Monday, September 26, 2011


Has anyone noticed an inverse relationship to the amount of hype a book’s author(s) use in their first or several chapters to what we end up getting out of it? I remember reading a book once where the first 3/4 of the book told me why the information I was about to receive would be so important to my life and the world. Guess wasn’t.
Thinking about this, it is somewhat perplexing, isn’t it? If we didn’t think it was important or relevant information, we wouldn’t have picked up the book in the first place!
Why are authors trying to sing to the choir? A couple of possibilities come to mind:
1) they don’t have enough to say without hype content,
2) they hope we are so amped up on the hype we won’t notice that what they said is relatively meager, or
3) they really don’t have anything to say at all and are just piggy-backing on the trend they are hyping about.
A Red Flag
The book I am currently reading is about branding in our increasingly on-line world (yes, finance and strategy folks are interested in marketing issues too!) and I have yet to get past the sizzle to the steak.
Given the “singing to the choir” suspicions above, this raises a red flag, so then the hunt starts for information and clarity. What is being said about our socially networked age and what can actually be believed? Two examples are:
The authors of this book claim that consumers want choice, and therefore the internet, with its ability to bring unparalleled choices, is fantastic.
This actually contradicts a lot of research. In an area that I know well, 401k plans actually have lower participation by employees the more investment choices are offered. People want some choice, sure, but too much choice drives us into the other direction. Who can blame them? Researching 30 different investment funds is a lot of work!
Transparent and Authentic
Another claim is that we want companies to be transparent and authentic. We want to know that their employees all believe in what they are doing and decisions are clear and understandable both within and outside the organization.
The success of Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad products is one example that refutes the above – other than Steve Jobs it is not very well understood by anybody what process they go through in order to achieve the design of these products. Part of Apple’s appeal is the mystery that surrounds it.
In another example, ABC News recently had a special report about where goods were manufactured for college dormitory catalogs. Not one item made in the USA, and the colleges didn’t even know it! Nor did the students who bought these items! Nobody seemed to be paying too much attention to transparency here.
Let’s Be Grateful
A recent Forbes article put the number of Facebook users at about 750 million.
Let’s think about that for a minute – 750 million…out of around 7 billion people in the world. That’s just a little better than 10%.
And that 10% are using computers, tablets, smart-phones and other technologies, all connected by wire or wireless carriers. These are all things that cost money. Given that this money is not being used for food, or shelter, or clothing (i.e. it is discretionary), we can safely assume that the majority of folks (not all, I am sure there are exceptions) in this web-world have a decent level of income or wealth.
Hmmm…relatively few people…who have more money than most. Wouldn’t we call a group with those attributes “elite”?
[Author’s aside: Given that we are a part of it, we should take a moment to be grateful for whatever paths, resources, people and assistance have led us to this point.]
But we should also be careful of extrapolating current usage of social media into the future. Why? Because as a tool of the elite it might be utilized in a far different manner than a tool of the masses. Speaking in “statistical-ese” - the sample size is not representative of the population. The ultimate evolution might be very different. We do not know enough yet.
We’ve Got Work To Do
Given that the ultimate outcome of the web-enabled socially networked world is still unknown, it is fertile ground for consideration by strategy and finance. We need to develop different social media scenarios, and the drivers and impacts that may be possible. Given those scenarios, we also need to anticipate responses. What are the nodes on the decision tree? What existing or historical situations in the world might prove to be analogous?
One thing is clear, change is here, and it’s coming again, sooner than we think, and then it is going to come again…and again…and again.
Don’t ignore it…but also don’t believe we already know where this is headed.
Let’s get to work so we are ready!
I would love to hear your thoughts about this social media perspective or your stories on this topic if you have them.
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  1. Interesting David.

    I agree that there are many 'informational' books out there that lack substance. Written by formula. Bleh...

    Is there an analogous historical situation that can predict the direction of social media? I'm thinking it's still breaking new ground. IMO. The factor and scale of interactions is far greater than anything in previous history. Maybe the invention of the radio with broadcasters and listeners could be analogous.

  2. Maddie,

    That is a great point to look for a correlation in history. From the media perspective, radio or tv.

    From economy game-change, probably the industrial revolution?

    Will need to research this a little more, but a great topic. Thanks!