Everyone in the tech world wants to come up with the ‘secret sauce,’ the ‘killer app,’ the one ingredient that makes their product or service irresistible and essential. With Twitter’s successful IPO, it’s time to recognize that that ingredient is social media.
The situation was somewhat like several years ago when fat-free foods were the rage. Reducing fat in our diets was believed to be a key factor for health and longevity, and this is probably true. Food producers quickly began touting their low-fat products and low-fat versions of products that were previously ‘full fat,’ including ‘low-fat’ donuts, ice cream, and pizza. It wasn’t long before almost every edible product available had a ‘low-fat’ label on it. And if that were all that was necessary to ensure good health, it would have been a great thing.
With social media, we’re seeing the explosion of something online that’s been arising since its beginning — the power of mass interactivity. Because communication on the Internet is two-way, brands can target ads, gather data, follow users from site to site, and create profiles of their online activity, all towards getting their advertising messages in front of them. But what’s different today is that interactivity is bypassing the brands altogether. Consumers are now talking to each other via social media about brands, products, services, and prices before making buying decisions.
People on social channels are ‘curating’ (gathering things of interest to post online) and ‘recommending’ (sharing things they like with others online). These two activities are what make social so important. Depending on whose statistics you read, 80-95% of consumers prefer a recommendation from someone they know over a search engine result or an advertisement when considering a purchase. In fact, the very sense of what a ‘brand’ is is changing. It’s no longer what you say about yourself that matters but what others say about you.
So, what does this have to do with low-fat? Soon, most websites will need to incorporate social tools for their users. Providing ‘share’ links to social media websites won’t be enough. Social tools will have to allow customers to connect within a site.
Imagine users curating items into a ‘set’ and then sharing their sets with others to solicit opinions and comments. Or tagging, naming, and saving sets, which others can search for, add to their accounts, and edit. Social tools like this could be implemented for everything from clothing and household items, like on Polyvore, to color palettes and swatches like on Adobe Kuler to news, movie, and TV content. Consumers would learn from and be inspired by other consumers and eventually begin to expect these tools, just like they began looking for low-fat foods.
Businesses should consider more involvement with social media and explore how they can use it dynamically. The Twitter IPO, if nothing else, will open the door for investment in sites that offer ‘social commerce’ solutions to attract customers. We’re way past the learning curve, with close to two billion people already using social media. And consumers will only continue to tune out advertising. The only caveat is that you won’t be able to sell potato chips that reduce a portion from 300 calories to 280 and call it ‘low-fat.’ You’ll need to provide quality tools that give customers the ability to learn from others, enlighten others, and obtain recommendations that lead to sales. Consumers are ready for this kind of experience. And unlike ‘low-fat,’ social commerce may be a prescription for business health and longevity that actually delivers.