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.

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For more on the subject, visit Now Is Gone.

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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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