I took a vacation this week. It was relatively short (don’t blink — you’ll miss it), but I learned some important things along the way. I read Erik Qualman’s book Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business and was left alternately amazed, interested to learn more, and confused as to what to do next. Qualman’s basic thesis is that applying the principles of social media to business as usual is “a massive socioeconomic shift.” He also states in the “about this book” section that it provides “useful insights into macro trends, constructs, and behaviors as a result of social media.” These two goals seem to be at odds, as Qualman wants to show us how much things have changed and point the way to a potential future that builds on these insights, but is hesitant to show us exactly what to do next.
I was amazed reading about how things have changed in the last decade. To read the stories of Gary Vee of CrushIt! fame or Matt Harding (of “Dancing Matt” fame from YouTube is to realize that the world of 2009 is vastly different, complex, and social than the world of 1999, when sharing MP3 audio files was still a relatively fringe event and even the idea of sharing your purchase history with your friends through a site like Wishpot might have seemed, well, strange. Qualman does an excellent job cataloging some of these Internet/Web history moments and showing how they marked fundamental shifts in culture. No longer did a Dance craze have to start on MTV: in the new world of the web, MTV didn’t show videos anymore and dances could start anywhere.
Reading these insights (and being involved in social media as I am), I really wanted to learn more. I wanted to see the science behind these insights; learn the behavioral triggers that cause us to be involved in social media; and to see how tools like Facebook, Twitter, and the like have fundamentally changed society. Sure, they’ve changed the economics of recommending and purchasing, but social media tools have also opened up a new method of communicating that is on a vastly different scale than anything we’ve ever seen before. Qualman does a passable job of explaning what happened, but doesn’t offer much in the way of explaining why.
And then I ended up confused. What will be next after Socialnomics becomes economics; when social media just becomes media; and when all of these social media tools become simply another channel with which to talk to customers? Qualman has done an excellent job of surveying broadly the events that have characterized social media over the last several years. He does the best job of looking forward with his survey of the Search industry and describes how that world could change by offering incentives directly to customers, as Microsoft has done with their Live Search Cashback. What Qualman doesn’t quantify as well is how those efforts are doing in the marketplace.
It’s possible that my confusion results from the unsettled nature of the tools we’re using to measure social success. My colleagues in the marketing department at Gist and I have evaluated many tools looking for a combination of analytics, tool utility, and team collaboration and we haven’t found it yet. Perhaps the message with Socialnomics is that the same sort of analysis applies to social and economic shifts. It’s easy to catalog what changed, and a bit harder to see what it means yet. Erik Qualman is doing a great job at packaging up these ideas and serving them to people who need to know more about social media. I look forward to reading his thoughts in the future, and in contributing both to the theory and practice of moving social media and socialnomics into the mainstream.