it was the creaking sound of their part of if getting a little bit smaller. In any case, the genie was out of the bottle and there was no putting it back.

Just like when Sir Tim Berners-Lee first proposed the idea of networked documents, connected by links, accessible across this academic network, become known as the World Wide Web, now just the “Web”. People had no idea the impact. How could such an obscure idea move beyond its initial audience? I doubt he could have foreseen that within 10 years, children in grade schools would see “the Web” as synonymous with the internet.

Well, we are there again. This little, obscure protocol, web interface, internet based idea, has caught the attention of the popular media. And, as before, they have no idea what to make of it. I sometimes laugh at how they talk about Twitter. I hear on the news, references to “This new phenomenon called Twitter”. Or, “this activity called a Tweet”. And, now that it is something exciting and maybe even cutting edge, the Hollywood names are catching on. One huge celebrity, who had a disturbed fan following her on Twitter, that sent a disparate message indicating suicidal thoughts, responded with a tweet of her own about it. That sparked a firestorm of interest that resulted in a community tracking this desperate individual down and possibly saving her life.

Twitter has become the new “Thing” For better or worse. It is there.

Now, businesses are trying to figure it out. Is Twitter an advertising medium? A communication platform? An alternative to Email, Web? Mailings? What is it? How can I use it to my advantage? Big companies seem to have no clue. But then again, Big corporations rarely have mixed well with community anything. Unless of course they own the community.

But large corporations can see this untapped medium out there and are wanting to take advantage of it. They will, and they will probably be very successful at it. But right now it is the magical time for the small business to stake their claim in Social Media. Small business have always been the domain of social media. The local restaurant, reaching out to its neighbors in the local rag. The corner drycleaner with a flyer up at the downtown drugstore. That is what social media used to be. And, the electronic version is not so different.

The basis of Social media, whether it is Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or the like, is the concept of Community. People of like interest enjoy interacting with others of similar interests.

You see? It isn’t that different. Community is the key. If businesses keep focused on their community, whether that means down the street, their friends on Facebook or their followers on Twitter, they can use that media successfully.

The only thing that works in your community is honesty. You can’t deceive or take advantage of one part of your community and hope that the rest won’t know about it. The new Social media takes this to the next level. A business can’t successfully try to game the system. Information travels at the speed of the net now. Since the invention of the telegraph, you have not been able to outrun your actions. Now, with the internet and Web 2.0, your business has to be accountable in real time. If you accept that, you will succeed. If you try to beat it, you will loose.

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