The Promise of the Internet, Yesterday and Today

originally posted on Concept Hub

Not long ago a friend of mine shared some responses from a pre-event survey about social media. Some of the responses stated;

  • [Social Media] is premature
  • Our audience is not linked in to this new technology
  • [Social Media] is an untested business model

Many people continue to look at Social Media as a new online trend. However last night as I was stumbling through the Internet, I came across a video from more than a decade ago that might suggest that social media is actually a component of a maturing World Wide Web.

“They communicate across cultures and continents.””Suddenly your part of a new mesh of people, programs, archives, ideas”

“If feels a bit like human fellowship, but it’s bigger and more precise.”

This was the promise of the Internet more than a decade ago. These are not new ideas or new trends. What is new are the tools that make these promises a reality.

Adoption of social media is accelerating at such a rapid pace that no one can really keep track of it. The graph below is taken from Pew Internet which shows the adoption of the Internet itself.

I realized a few years ago that being online meant being impacted if not impacting social media. People were reading user reviews and getting their questions answered on online forums. But in a survey these same people would say they were not in MySpace or reading blogs and therefore were not accurately counted as someone adopting social media. I believe the accelerating trend of social media adoption is much steeper than any survey has displayed. I also have observed that the tools and communities that people are joining have more to do with their personalities and personal objectives than their demographics.

The past week I have been delivering customized training sessions on the various Social Bookmarking tools. I can not stress enough that each tool has a different purpose and therefore a different reason to use them. One of my favorite tools has been Delicious. Delicious is a social bookmarking tool that people are using mostly to save their personal links, as opposed to voting a story up or down like in Digg or Reddit. Because the use of Delicious is mostly driven by personal motives, the consumer insights a marketer can get from the community can be much more authentic than what they would glean from other communities where people are choosing to voice their opinion to their community.

Below is a case study of how we used Delicious 2 years ago to gain insights into our client’s rapidly growing consumer segment.

Case Study: AutoTrader.com Discovers Women
In 2006 Concept Hub, Inc (at the time What a Concept!) was hired to research the behaviors of car buyers within various social media sites. Although there were many blog posts and forum topics around buying and selling new and used cars, Concept Hub, Inc gained the most beneficial insights from the social bookmarking site Delicious. It seemed that most links related to buying and selling cars were being saved in Delicious, not for the purpose of sharing content with a community, but more for organizational research purposes. Many community members were posting personal notes in their bookmarks. Concept Hub, Inc dug deeper into each users account to discover that the community was made up of mostly women. Concept Hub, Inc crossed referenced this trend with blog posts and forum topics that women were part of and was able to show AutoTrader.com that women were a significant buyer demographic with very specific needs. As a result AutoTrader.com began to develop relationships with influential bloggers in the auto industry such as AskPatty.com and developed campaigns and messaging that was specifically geared to the needs of women car buyers.

As the video above suggests, the promise of the Internet was to enable people to join a mesh of conversations with other people, to share and discover ideas, and to access archives and programs. However too often the Internet has been hijacked for the purpose of being turned into an advertising and marketing channel. I am still amazed at how many brands are setting up Twitter accounts thinking people want to get a stream of marketing messages from  them.

Marketers can benefit most by spending a majority of their time listening and getting to know who is online and how they can best add value to the online communities as well as how participation can help a company meet their business objectives. This is the foundation of good business, with or without the web.

A friend of mine claims that social media has caused many people to stop thinking. He sees people looking at social media as the magic silver bullet that will solve all kinds of business challenges or they see social media as a new passing fad. Neither is true. Social Media can help business owners meet their business objectives only if the business has set good core objectives  and it has existed for as long as the Internet. Although over the years the tools have evolved, the unfortunate reality is that many poor and inefficient business practices have yet to fade away.