We used to live in a world where everyone knew the places to go for information. In the main, people would obtain their news from the same few newspapers, radio stations and TV channels. Specialist knowledge, whether in business to business or the consumer marketplace, would then be delivered through particular trade or consumer magazine titles.
Relative to today, the world was a simple place to understand. In this environment, information was received through publication. News, trends and events may be discussed around the coffee machine at work, around the family table at home or in the pub with friends, but those who set the agenda were generally the people who controlled the few media channels on which we all relied.
However, as the web has gone social, it is changing the nature of the way information is discovered. We are living in a world, where increasingly information is not being disseminated through publication but conversation.
Consider this: more and more breaking stories are first being discovered, not through traditional news networks, but through platforms such as Twitter.
Fashions, the latest music acts to discover, or the latest TV smash, are no longer breaking simply because some 'hip' journalist has written a rave review in one of the industry 'bibles'. Instead, people are discovering the latest music to which they should listen, the latest TV programme to watch or the latest fashion trends, through the sharing of information, and conversations taking place on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google plus, YouTube, LinkedIn and others.
Of course, information is still 'published'. By definition, posting a video on YouTube, a new blog entry or adding a page to your website is all 'publishing'. It is the way that information is discovered that is changing. There is simply too much 'stuff' out there. We may, of course, have a few websites or blogs that we particularly like, but so much of what gains our attention today is those videos, articles and blogs that we discover through conversations and recommendations by friends within our online networks.
The understanding that information distribution now happens through conversation, rather than simply publishing, opens up a couple of opportunities for business.
Firstly, by monitoring the social web, with social media monitoring software, companies can really obtain an unparalleled understanding of what their customers and prospects like and think about their market place and industry. This information is not based on 'focus groups' when people often say what they think they should say, rather than what they really feel. Rather, this knowledge is based on real actions and proper conversations taking place.
'Sentiment Analysis' is becoming big business. This is because it is proving to be more accurate than any opinion polls. Whether it is the X factor final or the American Presidential Primaries, it is becoming possible to predict the outcomes of votes, with a high degree of accuracy, just by monitoring the popular sentiment online. In fact, there are companies predicting things like the performance of stocks and shares just by measuring sentiment on the social web.
Is your company paying attention to the conversations taking place and the intelligence that can be gathered? If not, you are truly missing out and possibly losing competitive advantage to those businesses that are taking this seriously.
Secondly, if we know that information is disseminated through conversation, it should affect the communications your business creates. Companies must ask themselves why and how would people share the correspondence they are posting. If there is no definitive answer to these questions then businesses must re-evaluate the communications they are putting out. It could well be they are missing out on the biggest opportunity that the digital platform provides.
Information has been democratised in a way never experienced in any previous generation. The companies that understand this will be able to take full advantage in order to create better and more sustainable businesses. Those that don't, will find themselves left behind.