The Magic Words

by · December 27, 20108 comments

Businesses are clamoring to hear the magic words that will let them know what to do in the social space. And those magic words are as familiar in everyday speech as they are absent in any real conversation about social media adoption:

Yes and No.

Simple Answers?

I have a bad feeling about this...I was on a panel discussion recently in Birmingham, where the theme was trends for 2011. Our audience was not the tweet-up insider crowd — I was pleased to see that most of them were from small businesses, and most of them didn’t look like Digital Natives. I was also pleased to find out that most of them were on Facebook, and nearly all of them had heard of Twitter, even if they weren’t active.

The first question was about location-based services, and our opinions about what would happen in 2011. I was the last of the four panelists to address it, and I started with a simple question:

“Let’s establish what these things do.”

You could have heard a pin drop. You could see people leaning in. Apparently, this is the audience that listens intently when Gartner and Forrester and the other big name consultants make their predictions — and Foursquare has supposedly been this next big thing for a while now. Yet virtually no one (outside of the panel) had any real grasp of what they ought to be doing with it, or whether they ought to be engaging in location-based rewards at all!

The next question was even more esoteric: “Is 2011 the year that Social Shopping becomes trendy?” Blippy was heralded as an example.

My answer?  No.

The Power of NO.

I was asked to elaborate, and I will do so here as well. Social shopping won’t take off until there is a clear WIIFM. It also won’t take off until there is a balance in place that ensures that the valuable data goes in to make the network richer.

What makes the idea of Social Shopping desirable is the idea that you can learn from the experiences of others. You make smarter choices when you have more input — particularly when that input is from people you know and trust. But how do you deal with over-sharing, or inadvertently invading your own privacy?

The service needs to provide good information to prospective shoppers — but first must cultivate that from shoppers. It’s a chicken-and-egg, and you can’t fake it for very long without people burning out or tiring of the service.

The way to make Social Shopping work is to allow people to query the collective database, based on credits they earn on the site:

  • earn credits for entering your own experiences through product reviews
  • have those reviews earn you points from readers, based on the quality of your info
  • earn credits for shopping from affiliate links
  • earn credits through subscription

In other words, lots of ways to “play.”  But all of them geared toward either generating revenue, or enriching the database that makes it more attractive as a network.

That’s what has to happen before any Social Shopping service starts to take off. Oh… it also needs to have some type of mobile functionality. By the time any service does all of the above with any efficacy — AND develops either a mobile site or apps for iPhone and Android and Blackberry — then it isn’t yet big enough to be on the radar of a small business.

That is why I’m comfortable telling those small businesses not to worry about Social Shopping in 2011.

A Dearth of Simplicity

Now, are there examples of small businesses that ought to be looking into it. Yes, I am sure you can find a couple. I’d be willing to bet they are being run by someone whose experience in social media is heavier than average — and by someone who might be better served running their business than running a social media consultancy within their own brick-and-mortar establishment.

There are simply too many moving parts for most small businesses to keep up with right now. The sands shift daily, and it simply doesn’t pay to be your own test kitchen for every little niche network and doodad out there.

What businesses need more than anything else right now is someone who will tell them “NO… until I tell you Yes.” And someone who can even give them the explanation as to why. But to expect an entrepreneur with a balance sheet and bills and employees to read Mashable every day, and the tea leaves, and come up with their own ideas about when to “move in” on a new shiny object?

No.

The simple answer is No.

There is magic in No. Because saying No might just give you the credibility to later say Yes.

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About Ike Pigott

Ike Pigott

In his previous life, Ike Pigott was an Emmy-winning TV reporter, who turned his insider's knowledge of the news cycle into a crisis communications consultancy. At the American Red Cross, serving as Communication and Government Relations Director for five southeastern states, Ike pioneered the use of social media in disaster. Now -- by day -- he is a communications strategist for Alabama Power and a Social Media Apologist; by night, he lurks at Occam's RazR, where he writes about the overlaps and absurdities in communications, technology, journalism and society. Find out how you can connect with Ike or follow him on Twitter at @ikepigott. He also recently won the coveted "Social Media Explorer contributing writer with the longest Bio" award.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Mschmidlen

    Ike-

    I might humbly suggest that you check out 5O9, Inc. (http://www.5o9inc.com) and their simple, yet elegant cross-platform mobile middleware solution that will enable mobile users to achieve WIIFM and to actually have complete control over their mobile online experience…I'm NOT certain if the wave will crest in 2011, but it's certainly going to in 2012 if it doesn't next year…

    Regards,

    Michael E Schmidlen
    Advanced Datacomm Mobile Solutions, Inc.

  • http://KolbeMarket.com BarbaraKB

    As always, wonderful blunt Ike with his loud “NO!” Thank you on behalf of many businesses.

    May I suggest that Amazon, Facebook and even eBay *could* offer the four social shopping “credit” ideas you mention above? Why do you think they haven't?

    And what are your thoughts on the Groupon phenom? Could they possibly do something “social” with their vast e-mail lists? Yes… E-MAIL, that old-fashioned way to interact with consumers.

    Peace!

  • BenchmarkAndy

    Some really good points here. It's important to realize that some things are just trends and that you don't have to start doing something for the sake of doing it. Making sure these things are worth the time and money spent on them is very important. The next question is, at what point do you jump in?

  • Susan Gosselin

    IKE–great thinking here. I think you've done a good job of outlining shiny new object syndrome. I really agree with your opinion on social sharing about product purchases, and hope someone develops that system soon. Meanwhile, I think there are some good opportunities for clients wanting to use Foursquare…but they shouldn't think using it is a substitute for a marketing strategy. Foursquare works best for the smaller, more localized, more service oriented businesses. Coffeeshops, restaurants, boutiques, small hotels, interesting travel destinations, etc. The type of businesses that customers would like to wear as a badge. And the type of businesses that would be in a position to treat people like VIPs when they come in, or offer them special treatment. It really is more a CRM tool than anything… a digital knick knack that allows you track and reward your customers. It's cheap and easy to use, but I think we have to manage our client's expectations about it. It's an easy way to build buzz and reward regulars, but it will never be a mainstream replacement for marketing.

  • http://twitter.com/quorus Quorus

    Good, thoughtful analysis. I particularly like your focus at the end on the fact that there are too many moving parts for most business owners to keep up with right now–the shifting sands. In some ways, the rate of innovation is out-pacing the ability of businesses (of any size), to keep up with it.

    I would take exception to what you state about “social shopping”. The game-ification elements you call out are valuable if you focus on social sharing, which is what I think you are mainly speaking of here. But, as a company focused in this space, we at Quorus take a different approach to what “social shopping” is all about–we want to enable consumers to have the same experience of shopping online with their friends in the same fashion they can do in a brick-and-mortar store. The notion of posting your purchase stream and sharing it as Blippy does is a different model and, I would argue, not inherently social.

    If you're interested, check out what we're doing on our site or contact me. Would love to walk you through our user experience.

    Matt Scoble
    VP Business Development
    Quorus
    matt@quorus.com

  • http://thefuturebuzz.com AdamSinger

    Right – businesses won't win with the bleeding edge stuff until they have the basics down. There is a long way to go. …but keep in mind, those at the edge keep getting further ahead :)

  • http://www.ramseymohsen.com Ramsey Mohsen

    I couldn't agree with the notion about the power of “no” more. And I can't applaud you enough for being pragmatic while you're on a panel. It's the best thing to see/hear from the strategists and consultants who do this for a living …give a real perspective on this stuff, instead of stirring up the pot.

    In my opinion, for many, it's just easy to get caught up with the shiny objects. But often, small business owners are just looking to do something innovative with their digital marketing… but all they hear about is social media. Yet, there are many more things to get right first before you dip your toe in social media. For example, make sure you have a great website. Or put a solid email marketing program/plan. PPC and search optimization. All of those tactics are arguably essential before you build out a social media plan or establish a presence. Furthermore, they are easily measurable.

    Nice post.

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