Social Media is About Sociology Not Technology

The future of engagement introduces sociology into the marketing strategy. Technology is just that, technology. The tools will change. The networks will evolve. Mediums for distributing content will grow. Along with it, behavior will too continue to adapt.

In the era of the attention crash and social network fatigue, it is absolutely critical that we step back to realize that we are the communication bridge between companies and people. However, we also must realize that in the era of social media, people also have amplified voices and are now a powerful channel of peer-to-peer influence – for better or for worse.

The future of marketing integrates traditional and social tools, connected by successful, ongoing relationships with media, influencers, and people. That’s right…it’s about relationships and it’s about people. Relationships serve as the foundation for everything, whether its traditional or new media, and the constant reminder that we’re reaching people, and not audiences, will keep us on a path to relevance.

The tools we use will evolve and multiply over time; some will win, some will thrive and others will fly under the radar (but they’re still important). However, it is imperative that we not let the tools overwhelm us, or on the other side of the coin, not underestimate them – especially so soon out of the gate.

Almost daily I hear, “There are so many tools out there that I don’t even know where to jump in” and “I don’t get why any of this matters, maybe I’m just too old.”

This is a classic representation of the gap in how different generations communicate. First, understand that there will be no shortage of tools lunging into the market. To bystanders, it will only become daunting. Younger generations are already communicating with each other though social networks and social tools, and once properly guided, have an advantage for joining more strategic conversations online. However, hope is not lost for the rest of us. We just have extra work to do in order to catch up.

Why? Because how we do things today is long overdue for a complete overhaul and social media is only forcing the evolution that should have happened long before. Whether you jump on board or not, evolution will happen without you. And, not everyone will survive the transition…which is a good thing for our industry.

But let me remind you, social networks are defined by the people within them. In turn, each network flourishes as its own island, and over time, a somewhat impenetrable culture emerges – which helps to insure a more meaningful and commercial-free experience among its residents. Now, of course networks need to sustain themselves through revenue, and many sell advertising. But advertising is different than direct marketing.

Transparent and genuine participation is now a very effective form of marketing, without the snake oil.

The bottom line is that we have to understand the sociology of social networks before we can either write them off as a useless tool or more importantly, participate in them.

OK, so you decide to jump in. Well, STOP. Underestimating social networks is also very dangerous. I’ve already witnessed far too many companies attempting to spark conversations by “marketing” to “audiences” through “messages” within social networks, insulting everyone they try to reach along the way. It can have disastrous consequences to you and the brand your represent.

The conversations that drive and define Social Media require a genuine and participatory approach. Just because you have the latest tools to reach people, or have played around with them, doesn’t mean you can throw the same old marketing at them. And, it doesn’t qualify you to attempt to do so without first thinking about why and how, as it relates to the people you’re trying to reach..

Today, conversations are markets and markets are conversations. And the forums for these conversation cultivate a tight, unswerving and mostly unforgiving community and culture. Participation requires observation in order to understand the the sociological landscape and the dynamics that define each community. They are after all, populated by people, not audiences.

The difference is that by listening, reading, and participating, corporate marketing will be smarter and more approachable than ever before. This is how we humanize brands, create loyalty, and earn customer’s business.

Yes, there are many networks. Yes, they’re thinning our attention. And, yes, this is the new form of media and influence, and it is transforming corporate communications, traditional media, and how people communicate with each other.

The future of communications is already upon us. Get used to it.

Connect on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce or Facebook.

For more on the subject, visit Now Is Gone.

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  • Laura Athavale Fitton

    they weren’t kidding on twitter when they said you really nailed it on social networks. this is important “new” thinking on the topic.

  • Connie

    Some interesting thoughts.

    I like to tell people I have been in “social networking for over 20 years”. They think I am crazy. Blogs haven’t been around that long, after all! But then, I was using forums, chat boards, BBS’s, Bitnet (connected from NetNorth here in Canada), and campus computer conferencing systems since at least 1986. Long before the World Wide Web existed. As you say, the tools may change but the people remain the same. But, some tools are more popular and it depends on who is using what tool as to how we approach them.

    I’m thinking this e-mail thing might catch on eventually, too.

    Cheers!

  • Brian Solis

    Hi Laura, thank you for the note! I appreciate it.

    Connie, I say the same thing! I used to jump into BBS’ all the time via 2400 baud modems. I think the difference between now and then is only volume…and we’re only going to see more tools and networks hit the market as each day passes.

  • Chris Heuer

    you had me at ‘sociology’…

  • Anonymous

    Brian, you always make such pronouncements. Twitter. Really? Sociology. Really? Pownce. Really?

    Any PR pro worth his or her salt knows it’s never been about the technology. It’s only you geeks that get excited about Web 2.0.

    Meantime, us in the real PR world will be concentrating on where the majority of our target audiences are. And while we’ll use the online tools, we’ll have an air of objectivity to their capabilities.

    I just read fluff. Tell me, or us rather, of the initiatives you’ve been involved in. Are there any case studies you would like to share? Results? What did you learn from them? What worked? What didn’t? This is the era of full transparency, of course.

    Right?

    I hear words of wisdom but I don’t see anything to back up your notions and theories.

    It’s disappointing, it really is.

  • francine

    I’m with Connie. Long time user of social networks, starting with Widownet in 1997 when my husband died. Just a lot of people I had something in common with: they had lost a spouse, too. That’s when I figured out what the relatively novel WWW was really for.
    And of course it’s about sociology, not technology. You find the people who appeal to you. Even if you have 5000 Facebook friends, some of them will be closer to you than others. Before I had Twitter friends I had a mailing list of 2000 friends to whom I sent an email a week.

    Last comment: corporations can’t blog. Individuals blog. Individuals communicate messages. There won’t be anymore “corporate” marketing. There will be individual messaging done by people who work in corporations. And you might like one Microsoft blogger better than other, and follow him (ahem).

  • Brian Solis

    HI “anonymous” thanks for coming by and speaking up for those PR people that enjoy lobbing messages from behind the wall. I just found it odd that you used the words “era of full transparency,” but chose to remain anonymous.

    In all seriousness though, it’s not disappointing when you look at things differently. This post was written because there’s almost too much excitement, and attention, around Web 2.0 and the social tools that are spinning out of the movement.

    For you PR pros that are worth your salt, perhaps this post isn’t for you. I can tell you however, that this post was inspired by the ridiculous amount of PR opportunists that market themselves as social media experts, advertising the use of the latest tools and networks to help companies reach their target “audiences.”

    That’s where the real problem is and that’s why I wrote this post. It’s not about the tech! It’s not about the trends!

    In reference to your “fluff” comment, perhaps you should re-read the post with this frame of mind.

    It really does ask people to take a step back from the hype to, like you say, identify where their customers are (I would disagree with your use of audiences), how to reach them, and why they should care about your product/service/company.

    If anything, I’m telling people to think before they jump on this so-called gravy train, explaining why they need to do so.

    Experimenting in social media with social tools is my second job right now, so I’m part of this each and every week. My first job is running traditional PR programs for clients that need the mix.

    I write quite a bit about results from the field and also speak about the successes and failures at conferences as often as possible. I try to balance the posts, but if it helps, I can definitely highlight more of those experiences here.

    I did spend the summer contributing content, examples, and case studies to two books coming out later in the year and also a series of presentations and white papers being distributed through PR channels.

    Every post is written from experience. Point taken on publishing more stories from the field…

  • Brian Solis

    Hi Francine, I absolutely agree across the board And re: your last comment, I wrote about that very topic in an article that I wrote for a PR magazine entitled, “Taking the BS out of Business Blogging.” That BS is comprised of so many things that are simply unbelievable. For one, we’re asked on an almost daily basis if we can ghost write posts for company executives….but that is another topic entirely.

  • Geoff_Livingston

    You are the man. This sociology concept came from the future of marketing post, and I love the continued expansion of it. Mazl tov.

    Anonymous = weak (maybe I should delete that fake caveman tweet I got going, oops). Seriously, I have little respect for someone who claims to be a pro but can’t own the criticism with their own name.

    LOL

  • Joe Caruso

    Hi Brian,

    I thought this post was excellent. Pandora’s Box has been opened. You were spot on when you acknowledged consumers have amplified voices & peer-to-peer influence. I think it’s better for everyone.

    While you mention tools and how they will evolve over time, you clearly state it’s about people and relationships. Amen.

    As for Mr. Anonymous, he shows his own fears and arrogance by his lame post. What credibility does anyone have when they have no name?

  • Chris

    Hi Brian, just wanted to say I loved your article. I’m currently a PR student and a geek (read programmer), and I know I get excited about Web 2.0, but you really hit driving point. Regardless of the tool, it’s still about making those connections.

    Yours is a blog I plan on continuing to read (found it off SpinThicket)!

  • ssmirnov

    Will resist urge to pile on to Anonymous. Rather, will say that even us old-timey PR types should acknowledge that of course it’s about the technology. Yes, technological advances are transforming the influence landscape — by the SECOND. But technological evolution — not just in social media — has been pushing forward the craft of public relations and forcing all of us to adapt from the beginning of the industry. There are some of us who have been around long enough to remember the moment we discovered — gasp — we could deploy a brand spokesperson into 20 or 30 or 50 local markets through the wonder and efficiency of a satellite media tour — all in a single morning. Or webcasting –lordy, remember when THAT was the scary big new idea in publicity tactics? If we are indeed “worth our salt,” to borrow the phrase (eh hem), we’ll stay current and flexible and adapt to keep our influencer outreach as nimble, effective and resonant as possible. Perhaps the more alarming/galvanizing challenge (depends on your POV)is how effectively we’re navigating our clients through the shifting landscape of influence, and using our relationship-building ability as PR pros to earn the same credibility and access with “citizen” influencers we’ve got with traditional media influencers.

  • Frances Martir

    My name is Frances and I am a senior at SMU in a Corporate Communications class and the topic at hand is that of Technology and Communications and how it has shaped this field. Come and visit our class blog (smuccpaclass.blogspot.com) or even mine and see what we have to say about it. I think what you said that The future of communications is already upon us. Get used to it.” is exactly how I feel about it. But how do you think it has shaped the Communication field in general?

  • CrookedMoney

    The very foundation of http: and www IS what we in the west define as “social” protocol. Talking, sending, swapping, packets. It’s not just about the site offering “social” platforms. It’s also about the FRAMEWORK of the internet is interconnectedness which fundamentally opposes individualist ideals upon its structure. I love seeing the media keep trying to crawl up the ass of everything. Not gonna work.

    What IS sad is that we do fail to see the potential power the internet can offer the commonfolk OUTSIDE the common mediums. It all comes down to how much one is willing to learn about the tools which one is given.

    Good post.

  • clare e munn

    Thank you for this — agree to many of your points wholeheartedly.
    Our company has 3 industrial psych and a sociologist, plus board
    advisers with a phd’s in various forms of ‘ologies’ around human
    behavior. This is an art and science with a tonne of empathy and
    strategy wrapped around it. Be good to talk to you sometime in more detail.

  • http://www.enginecarts.com/ blogbizz

    very nice post i'll be back as frequent as possible

  • http://www.enginecarts.com/ blogbizz

    very nice post i'll be back as frequent as possible

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  • http://www.paragraf.su/ Визитки срочно

    Hi Francine, I absolutely agree across the board And re: your last comment, I wrote about that very topic in an article that I wrote for a PR magazine entitled, “Taking the BS out of Business Blogging.” That BS is comprised of so many things that are simply unbelievable. For one, we're asked on an almost daily basis if we can ghost write posts for company executives….but that is another topic entirely.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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