*This is a guest post from Chris Goddard from Affilorama, an affiliate marking training portal.
“Focus on where the money is!” That’s something a successful businessman once told me. “It’s easy to get distracted, but at the end of the day, where the money’s coming from is where you ought to be focusing.” It’s a sound business rule, and it works – today. The trouble is with this rule is it doesn’t ask a really important question – where will your money be coming from tomorrow?
Although social media use has exploded in the past 5 years, it is still seen by a large portion of the business community as a ‘kid’s thing’. Granted, Facebook’s fastest growing demographic may be women between 55 and 65*, and social media is growing in all demographics, but largely, it’s still the domain of the young.
As many businesses inherently focus on the middle aged (that’s where the money is!), many have been slow to recognize the importance and influence of the web on their customers. Fortunately for them, a large proportion of their market is as unfamiliar with the web as they are, so there hasn’t been much fallout from doing nothing (with the exception of the music and newspaper industries – but more on that later!).
But All That is About to Change…
The funny thing about those kids is that they have a tendency to grow up and become your core market. A new generation of consumers is nearly here… and they’re like no other generation the world has ever seen.
Generation Y, or the ‘Millennial’ Generation (children born in the 80’s and early 90’s), are going to be bigger than the Baby Boomers by 2010, and the fact that approximately 94% of Millennials have joined a social network cannot be overlooked.
This generation communicates differently – more likely to send a text, or message over a social media platform, than make a phone call, even considering email old-fashioned!
Gen Y’s consume media differently too. Why watch your favorite TV program at a specific time when you can watch it online for free with fewer ads, whenever you want? Even better, how about watching it on your mobile phone? Instead of having to learn and adapt to new technologies as they appear, Gen Y’s seem to have an inherent ability to embrace new technology with ease.
How Exactly Do You Advertise to this Generation?
Don’t bother with print ads. We don’t read newspapers – we get our news online, not just from news sites but through virtual word-of-mouth.
Don’t bother with TV either – we don’t watch it. We watch tons of TV shows, but not on TV when the TV Guide says we have to.
And forget radio – we download our music. Yes, often illegally, but we also subscribe to streaming services like last.fm and Pandora.
What Does That Mean for Businesses in the Future?
It means advertising as we know it is going to become obsolete. Instead of a one-way torrent of promotional messages, consumers will begin seeking companies that actually engage with them, and more importantly, actually listen to them.
You might be thinking, “Ok, social media’s where it’s heading – but why start now? Can’t I just wait until everything’s been figured out and all my customers are using it?” Yes. But why don’t you ask a music exec or a newspaper mogul how that whole ‘waiting until everything’s been figured out’ thing is working out for them?
In my opinion, the reason why the average teenager’s iPod contains 800 illegally copied songs (British Times Newspaper… via their website… oh the irony!) is that it wasn’t Sony or EMI that figured out to leverage the power of the web to distribute music – it was Shawn Fanning with Napster.
It wasn’t even a music company, but a technology company that finally figured out an effective way to monetize online music.
Imagine a world where iTunes, or some variation had preceded Napster. It’s not that people just wanted to get their music for free – that’s been available since the cassette recorder – they wanted to get their music online, instantaneously. Napster delivered – iTunes came too late.
In business there are no prizes for second place. You have to be first and you have to be better than everyone else. Someone will figure out how to leverage social media in your industry. Will it be you, your competitor, or some kid in his dorm room with nothing but an idea and a laptop – potentially your most dangerous competitor yet?
Starting now is essential, because there is still room to make mistakes. It will take trial and error for you to find the strategy that suits your business. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but there are some good principles:
- Social Media isn’t PR – it’s direct interaction between your people and your current and potential customers, so leave the over-polished releases for the press; on social media they’ll appear disingenuous and fake.
- Don’t hide behind your company name – let your people front your company online. People talk with other people, not with brands.
- Listen! The most important thing that you may get out of social media is the ability to hear what your customers are saying.
- Don’t freak out about negative comments! This once private conversation is now public for you to hear, so appreciate the opportunity to hear criticism. Work to solve the problem, and then respond over the same channel as the complainant used – video for video, blog post for blog post, tweet for tweet.
Some of what you try will work, and some of it definitely won’t, but if you don’t start trying now, in 10 years you’re going to have a customer you’ll be clambering just to communicate with and a competitor who’s already figured it out.
*Special thank you to Socialnomics by Erik Qualman for most of the figures in this post.