5/6/20081

Ask not what social media can do for you…Comments

...but what you can actually achieve with it.

Yesterday, I looked at how our continuing desire for the tools we use to develop could cause them to lose their original purpose but, while Marco at the Aurelius Maximus blog asks the 'tech elite' to continue navel gazing, others are gesturing that it's all well and good talking about the technology of social media but what they really want to know is how will it affect business? How will it affect politics? How will it affect our lives?

It is argued that what we should really be interested in is moving away from what the technology is and, as I have mentioned in comments on FriendFeed, establishing the distinction between what any social media tool does and what we can do with it.

Honeymoon period

What we now call social media is in its relative infancy so our reaction towards it is very much like an eager child with a new toy who plays with it every waking moment of the day until they either become bored or just accept it as part of their life; the novelty wears off.

I think that we are still very much in the social media honeymoon period especially with new tools and services cropping up all the time; there is always something new for the early adopters to 'play' with so, in a way, much of the emphasis can't help but be on the technology, what the tool is, what the tool does and how it differs to its competitors. It's an unfortunate circumstance but this is where we currently sit as early adopters and it is a tricky situation to be in.

As I said before it's not in the interests of services to stay still - they have to move on, offer something new and demonstrate differentiation. Although the tool will be migrating away from its original purpose and possibly sounding its own death knell amongst a subset of users the business of the internet, being what it is, forces services to move on for fear of being dropped in favour of the competition. Those competitors themselves have to provide their own differentiation and so may even be knocking themselves out of the market even at launch - perhaps even before.

How many services can we use? How many should we subscribe to? How many will survive?

It is this constant barrage of tools and services that is taking the focus but part of the 'job description' of the early adopter is to look at the technology and the trends, to find out what really works and what just has a short lived novelty factor and will fall at the first hurdle. Here is the key point, however, it is the early adopters who are kicking the tyres and paving the way but if you're not an early adopter what can you do?

Target your tools

One possibility is to simplify but you can't simplify the industry. You can't say to developers to stop creating new tools or services. You can't say that development should stop on those already available and, in fact, we shouldn't. We need technology to advance and for those advances to make our lives easier but we should first be focusing on what is important.

Outside of the early adopters we should, as individuals or as groups or organisations, behave as with any other resource in any other industry and reach a consensus to identify a strict set of tools with which to achieve our purpose. Identify those tools we like and feel provide us the required utility: do they offer adequate communication? Do they offer adequate information sharing and distribution? If you can answer yes then move on and de-emphasise the tools. We have to draw the line somewhere and say this is what we have, this is what we know how to use now let's get on and do some work.

Needs

But the early adopters and evangelists must accept that no single tool will achieve ubiquity - get over it. Different groups have differing needs and there will not be one tool to please them all. Even as our own circumstances change so will our needs so our own choice of tool will differ; this is only natural and should be incorporated into our routine and our normal review process.

We should periodically assess our tools and process and can then, at that point, look at what else is out there; look at the reviews from the foot soldiers (the early adopters) who have been treading the boards then consider if new tools give you improvements, enhanced utility or greater ease of use. Don't, however, make change for changes sake as you are then distracting yourself from your core purpose and the time you spend re-educating is time taken away from achieving your aims.

We have to be aware of and open to developments and to the reviews and opinions of others but we don't all have to play the early adopter role, we don't always need our finger on the pulse. Alexander is right, we will learn to pick out what is important and to focus on that which we actually need to.

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