The beginning of the new Millennium brought about many tech and Internet changes, but one of the biggest online disruptors of the decade was and continues to be, Social Media; also known as Social Networking, Digital Word of Mouth and quite a few other names. No matter what you call it, it's all about utilizing the Internet to foster direct communication between a brand and a customer. As the future of Social Media materializes in front of our eyes, it's interesting to note that its humble beginnings happened only a few short years ago.
Music was arguably the first area to actively utilize the social media medium. Because the music format of choice, the CD, was a digitally-based product, it was easily uploaded to a computer and could be conveniently shared with others; e.g. Napster. Sure, it was illegal, and the effects were catastrophic to an entire industry, but the basic concept of people sharing content was born.
Along with the sharing of content came the sharing of passion. Fans created fansites, homemade websites built on basic web platforms like Angelfire and Geocities. Here fans paid homage to their favorite musicians and created homes for others who shared their adulation. Midway through the decade a new outlet was born, MySpace. On MySpace not only could an individual create a fan page dedicated to their favorite band, but web-savvy musicians (or their labels/management) had a new place to build awareness and harness the power of social networking to connect on a whole new level. Now someone in a small town in Ohio could find people with similar interests anywhere in the world.
As bandwidth and high-speed internet connections increased, virtual reality entered the equation. Sites like Second Life allowed people and companies to create virtual versions of themselves and their organizations; communities were built and real money exchanged via virtual hands. The concept in-an-of-itself was pretty imaginative and seen as a potential revenue stream for businesses across the board. But, like many web destinations with big buzz it was ahead of its time and soon replaced by the next big thing.
Soon we grew from collecting MySpace friends and surfing virtual worlds to becoming television stars - Internet television anyway - via YouTube. This is the point in time where advertisers as well as movie and television studios realized social media was here to stay. In short order the Internet was now a place to show trailers, commercials and promotions on a low-to-no-cost distribution platform and, in real-time, gauge the public's interest via number of views and comments.
Since then social media has evolved at a breakneck pace, keeping us more connected and actively engaged in the world around us. MySpace fostered Facebook; clearing some clutter and improving the basic social networking premise. Websites became blogs and blogs sprouted Twitter, boiling down news, articles and general communication to 140 characters or less. Going one step further, the addition of Smartphone technology and the creativity of developers, we now have the ability to remain social without being tethered to our computers.
In 2009 social media got its current name. All the monikers that came before were forgotten and big companies started to dabble. Giant brands like Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and Best Buy dedicated staff, dollars and media to showing that they knew how to properly use it. And it worked.
Media became social this decade, no question about it. No more putting out a song, a movie or opening a restaurant and waiting to see if people like it. Consumers now share their thoughts instantly and openly.
What's next? Hard to tell. But one thing is for sure, 2010 will be the year when everyone jumps in to the deep end. No more wait-and-see, it's jump on the train or get left behind. It will also be the year when we get closer to measuring the success of social media; when we find a common metric or collection of metrics to judge success. Something different than how television commercials and pay-per-clicks are judged; something that makes everyone comfortable and say, why didn't we think of this sooner.
All that in one decade. Can you imagine what the next decade will bring?
As the CEO and co-founder of Fanscape, a leading Digital Word of Mouth marketing agency, Larry Weintraub is at the forefront of emerging social media and marketing trends. His 25-plus years of experience in marketing, combined with his passion for customer-centric branding, has provided him with valuable insight into the relationship between the brand and the consumer.