Is Social Media Just a Faster Horse?

Don’t listen to your customers.

Henry Ford once famously quipped, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”  There is a very significant lesson here buried beneath the humor.  In the social world, if you make all your decisions based on what people tell you, you are going to find yourself standing in the bread line with that new whiz-bang gadget that “everyone” said they wanted.  It’s not just about what your customers say–it’s about what they mean.

We have to learn how to use our social intuition.  And the best way to do that is to kick off our loafers and get in the trenches with them.  Participate.  Tickle Me Elmo, Guitar Hero, and the iPhone weren’t all democratically voted on in a social venue, but any of us would be excited for a fraction of their success.  Their creators had to interpret what they thought the market wanted, make the necessary adaptations, and innovate.  Remember, 99% of your customers won’t approach a problem with a paradigm-shifting, creative mindset.  So their feedback, while valuable, may not get you to where you want to go.

The power of social media is that it gives everyone a voice.  And everyone is using it.  Which means there is a lot of noise.  You have to sift through this noise to get to the good stuff.  The participatory part of the new social ecosystem is what trains our intuitive ear to hear the meaning, the significance, and the importance amidst the buzz.

Don’t just listen to your customers.  Participate.

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The Tebow Effect

Tim Tebow, the Heisman-trophy winning quarterback at Florida, is liked by, well, almost everyone.  In fact, it’s difficult to find a person that dislikes him.  Even people who would normally rather get dragged across hot asphalt than cheer for the Florida Gators seem to have a soft spot for Tim.  He has a magical effect on people–even those who don’t cheer for him still don’t cheer against him.

Does your product have the Tebow Effect?

No matter how good your product or service is, not everyone will like it.  But they don’t have to dislike it either.  The power of social media, especially sites like Twitter and Facebook, is that for the first time, we can take the constantly-changing temperature of the consumers.  And not only in a traditional marketing, take-a-poll type of way.  We can engage them, ask questions, listen, and encourage conversations to happen without our direct involvement.  And when someone has issues or problems, we can confirm it is work in progress, invite improvements, and thank them for their patience.  It’s not just about transparency; it’s about authenticity as well.

Most importantly, it’s about the greater good.  The fans, the coaches, the players, and the community all believe that Tim is in it for them.  They believe that Tim would put their best interests above everything else, even winning.  And he does.  And because he does, they all win.

Social Pollution

There is a trend in the digital world that is more disturbing than an ex-Mouseketeer bringing sexy back.  It’s social pollution.

You know what it is.  You may even be guilty of it.  It’s when your Twitter updates post on Facebook, or your Foursquare updates post on Twitter, or anytime you try to cross-pollinate between applications.  You do it because  it’s easy.  It’s quick.  It’s a one-stop way to make multiple groups of friends or colleagues aware of your iced green-tea latte run.

But there is a problem.  You are polluting your social circles. You are shanking it further right than a Florida State kicker. The very power of these new social mediums is that they allow individuals to self-aggregate into niche communities.  But by blasting all of them with the same message–no matter how convenient it is for you–you are treating them the same.  You are resurrecting the old traditional marketing mindset of “one message, as many people as possible.” And they won’t put up with it for long.  If you don’t treat your new clients differently from the guys at the gym or the group of investment bankers you have breakfast with once a month, somebody else will.  Somebody else will value them.

Does it take time to carefully divide your friends list, splice your feeds, and tweak each post?  Yes.  It also takes time to plan a nice dinner, iron that formal suit, pick up a dozen roses, and surprise your honey.  But you should do it for the same reason.  It makes people feel special.

Immersion Technologies

I studied Japanese in college and after four years of intense work and studying, I can’t speak a lick of it.  It’s sad, I know.  However, a few of my classmates who spent six months outside of Tokyo still speak it rather well.  The difference?  They were immersed in the language. They lived and breathed it, and it became second-nature to them.

Certain people think that social media is a fad.  Give it a few years, they say, and it will disappear like parachute pants and pet rocks.  I disagree. People are being immersed in it.  For the first time, people are actually part of the equation and their interactions are invaluable; they breathe life into the pixels.  Not only are they on Facebook and Twitter, but they are also interacting on GroupOn, ZipCar, Shazam and others.  And this doesn’t even begin to account for how the larger corporations will use these technologies in their organizations.

Social technologies won’t disappear.  Hundreds of millions of people are living and breathing them on a daily basis.  It is becoming second-nature.  So you better learn how to speak the language.

Failing into the Hall of Fame

If you fail seven out of ten times, you know where you go?  Cooperstown, New York.

That’s right.  If a professional baseball player strikes out seven out of ten times throughout his career, he’s more than likely going to end up at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  Ted Williams, the great left-handed slugger from the Boston Red Socks who had a career batting average of .344 and is currently seventh on the all-time batting average list, used to joke that if you could fail less than seven times out of ten, you’d be one of the greatest in the game.

Most organizations want to be one of the greats, but they don’t want to fail.  But failing is a big part of succeeding in a rapidly changing environment.