Mar 16 2008
The band would "go down like a lead zeppelin," Keith Moon and John Entwistle’s alleged remarks about the New Yardbirds, the band that was quickly renamed Led Zeppelin. VH1 ranks Led Zeppelin as the No. 1 band of all time, and Rolling Stone magazine describes them as "the biggest band of the 70s."
Social networks impact on business will be like flying a led zeppelin… the Page /Plant variety. At first, businesses avoided social networks. Ironic — as like Led Zeppelin’s impact on music — they will have a lasting and permanent affect on the very way commercial activity is conducted.
Charlene Li recently wrote that social networks will be like air. While certainly a strong and valid view of the future experience, as a communicator, the proposed "pay per ad based on influencer’s weight" model seemed far fetched. There was not much more on business impact or communications.
As discussed in Part I Beyond the Echo Chamber, social networks are already having a huge impact on businesses, particularly enterprises. So it seemed appropriate to further the discussion with the flying led zeppelin metaphor.
The first will be widespread co-creation experiences in all aspects of businesses, from purchasing to employee teams. Second, will the expansion of globalization as a trend and increased homogenization of best practices across businesses. And third, will be the widespread opening of corporate communications throughout the enterprise. Lastly, in reference to Cluetrain, there will be a market for company-introduced
messages, er, um, ideas.
Co-creation (Rock and Roll) There’s simply not enough space to explain the theory of the long tail/meatball sundae to you here (get the book!!!). Some of the products and services purchased in the Long Tail are executed through co-creation with customers (as introduced to me through C.K. Prahalad). For example, the process of building a more customized bear, a Nokia ring-tone or a Mini-Cooper from a platform. Companies produce less and charge more for these customized products and services, and customers enjoy them more due to their role in creating the product.
Similarly, the next generation of workers wants to be part of development and fulfillment. They expect to co-create the company’s products and services, not just sit on the assembly line.
In essence, co-creation opens up the very function of business and harnesses the human power of socialized networks, both public and private. It assumes that the collective power networks offer is greater than that of any given institution (see Johnnie Moore and James Cherkoff‘s video below found through Piers Fawks). In order to successfully collaborate, companies have to relinquish control of their product design, of their development processes, of their customer service approaches, and allow customers and employees input for the betterment of the whole.
Social network communication tools serve as an ideal mechanism to foster collaborative co-creation. They allow for teams of people in and out of the company that are geographically, ethnically and religiously agnostic. Our jobs as communicators is to foster these environments, and serve the communities by providing information on demand, and to provide real value in our outbound initiatives. See Jeremiah’s description of a community manager.
Expansion of Globalization and Increased Homogenization of Best Practices (Misty Mountain Hop)
Like it or not, the United States is experiencing a great economic change, and the forces are not just recession based. At the heart of the change is an inability to effectively compete in the new networked information economy, one that has destroyed boundaries and opened the entire world’s workforce.
Our education system, our financially ruined economy, and our limited workforce are forcing companies to actively spread their wings and deploy to other countries. This expansion extends beyond sales and into workforce development. Examples:
With development expanding across the globe, systems and networks need to foster co-creation. Communication processes need to extract cultural, ethnic and religious barriers to collaboration. The end-result of successful efforts will be dynamic information sharing environments like we have never seen (Image: Skikoku mountain village by autan). Some dub this new approach Enterprise 2.0.
With so many people from different cultures participating, it’s inevitable that unique best practices will become socialized and adopted. So Germany’s engineering savoire-faire and Chinese low-cost manufacturing practices may be shared. Of course, with more people some of these practices may become watered down (or improved). But overall, the homogenization of unique best practices will be another end-result of globalization.
Opening of Corporate Communications (Communication Breakdown)
With widespread use of social networks inside the business and externally throughout the world, information will be much more accessible through many more sources. The incredible information flow resulting from co-creation process and collaborative sharing will produce new communication challenges for companies. Questions and answers will be expected, and without hesitation.
Like Shel, I also disagree with Forrester’s Josh Bernoff that companies can act as an entity in socialized worlds. Because of the very nature of social media, it will be much harder for companies to diffuse their messages as an entity.
The monolithic command tower approach from businesses are frequently rejected in social networks. Spin and message control — a practice used in mass communications environments — is pretty unattainable in fractured two-way conversational communities. Patience is short with companies here.
Instead, personality must be infused into social environments. Identifiable people that work inside companies must represent the entity. And they need to be ready with factual timely information that actually matters to the stakeholders — both internal for employees and external for buyers, partners and investors. A Twitter example is @richardatDELL versus @applecomputercorp.
In that sense, the communicator truly becomes an ombudsman between stakeholder and management. Yes, there will be marketing and initiatives, but it will be much more service oriented. Successful communications will deliver clear value. And companies that want to maintain good relations with their stakeholders will treat them as if the company was in a permanent crisis: Always prompt, always factual, always open.
This change breaks many traditional PR, communication and marketing department’s methodologies. Almost every conversation I have today with PR and marketing types deals with this paradigm shift. Social media has really turned the business upside down.
The Idea Market (Achilles Last Stand)
So, yes, I agree with Doc Searls when he said there’s no market for messages. At least canned ones meant to manipulate customers into buying bad product. But there’s still a market for companies to participate in the larger discussion. Instead of just consumers, why couldn’t a company introduce its ideas in social environments?
When companies play in larger communities and social networks, they can vet ideas for co-creation. These don’t need to be messages, but they can be concepts or product ideas. Isn’t that what GM is doing with its increasingly transparent design process? In the co-creation model stakeholders accept, reject and/or modify these concepts and ideas. If there’s clear value, then it’s likely the idea may take off (image by petervanallen).
So in that sense, there’s room for the company to play a significant role. That role can be introducing ideas to the marketplace, creating environments for co-creation, and ultimately making the decisions about which ideas get funded. That’s business, folks.
For example, a current co-creation environment is Dell’s Idea Storm. Not every idea created and vetted in Idea Storm goes to market. Far from it. Dell must make decisions about which ideas will lead to profitable ventures.
The socially enabled business environment is an emerging one. But companies are moving there rapidly. Ten years from now, things will be much different as what was the toy of the amateur will be the engine for big industry. This seems good to me, as co-creation and collaboration can only make for stronger, more responsive businesses that better serve the marketplace’s needs.
Communicators will have to change their practices to meet the medium. As we have already seen, this change may be very difficult for some. But the good news is there will be companies that reject social networks and the global nature of today’s information economy. Such companies offer the perfect home for those reticent to change.