Still having trouble grasping the importance of social media? Do you run a business but don't quite understand how sites like Facebook and Twitter have changed the game? To get a better perspective on what's going on, we need to go back in time.
Let me tip my hat to Josh Dirks at Search Engine Journal for making the comparison I'm going to draw on here. I know the idea of going back in time to understand something so very modern seems counterintuitive, but bear with me. We're going to take a look at social interactions at the time before the Industrial Revolution.
As Dirks notes, most people lived in villages of 50 to 300 people. There were a few “cities,” sure, but not as we'd recognize them. Everybody basically knew everybody else. If you ran a business in this environment, you operated under certain basic rules that were so obvious you probably didn't even think about them.
With that small of a market, your product had to be top quality, or everyone would know it, and you'd go out of business. You had to offer stellar customer service. You also needed to be actively involved in the life of the community, because nobody was going to do business with someone they didn't know. You had to price your product fairly or risk angering your customers. And if you wanted to keep your business a going concern, you passed these principles on to your children.
When the Industrial Revolution hit, people started living in bigger cities, and factories mass produced items. As Dirks points out, “the small village scenario became more and more rare. In diverse cities where enclaves developed, people chose which merchants to patronize based on nationality, race, and creed. Merchants were no longer required to put out amazing products that were fully and publicly scrutinized. When it came to large companies and mass production of goods, word-of-mouth all but disappeared. One-way messaging became the force de rigueur...”
Global businesses didn't have to worry about the local level so much anymore, because individuals couldn't do too much. Lose one customer, you'll get another in another part of the world.
Guess what? Social media changes all that. A disgruntled customer now has as wide an audience as will listen to them. That's always been true, of course, but now they have the tools to reach more people. It's beginning to look a lot like the days of the small towns, where word-of-mouth ruled. The big difference is that these little groups are no longer bound by geography – at least, not to the same degree as before. “The average Facebook user today 'Likes' 130 friends and 80 businesses. That's smack dab in the middle of that number (50 to 300 people per village) we previously discussed,” Dirks observed.
What this means for businesses is that they must once again start working on building those relationships that they once thought were no longer important. “At the end of the day, businesses have to be relevant in their communities, listen to the conversations, and adhere” to the principles of good business, Dirks stated. “That's how you win these days. There are no shortcuts.”
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