A friend asked me months ago where I saw digital media going. I had been meaning to get it down “on paper” for many weeks now. Better late than never – here begins the more considered, slightly expanded version of that 15 minute narrative. There will be nine parts in total.

  1. Social media (this post)
  2. Latent foundational technologies
  3. Haptic experiences
  4. Augmented reality
  5. Mobiles as the primary data device
  6. Knowledge-distillation
  7. E-books and self-publishing
  8. E-politics and e-government
  9. Pragmatic reality

Business is personal.

We have just started to scratch social media. We don’t really know how to do it properly yet; if indeed “doing” it (as being taken to mean “building the tools” and “using the right words”) is at all possible.

Social media is the way the Internet enables the concept I have been banging on for a while now: Business is Personal. It enables the conversations, discussions, arguments, gossip and rumour-milling that is part and parcel of the social human – online.

Real social media is not a quick-fix fad, a magic bandaid for the ailing advertising industry. Real social media requires a fundamental change in marketing and PR – that businesses must now stand up and be tested (by the highly evolved social tools we all possess) as real personalities, ready to engage with authenticity with its human components.

Do I like you (your brand) or find you interesting enough to talk about? Let alone engage with or buy from!

Traditional advertising and convention PR is the antithesis of social media. Sticking those cute social media icons into your website is not social media. Ads shoved into Facebook is not social media. Businesses need to open up and face their public bravely. Join in the conversations, good or bad. Cos they are happening with or without you.

The opportunities in social media are:

  1. Tools – Services that build and deploy real tools (on the right platforms) to enable these conversations. Conversations for the relevant people in businesses to seed and participate in conversations, and to monitor/visualise trends, moods and topics (as a way to gain greater understanding, and not to censor.) The tools are the easiest part of the picture. The challenge is in the soft stuff. The consulting needed to help businesses move into the new frontier of personal, authentic business practice through social media. Having the best tools is pointless if no one is interested in you.
  2. Consulting – Services or products that help companies overcome their fear of connecting with their public, to identify topics of conversation, to invite others to join in, and to humbly seek permission to join existing conversations (not take over, swamp or censor.) Building in EQ and social worthiness, ramping up your social relevance, doing something you believe in passionately, being real and nice to people, acting with integrity to your values, doing something for other people or the community – these are all factors working in combination to make a business likeable and therefore talk-worthy. The opposite is also true – generate enough hatred, and people will also talk about you.
  3. Social business – Social media is social business! Social enterprises are likely to benefit greatly from social media. As are other businesses with a strong social/humanist focus either in their core offerings or in the way they conduct themselves as global citizens. A rise in the use of social media to connect with customers and build tribes could lay the groundwork for a new breed of social businesses to thrive. To draw previously hidden stars into light. This could fundamentally change the way we think about and do business.
  4. Online social services – Social issues will increasingly move online. Thus social services to counter these issues will also need to move online: e-counselling, cyber-bullying countermeasures, online support groups, and so on. There is huge opportunity for existing businesses in these fields to move online in an appropriate and considered way. Beyond simply implementing the tools like having a Facebook page. Research into online behaviour and the psychology of online living will also be a growing field. We will see a move to deeper and more complex social engagements online.
  5. Apps that weave in with innate social behaviours –We have just started to scratch the surface with games like Farmville. (And these may well be temporarily flashes-in-the-pan…) We need to explore the next level down, to dig deeper and understand how certain app functionalities link in with our deeper social beings. The outcome from this can be a set of learnings applicable to how we do business, new tools and actual apps of course.

In the longer term, mixing this “device-mediated social connections” with the prevalence of tiny distributed computing devices (specknets) in our every day environment make for a very interesting world indeed. FourSquare will seem like a quaint movable type printing press today. What happens when most of our social connections are device-mediated, and the devices are everywhere around, and even in, us? Social media in a hyper-instrumented world…

IBM has a range of interesting SmarterPlanet videos along these lines on YouTube.