The significance of social media for individuals and businesses
If, 10 years ago, you had claimed that social media was the forerunner of a profound digital revolution people would have thought, at best, that you had strange, outlandish ideas. Nowadays, singlepoint-to-multipoint communication is increasingly being superseded by real-time multipoint-to-multipoint communication, and the far-reaching consequences of this transition are omnipresent. We have become a network society. (Read more: A brief history of social networking...)
Today, we carry all our personal as well as current AND future professional contacts in our pockets wherever we go. Smartphones enable us to overcome geographical distance by means of simple swipe gestures. People can contact us directly at all times. We manage our digital profiles and build our digital reputations, creating virtual extensions of who we are.
The public sphere is rapidly transforming: Thanks to blogs, Twitter and WhatsApp groups, journalists are closer to experts and opinion leaders than ever before. The media business has been turned upside down. The US president governs through Twitter; the traditional media discuss postings hours later on TV and feature them in print the following day. More and more people under the age of 18 have never read a print newspaper.
Moreover, the revolution runs much deeper than that. It is impossible to anticipate what consequences digitalization will have in the medium and long terms, not least because there is plenty of evidence to suggest that virtually every process can be digitalized. (Read more: The digitalisation of everything...)
In terms of corporate communications, social media has opened a permanently-available channel between customers and brands. Customers expect businesses to welcome their queries and respond to them immediately. What is more, this dialogue is expected to be rewarding - for both sides.
It is precisely at this point that things get really interesting. The direct communication makes it possible for businesses to connect with potential customers and develop services and products together in real time. The multibillion-dollar games industry is a pioneer in this respect. For quite some time, it has launched its purely digital products as “unfinished” beta versions with a view to finalizing them based on the wishes and feedback of the community. (Read more: Skip perfection, launch early…) Community is the key word here. Groups of users and customers develop into communities when they are given the opportunity to participate in the development of a product. Involving them in the process turns the interaction into an experience, giving the purely practical customer-product relationship an emotional quality.
The principles governing social media have also led to changes regarding the structures and processes within businesses: Hierarchies are flattened, communication is made transparent and collaboration is increasingly put before competition. This has evidently positive effects, not only as far as employee satisfaction and corporate reputation are concerned but also in terms of innovative strength and agility. (Read more, get ready for a Digital Business Transformation)
Entering into a dialogue with customers has undreamed-of benefits for businesses. Pre-digital business models must no longer be neglected given the pressure to transform and innovate that weighs on virtually all of them. In view of this, the corporate social-media strategy becomes a top-level concern. It cannot exclusively be dealt with somewhere along the intersection of marketing and corporate communications but needs to be shaped and brought to life across businesses. Social media 4.0 is the toolbox for dealing with the most important shared responsibility in businesses: connecting with customers when it comes to designing products and services that offer real added value for them.