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 everyone should recognize by now that that ingredient is social media.
It reminds me of several years ago when fat-free foods were the rage. Reducing fat in our diets was believed to be a key factor for longevity and robust health, and this is probably true. But what was amazing was how quickly food producers began touting their low-fat products, or creating low-fat versions of products that normally are ‘full fat,’ including low-fat donuts, ice cream and pizza. It wasn’t long before almost every edible product we could buy had a low-fat label on it. And if that was 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 on the Internet that’s been arising since its beginning, and that’s 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, create profiles of their activity online (if not specifically identify them), all towards the end of getting 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 makes social so important. Depending on whose statistics you read, anywhere from 80 to 95% of consumers prefer a recommendation from someone they know over a search engine result or an advertisement for a product when deciding to buy something. In fact, the very notion of a ‘brand’ is changing. It’s no longer what you say about yourself that matters, but what others are saying about you.
So, what does this have to do with low-fat? Soon, most websites will need to find ways to incorporate social tools for their users. This means not just providing ‘share’ links out to social media websites, but tools that allow customers to connect with each other within a site. Imagine users being able to curate 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 then 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 content on news, movie and TV sites. Customers will be able to learn from and be inspired by other customers. In fact, consumers will begin demanding these tools, just like they did with low-fat foods.
Businesses need to get involved with social media now, if they haven’t already, and start gaining experience. The Twitter IPO, if nothing else, will open the door for investment in sites that offer ‘social commerce’ solutions that attract customers. With close to 2 billion people already using social media we’re way past the learning curve. And consumers will only continue to tune out advertising. The only caveat is that you won’t get away with selling potato chips that merely reduce a portion from 300 calories to 280 and calling it ‘low-fat.’ You’ll need to provide quality tools that give customers the ability to learn from others, enlighten others, and obtain useful recommendations that lead to sales. Consumers are ready for that kind of buying experience. Which is why social commerce is the prescription today for future business health and longevity.