Connecting the (web) Dots

connecting_the_web_dotsThe multitude of social media is overwhelming. And trying to find their use in business to business (B2B) is even more confusing.

For example, what’s all the hoopla about Twitter? (14 million unique visitors in March ’09, up 1,202% over last year)

What happened to MySpace? (55 million unique visitors in March ’09, down 11% from a year ago)

Why is Facebook everywhere now? (91 million unique visitors in March ’09, up 195% over last year )

New social media come and go, rise and fall in popularity, sometimes even before you’ve figured out if they’re worth learning.

This post is my attempt to understand the purpose of social media for business. And like the ever expanding universe, the web is evolving and so my perspective is a snapshot of the present, to eventually be eclipsed by the future.

If you want to learn “how to” use individual social media I’d recommend HOW TO 2008: How To Do Almost Anything With Social Media.

The Best Communication Tool Ever

Before getting to the point, here’s a personal, historical perspective to help frame things. In 1999 I was leading a startup of a web-based facility service. It gave me insight into the craziness that existed then.

At that time every business had to have not only a web site, but an Internet strategy. A strategy that would revolutionize the way humans lived and worked.

Remember Venture Capitalists throwing millions at programmers for anything Internet, without business plans, without any proven basis in reality?

Remember serious discussions about whether supermarkets, bookstores, and all retail stores would disappear, to be replaced by online shopping?

It was the biggest green-field, blue-sky day dreaming that’s occurred in the last 100 years. Anything and everything was possible if it involved the Internet.

In 2009, now that some of the glare and glamor has come off the Internet, it can be seen for what it truly is, and has been from the start: a communication tool. The greatest mankind has developed, so far.

And this tool, like all tools, is at the service of human needs. So what are the human needs this Internet communication tool serves?

Seekers by Nature

Despite all the changes the Internet has brought about, we’re still human by nature.  And part of that nature is to seek (food, water, friendship, love, achievement, self-realization).

The Internet helps us seek. Whether we’re looking for information or relationships the Internet makes us better seekers.

The Next Big Thing for Seekers

The proliferation of social media is just another evolution of the Internet as a tool for seekers.

By looking at the Internet as a tool for seekers, it becomes much easier to understand where the plethora of social media fits with your work and business.

Social media as Critic

Some social media enable seeking the info first, and then using relationships from the media’s users to let you know if its valuable. Here social media acts like an enormous pool of  critics.

This is seen in ratings, rankings and authority (number of links pointing to it) used by social media.

Social media as Guide

Other social media have you use relationships to guide you towards the info you’re after. This works only if the relationships are reciprocal – the back scratching thing. And it means that you have to develop relationships first before they’re willing to help you get what you want.

This is seen in the number of followers, friends or contacts in these social media. It also suggest that the more popular you are, the more others will help you get what you’re seeking.

With all that preamble, here’s my take on connecting web dots, understanding the purpose and therefore eventual usage and strategies for the myriad of social media out there.

Social Bookmarking

This is social media as critic.

Examples:

We use these social media to seek information that’s been noted by others. Those others can be people we know or anonymous users of that media.

We’re using others’ opinions (as rankings, ratings, or authority) to help us:

  • Find information based on what others are looking at (the popular stuff)

-and/or-

  • Determine if the information found is credible or valuable (if so many others say its good, it must be, right?)

In both cases we’re seeking information and using others to help us find it and/or evaluate it.

Digital Networking

This is social media as guide.

Examples:

These digital versions of old fashioned networking are used for seeking relationships (creating new ones or keeping connected). It’s from these relationships that seekers hope to get what they want, eventually.

In a B2B setting, it’s who you know and are known by.

Whether you’re a follower, friend, or contact, digital networking extends your reach beyond your geographical and time constraints.

In digital networking we’re seeking the relationship first, then seeking how to make that relationship beneficial for both sides.

For example, if we’re seeking new business, digital networking can be used to find someone who can help us with an introduction to a prospect. We’re working from people we know to get to people we don’t know, but want to.

A little about Twitter

Twitter is the hot social media of the moment. It’s based on a 140 character answer to the question “what are you doing”?

These tweets (read by followers) are a call for relationship. A tweet requires followers to ask themselves “why do I care what this person is doing”?

The answer to that question defines the relationship with the person posting the tweet. Followers are seeking information, entertainment and/or relationship with others. In a B2B setting, Twitter enables that on an almost continuous basis.

Search

Though search isn’t really a form of social media, it’s worth including here as it is seeking in its truest form.

Examples:

Search is the most direct seeking. We kind of know what we’re looking for, we type it in a search box, hit enter, and are sent towards a number of possibilities of what we were seeking.

Now, if we’re not seeking, but want to be found this way  that’s another story, which is best achieved through a content rich web site/blog, that follows.

Content Rich Web Site/Blog/Squidoo

Although a content rich web site, blog, or Squidoo lens is a destination, it’s used in seeking too.

Content rich means there’s a lot of relevant content available on the site. And if that content is in a searchable format, seekers will find it via search and social media.

Seekers can be directed online through traditional marketing outreach, such as:

  • Direct mail programs
  • Printed brochures, business cards, fliers, etc.
  • Email blasts
  • Links in email signatures

These communications tell the seeker what they’re looking for is online, then point them there with either a digital link or printed URL.

All of these methods work only if they’re permission based. Meaning the seeker has given the marketer permission to send information.

Also, I’ve included Squidoo here, it’s a community website for users to create pages (lens) for subjects of interest.

How are you seeking? How are you being found?

~~~~~~
Chris Arlen
President, Service Performance

Technorati: new social media, twitter, content rich web sites

Image by Lawton Chiles
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