This post was originally written for and published on Huffington Post.
As someone who spends my professional career helping clients benefit from advances in social media, suggesting that it’s time to stop focusing on new technologies might seem like I have lost touch with reality. New technology surrounds us, bombarding us constantly with the latest gadget and must-have tool. It seems that advancements in smartphones, notebooks and tablets are made every day. When Apple introduces a product, thousands line up outside stores at midnight to be the first to get their hands on the latest toy.
So how can I say that we should stop focusing on new technologies? What I mean is that we should stop focusing on the tools, and focus instead on what the internet and social media universe were meant to accomplish – building relationships and harnessing communities. I strongly believe that you can have the best technology, but if you have no relationship and no community, you will never be successful.
In 2009 a Harris Interactive poll found that the majority of Americans already thought society was too dependent on electronic gadgets. In his 2012 book, iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, Dr. Larry Rosen goes even further by defining an “iDisorder” as “changes to your brain´s ability to process information and your ability to relate to the world due to your daily use of media and technology resulting in signs and symptoms of psychological disorders – such as stress, sleeplessness, and a compulsive need to check in with all of your technology.”
The amount of time we spend online is astounding. Nielsen published figures on time spent with social media in August 2011. They found there were about 215 million active internet users, spending over 30 hours per month online. Of this, they spent almost eight hours on Facebook, and about two hours each on Yahoo!, YouTube, and Google, among others. Even smarter smartphones aren’t altering our viewing habits either. ComScore recently released a report which revealed that iOS, Android and RIM smartphone subscribers over the age of 18 spent over seven hours on Facebook, and over two hours on Twitter and Foursquare. But a recent Huff Post item cites a study which says that one reason people are spending so many hours on Facebook is boredom. Instead of using this social media tool to build relationships visitors are using it to post or view comments that basically say, “I’m bored.”
Focus Instead on Building Community
One way people are using their social media time now is to build ad hoc communities. Social media is revealing a new world of the “relational self.” We’re moving away from seeing ourselves as unique individuals and are beginning to define ourselves by relating to others. Instead of taking actions based on an individual point of view, we are constantly connected to others via our technologies.
As a result of this new definition of self, a new social media personality has evolved – the influencer – that person or entity to whom an original thought, idea, or activity can be traced. Companies, politicians and marketers invest a great amount of time and money to identify these social media influencers so they can try to shape the thoughts of their followers. I have previously listed many reasons why this is a dangerous and tricky proposition.
Instead I encourage marketers to focus on building relationships and community. Crowdtap just put out a white paper entitled, “The Power of Peer Influence.” This guide to influencer marketing reinforces the notion that people are most influenced by those they know. To influence prospects, customers or investors, you need to help them get to know you. This is most easily accomplished by making it easy for customers to recommend you…old-fashioned word-of-mouth updated to today’s social media.
There are many ways to build community. You can influence people through offering up novelty, creativity and insight. Instead of building yourself, try building others – focus on and showcase your customers – show them that they matter. Most importantly, the focus of a community should be on changing behavior. Marketers need to change buying behaviors. Of course you want people to be aware of your brand but the real goal is to get them to buy and recommend your product or service to others.
So how can marketers go about harnessing a community and building relationships? First, make it easy to share and endorse your product or service. Provide useful information and be responsive when your community asks questions. Another idea is to solicit input for product development. Business 2 Community reports several case studies of building community for product development:
- When Diamond Candles wanted to dream up new scents, they crowdsourced ideas from their community. The company received over 250 ideas from 5000 customers who are now anxiously awaiting the new scent.
- When Coca-Cola was adding a new flavor to its Vitamin Water line, they made excellent use of the time followers were spending on Facebook and got them involved in product development. An enviable two million fans participated in the process, and will probably be great influencers when the new product hits the shelves.
SocialMedia Examiner also highlighted several creative social media mini case studies:
- Sharpie Pens invites users to share photos of their creations and engages their community through art challenges where users vote for the best submissions.
- Evian’s YouTube page encourages fan videos.
Great news on community building for philanthropic and charitable organizations is coming soon when #waywire debuts. Billing itself as a social artery for news, inspiration and leading voices, organizations will now have a way to stand out from the YouTube crowd. In Social Media Explorer’s case study on CareOne Debt Relief Services the social media team found that personal connections lead to an impressive increase in conversions and payment rates.
Notice that none of these opportunities mentioned technology? That’s why I say it’s time to stop focusing on technology, and time to become social media influencers.