The World Wide Web is the biggest revolution in communication since the invention of the printing press. The printing press started the democratisation of information. Knowledge was no longer concentrated in the hands of the very few, but could spread far and wide. Without print, the reformation and renaissance in Europe couldn't have taken place. In other words, print changed the world.
Although no one would want to underplay the importance of cinema, radio and TV, they simply continued and sped up the revolution that print started. These media allowed information to spread even faster and become even more accessible.
In some ways one could argue the World Wide Web has come to finish what print started. We now have access to virtually all the information we require, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. If this were all the World Wide Web had given us, while it would be hugely significant, I would not feel it was any more important than the invention of cinema, radio and TV.
However, the World Wide Web is the most significant revolution in communication since print. This is because, what the invention of the World Wide Web has done, is provide us all with a voice. Print gave us knowledge as did cinema, radio and television but we could not respond. Therefore, we required the patronage of media moguls, publishing companies, record companies etc., to get our voice heard. Today, with blogs, social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and of course YouTube, we can get our message heard by potentially millions of people, and there are plenty of examples of where this is the case.
The population has been empowered. Our thoughts and ideas are no longer restricted to telling a few friends and colleagues. Many of us have a voice and want to use it. Moreover, there is now a whole generation entering the workforce who have grown up always having a voice.
There are too many companies, however, still treating social media merely as a new channel to market. These are the businesses who are struggling to make it work. This is because they fail to see that social media is not only a new communication channel, it represents a cultural shift in the way people are starting to think and operate.
The result of everyone having a channel, and being empowered, is that companies must not just become users of social media. Rather, they must become social themselves.
The ramifications of this are enormous. Many companies will disappear. They will simply be unable to adapt and will be left behind by more agile competitors.
There are many implications of all of this. Below are just three of the paradigm shifts companies need to make if they are to become a social business.
1. Knowledge is no longer power
In the old world, a company would have knowledge and you would pay them for access. For example, you may go to a law firm because they knew how to write contracts of employment and you did not.
However, today knowledge is everywhere. If I want a contract of employment, I can go online and download many up to date templates. Simply having the knowledge is not enough to get people to come to you. In fact, by protecting that knowledge, and only revealing it for a fee, means that in the digital age I will probably never find you. Rather, I will be attracted to a law firm that provides online templates and detailed instructions on the best way to make the downloaded contracts work for your business.
In doing this, the law firm is demonstrating they are knowledgable and elicit some credibility and trust with their prospects. There will always be people who will use the knowledge available to put the contracts together themselves. This is fine. However, there will be many others who, after some investigation, would rather employ experts to undertake the work for them.
In other words, today people don't pay for knowledge. They pay for the application of that knowledge specific to their circumstances. Consequently, knowledge is no longer power, shared knowledge is power. It is sharing knowledge that demonstrates expertise and attracts people to your business.
2. Your customer is no longer king
Today, the customer is no longer king. Businesses are not simply there 'to serve' their customers. This is the thinking of the service economy where companies did things 'to a customer' Today, we are in the 'experience economy' where companies should be doing things 'with' their customer. In other words, businesses need to get their customers involved. In a world where consumers have a channel, and more and more are using these channels, this empowerment means they want to be participants and not just spectators.
Involvement can mean accessing sites like trip advisor to write reviews or provide five star ratings on the book they just read on Amazon. It can also mean coming up with ideas for your business, making suggestions on improvements, or even 'co-creating' products and services with you. Whatever it is, every company must now interact with their prospects and consumers in ways that were unfathomable twenty years ago.
It no longer matters whether you are in a Business to Business or Business to Consumer environment. The World Wide Web and the age of empowerment doesn't make distinctions. Every company today has to find ways of 'involving' their prospects and customers in the 'experience' economy.
This means opening up the organisation, being more transparent, being prepared to let control go (just a little) and having more dialogue and conversations. In other words the whole business has to become more social.
3. Don't ban Facebook at work
This may seem a somewhat flippant way of making a point; but how can you empower your customers and not empower your own staff? The mismatch will be untenable. You can't go out of your way to listen and work with customers, and not listen to your own employees!
The same approach that is taken with customers must happen with staff as well. Rather than ban social platforms, assist them in understanding how to use the channels wisely. If your customers are on these platforms shouldn't your staff be as well?
If customers can come up with interesting insights, comments and ideas, can't staff members who are working with you every day also have their own insights? Moreover, the more you allow staff to collaborate and bring ideas to the table, the more they will feel involved. This means they will feel that they have a stake in the company's future. Not only will this elicit more loyalty, it will also mean they are more likely to care. People who care about your organisation, make good employees.
Social Media is not just a good channel to market. It is a result of the communication revolution the World Wide Web has delivered. Just like the printing press precipitated fundamental changes such as the reformation and renaissance, the World Wide Web is doing the same. Companies cannot simply use social media and expect to get results. They actually have to become 'social' themselves. Social Business has arrived, ignore it at your peril.