The most remarkable aspect of Twitter and other social sites is the re-definition of privacy. Not only in the way providers can exploit the user’s personal information, but also in the way millions of users talk in public about many aspects of their lives. This is the hidden treasure of social media.
The global conversation happening is fueled by the need to learn, explore, communicate and keep in touch with friends and strangers and by the “vanity” users, aka business people pretending to be celebrities and bombarding the web with aspects of their personal lives that nobody cares about. A celebrity having coffee at a small and secluded place is newsworthy and spreads virally in Twitter, Facebook and other media outlets. On the other side, a middle-age CEO tweeting that he is having coffee at a local shop reflects dreams of stardom and the availability of idle time that stockholders are paying for. Of course we also have the usual suspects: the one creating scams, pyramid schemes and other variations of the same get-rich-quick scams. Fortunately I have avoided most because I keep myself busy closing on the purchase of the Space Needle and wiring some money to Nigeria for a soon-to-be-friend in distress. In general if one can look beyond those warts, there is lot of value on the continuous sharing of information that social media enables.
Many are struggling to see the value of Twitter. It is hard to figure out the right monetization mechanism. The trusted and failed recipe of web 2.0 was 1) Create big and engaged audiences (done) and 2) figure out later how to make money out of it (are we there yet?). Online advertising works as monetization mechanism, but digital advertising is still just a mediocre evolution of the 1,700’s advertising: a display ad using a different media. It is a $40b industry, it is thriving, it is doing better than traditional advertising under the current economic circumstance, but it is doing better just because it is targeted better and it is measurable, not necessarily because it works much better.
The value of Facebook, Twitter and other virtual places goes beyond the eyeballs of the loyal audience that gathers to share something. The value is also on the “global brainstorming” taking place and that we can listen to. There is a 24/7 online focus group happening everywhere. There are micro trends created every few minutes. Most do not last much, most do not reach out more than 100 people (friends or followers), the question is not whether online advertising works in social media, but how online advertising needs to change to ride the waves of those micro-trends: one hundred customers at a time. As executive advisor for local CEOs and CMOs I often challenge the team to shift their view after implementing a NPS practice and use the Voice-of-the-customer mechanism to look not at the micro trend that will become the next big change, but the one that can bring waves of 100 customers at a time. Social media excels at that, but the current digital marketing mechanisms, web analytics, online market research and other technologies need to be adapted properly.