The Magic Words

by Ike Pigott |

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 the Author

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.