If you ask me what has had the biggest impact in my life for the last few years, I will say without exception that it is social media. And I am only a minor league bench quality player in social media , compared to the stalwarts. But even then – it has changed how I live and work. On the personal front – I won’t go to a restaurant or buy a book at an airport without checking out reviews, or asking on twitter for a quick opinion . Without facebook, I would never have kept up with what is happening in the world of competitive dog shows, which is my hobby. On the work front – twitter is a life saver. I have lost count of how many times others have helped me find information quickly, or offered help when I tweet out a question. It is also rather funny that I usually never get a timely response from most of these sources if I tried on email or phone. I blog when I get an idea that I think more than one person would like to hear – and nothing has taught me more in these past years than clarifying thoughts in my own head when I settle down in a plane ride, and open my computer to post something on my blog.
But for all that it gives, social media also has a terrific/terrible way of taking away. When President Obama was candidate Obama in the last elections, I had seen many of my friends on Facebook supporting the campaign there, and helping with fund raising. I was pretty impressed that his campaign was smart enough to use social media to raise so much money and awareness. And this year – I see many other friends effectively use Facebook to attack Obama’s policies, and help his rivals to raise money.
I have lived in US for about a dozen years now – and have watched with amusement how polarized people are when it comes to political ideology. Some of the smartest people I know – people who provide very balanced and well thought out opinions on work related matters, and who are polite at kid’s soccer games – they tend to make extremely biased statements with no restraint when it comes to politics. This is true for people in both left and right wings of the political spectrum. And in these 12 years, I have only seen the partisan nature increase – not decrease, both by career politicians, and by common man . Watching Facebook and twitter, I have a feeling this partisan nature has accelerated since the last election. Social media gives information so quickly, and without any editorial intervention – that it permeates faster than any other information delivery mechanism of our times.
While I was growing up in India, most people there had no idea of US election politics. We knew who the American President was, and that there were 2 parties, and that was pretty much it. Now my cousins, nieces and nephews in India know as much about US politics as people who live here. It was quite amusing for me to hear how they view American politics strictly based on what they see on social media.
This is not just an isolated thing that affects politicians alone. I see this all the time with enterprise software world too – affecting vendors, influencers, customers etc. Some software vendors have totally embraced social media. I have seen many email signatures that read “social media leader for blah blah” as the designation of the sender. People actually get paid to manage social media, and I don’t even find it funny any more. Admittedly, I was shocked and found it funny when I first saw it – but not any more. I have accepted it for a fact that vendors want to control social media some how.
Question is – is social media giving them sufficient bang for the buck? Every one I have asked so far from vendor side assures me it is hugely beneficial to them. It is not a secret that vendors like to “buy” influence some how. Some do it with finesse – and give influencers enough information, and then get out-of-the-way on how it gets interpreted and analyzed. Some are more blunt, and will use social media as a pure marketing platform and blast out tweets, and blogs that praise themselves and say nasty things about competitors. Some times different parts of the same company take diverse approaches when it comes to use of social media, which probably just results in erosion of brand credibility .
But how many buyers make a decision based on social media? very few that I have seen. There are a few exceptions, but largely the purchasing process in enterprises have not followed the shift that has happened in consumer side. But there is a silver lining too – although ultimate buyers don’t value social media all that much, there are influencers to that buying decision who make up their minds based on what they have seen in social media. I have been surprised personally when I give out my business card, and someone I have not met before would say ” Ah I recognize you from twitter and your blog”. It has occasionally also helped me win business. So may be it is just a matter of time before social media becomes a big criteria for enterprise purchases . But at least for now and for near future, more weight is still given to quality of the product, price, references etc.
I am yet to see a CXO who told me ” I am impressed that you guys refuted your competitors’ mean comments in your sponsored blog. I am now convinced I should buy from you, let me cut a check for perpetual licenses. Looking forward to more content like this”. But what I have seen is CIOs and others calling me and asking ” hey, my team just pointed this flurry of activity to me from this company. Why do you think these guys are suddenly saying all this stuff about the other guys? What are they really afraid of ? Should I be worried?”. In my mind – it is a perfect example of social media back firing , despite good intentions.
Social media is a fantastic opportunity to listen to your ecosystem, as long as you also follow-up with some action. Then you can use social media to point out the actions that you took. Of course, you can also use it mostly as a platform to shout from – but then you carry the risk of your ecosystem tuning you out quickly. Even before social media existed, it was not possible to get a second chance create a great first impression. With social media, it is next to impossible. People form opinions really quickly based on what you do in social media. If you mess up – it will be hard to earn back the trust. It is a hard balance to strike, but now that the pundits have social media maturity models and best practices, I suppose this is all well covered.