Opinion: Page (1) of 1 - 07/31/07 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at MyDmn.com).print page facebook

Viva la Social Media Revolución!

By Mark Sigal

A lot of has been written about Facebooks evolution into a Web platform that will support content and features from third-party developers.  Articles by Erick Schonfeld (Business 2.0), Marc Andreessen and James Currier, respectively, paint a nice composite picture of the WHAT and WHY behind Facebooks F8 Platform move, along with its impact on the Internet industry.

Schonfeld suggests that, while not a total ?walled garden like AOL, Facebooks F8 certainly forces developers to adapt to a closed programming environment, leaving him wondering if this is somehow at odds with the openness of the Internet.  After all, if MySpace and YouTube follow suit with their own platforms, developers may have to learn and juggle multiple, proprietary languages.

I dont look at it that way.  I think that we are at the early stages of another Internet paradigm shift -- from static text and links to interactive conversations, rich media and online narratives -- all of which must be orchestrated.  While that may require the creation of new types of social media aware platforms, I dont think this prospect should prompt Web entrepreneurs, thought leaders, or even developers to run for cover.


True, there are no agreed upon, widely adopted standards at present for establishing deep and meaningful personal profiles.  No uniform approaches for enabling like-minded users to connect with one another, or for orchestrating meaningful conversations that can flow seamlessly between text messages, rich media content, links and widgets, run locally, remotely, on a PC, a mobile device, etc.

Similarly, it may be trendy to dismiss Web 2.0  as simply a bubble destined to pop.  But the truth is that the Web 2.0 development model has given rise to a wellspring of interesting new information, communication and media services.  As platforms emerge to glue these services together, some very interesting contexts will be created that will justify this next phase in the social media revolution.

For example, in the new media realm, CBS is attempting to create an audience-centered network model where the audience defines the boundaries of the network, not some arbitrary URL.  Such an approach disrupts what it means to be a broadcaster, while at the same time re-enforces the value of really good, conversational content. 

In the business-to-business realm, social media platforms are beginning to profoundly shape the ways companies message, market to, fulfill, empower and support their customers.

Consider the segment known as conversational marketing.  Conversations, augment, if not replace, the original advertising model of blasting a message as a way of enforcing brand.  In the conversational marketing model, a major part of branding is authenticity, and authenticity requires true engagement?so a recurring and effective approach is a word-of-mouth campaign

Many companies have done such campaigns, (some good examples include Fosters, Denon, and Boston Acoustics), in the process enabling the lessons learned to be codified down to the proverbial ?10 rules instrumental to a successful campaign. To be clear, this is still nascent as a marketing vehicle, but there are some very positive dynamics to build upon.

What is equally significant is how real communities are forming online around companies and their constituency of customers and partners. What draws them in?  Some come to network.  Others come to plug in to a trusted information source.  Still others come to build their soapbox.  But fundamentally, the model bridges the gap between email lists and face-to-face events.

Ragan Communications is a company that builds information products, runs seminars and training programs, and helps professional communicators and managers embrace best practices within their respective segments.  (If you have ever read ?Bits and Pieces, you know who they are.)  They have about 80,000 customers, and have penetrated over 90% of the Fortune 2000.

Using a social media platform that supports video, chat, customized user profiles, blogs and discussion forums, they have built a thriving community called MyRagan that is over 7,000 members strong.  Sounds ridiculous to mention a 7,000 person community in the same breath as Facebooks 30M and MySpaces 100M, but you know what?  There are a lot of segments like this one where narrower is better, since the community is about intimacy, trust, clear and consistent dialog paths. 

A narrowed focus means specialized tools are needed?ones that empower motivated community users to fashion informational sign posts serving as ready beacons for Google searches. 

A final differentiator with niche communities is that the community builder is the customer, NOT the consumer.  This changes some of the assumptions about who owns the customer, who is the defining brand, whose domain the consumers run within, and where the breadcrumbs lead to when the consumer clicks.

So, for example, while the breadth and depth of services like Facebook, YouTube, MySpace are phenomenal, ultimately they want to own the customer, shape the branded experience and control the user flows. 

As often as not, I believe that brands will want to maintain a direct relationship with their customers, they will want to retain control of their customer lists, have services that more seamlessly integrate with their domain, their website and their marketing initiatives. 

The good news is that this is not an either/or proposition.  My expectation is that through good platforms, creating rich, brand-friendly online experiences will become as pluggable and fast as signing up for an RSS feed. 

This is not future-speak.  There are recurring business processes, workflows, user experiences that if not fully formed, are actively forming.  For example, Disney recently debuted a service targeted at virtualizing PR junkets tied to new DVD releases.  The service, which used off-the-shelf technology, went from whiteboard to piloted service in under a month?and at a fraction of the cost of proprietary alternatives.  The service has a special interface for members of the media, another for the distributor of the DVD, and still another from the creative talent behind the DVD. 

Needless to say, such a rapid deployment model paves the way for a whole bucket of specialized information providers to form. 

New media content providers like Wallstrip provide a template for how to create new media brands, leveraging all of the new content channels and distribution points that are forming online.

We are looking at something that is one part virtual water cooler and one part enterprise 2.0.  It is a change that is fundamentally re-shaping not only media and application models, but also the way we communicate.

Years ago, I read a book called Blur, which was by the same authors who wrote Future Perfect, the first book that anticipated mass customization and what it means from a systems perspective. 

Blur reduced the concept of launching new innovations to three stages: Seed, Amplify and Select .  Seeds are cheap and with the right system, highly customizable, so the credo of Blur was to plant a lot of seeds. 

Why? Because the game here is to embrace the fact that most seeds wont sprout.  The selection and amplification phases are where you basically re-tool the system to optimize it for the seeds that do sprout. As a result, the model facilitates rapid evolution and is Darwinian to the core.

As Marc Andreessen has noted, in any fight between a platform and a single application?no matter how useful or popular?the platform will always win.  Social media platforms, in all their forms, represent one big seed valuable enough to produce a whole crop of new, highly valued, and ultimately easily-connected applications and technologies.  If youre a developer, go ahead and get involved?and let the feasting begin.


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Mark Sigal is CEO of vSocial.com and a social media/online video technology expert
Related Keywords:web 2.0, Internet paradigm shift ,


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