We need bigger perspectives; there is no such thing as social media – what are the larger business opportunities created by consumer engagement?
The Internet enables people to go from being customers to become members of a company following or creators in the culture surrounding a product. The consequence of this is much larger than we give it credit for – and the reason for us underestimating the potential of change is our ability to give huge measurements mediocre names and tags not fit to reflect the potential of change that they carry.
By referencing several of the current changes as social media we limit the perspective and reach of our ideas, we see these activities as satellites outside of core business, insignificant flirting with the customers compared to the bigger commercial changes we are not taking notice of.
Line Lervik Olsen, associate professor at The Norwegian Business School, in a talk about upcoming trends, mentions that engagement is about to become as important for Norwegian businesses as customer satisfaction. This brings notice to an important change – people demand tailoring and a voice, not only being sold to. Companies are paying attention to this, and some are meeting this request from their customers, but they are looking for tools and strategies that enable the right kind of involvement and relationships.
At the end of last year the design agency Fjord published their thoughts on current changes in retail, changes of such size that we haven’t seen similar in almost one hundred years. In their presentation Fjord references the different eras in the consumer/product relationship. The first phase, from 1850 to 1950 is driven by production, buying and selling is about what producers can make available. The next phase from 1950 to 2000 is about marketing and distribution, where production has reached a level of surplus that demands the creation of an artificial need for products – the consumer is born. There is an abundance of products with immediate availability. This period could be referenced as the Mad Men era.
The final era to arrive is called the era of self-realization; experience, real value, tailoring and news now affects people and their buying habits.
Shoshana Zuboff, former professor in business administration at the Harvard Business School writes in an article on the McKinsey Quarterly in 2010 about a new chapter in capitalism. Something that historically happens every 100 years. New chapters emerge when the demand from the market acquires a new pattern which businesses has to accommodate. This ends in conflict and new businesses come in from the bottom and deliver on the demand that old businesses can’t meet.
The last time we experienced a change of this magnitude was with the arrival of mass production, when products reserved for the elites where being made available for the masses (the car being the best example). This time it is the individuals control of their own everyday life, driven by the access to and liberation through technology giving them a voice and a presence.
According to Zuboff we are moving away from products and services and towards tools and relationships – all driven by interactive technologies and opportunities. We are standing at the doorstep of years with great strain on businesses foundation and models. Participation and dialogue can be one of the answers, but it has to be implemented at the business level, not as an activity driven exclusively by the marketing and communications department.
By referencing this as social media we are standing in an era of mass production and looking at ourselves in the mirror. This is not about one single tool entertaining customers or allowing the creative brains to experiment as the business itself is doing “business as usual”.
Technology has forced through new consumer habits and created a time for great change – affecting how businesses think about demand and offer. Even if these are slow mechanisms which require maturing, we have to ignite our ideas and believe in bigger things.