Edge of the Bow Wave: Social Media’s Evolution and Impact on Private Industry

People and organizations are connecting with others around the world at an exponential rate due to their demand for richer, entertaining, real-time interactions.  Developers are all too eager to satisfy users’ hunger for better and faster content by creating and selling new tools to all takers.  The tremendous push for connectivity to everyone with a keyboard or touchscreen creates a monstrous bow wave companies must surf in order to remain relevant and reach consumers.  A firm’s ability to stay abreast of evolving tools, technology, and consumer demand can mean the difference between simply staying afloat or Hanging Ten.

Twitter, Facebook, Google and other networks strive to be the first to incorporate some of these new widgets and apps into their respective universes, adding value for their users and their brands.  For example, Twitter built Vine, a six-second video sharing app, as an alternative to Facebook’s Instagram.  Yes, it bowed to competitive forces but not without delivering a useful, popular tool to the Twitterverse.  Companies and individuals, in turn, are pressed to incorporate the newest, shiniest object into their social media plans, which they must monitor along with the umpteen-milllion other apps and widgets they may feel obliged to use.  If they don’t, some fear they’ll be perceived as out of touch with the latest tech, or simply “uncool”.

Customer engagement is priority numero uno-without them, there are no profits, and a business that doesn’t generate profits is just an expensive hobby!  The processes driving these electronic handshakes are being transformed by social tools.  As the growing number of tools overwhelm a marketing/social media team’s finite level of attention, they may revert to their comfort zone instead of pushing into where this hyperconnected world can go.

Changes in human behavior also add a wrinkle to companies’ social media plans.  In fact, there are six aspects of human behavior that drive social media: altruism, hedonism, homophily, memetics, narcissism, and tribalism.  If one or more of these shifts significantly, firms may have to adopt new tactics and tools to tap into them.

Remember the piano-playing cat, “First World Problems”, or other (in)famous memes? Thank hqdefaultmemetics-the replication of ideas, habits, and beliefs across individuals-for their popularity.  In order for content to go viral, it will need to be assimilated by the social media user, be retained in her memory, replicated by the user in a way that is observable by other users, and transmitted.  However, companies seeking to appeal to these behaviors should avoid copying content developed by others for the same purpose.  For example, Warner Brothers used the popular Nyan Cat in its Scribblenauts game and was sued for infringing on copyrights and trademarks!

Keeping up with changes in the tools, technology and human behavior driving the evolution of social media is one heck of a challenge, however borrowing from others’ successes or other shortcuts may result in lost credibility and profitability.  Firms should embrace only the tools they feel will add value to the user’s experience, regardless as to whether it is the latest, greatest tool.  Like some memes, they may be here today and gone tomorrow-which is not the makings of a successful business model.