Executive ADD: The disruptive scourge of social networks in the services industry

Donkey Overload When you try and quantify the impact social media is having on industry, it's actually quite alarming how dangerous this medium can be on our lives and our careers. 

We discussed the impact of blog culture over a year ago, but the speed by which social media has crept into our daily activities, already dates many of the opinions expressed back then. The information world has altered radically, and this economic environment is accelerating the speed of change.

As an analyst in global services industries, my job is to get across insight and opinion to as wide an audience as possible.  A couple of years' ago, if I'd produced an article or report, I'd probably send it out to about 100 people… that was the extent of the audience with which you would typically deal, and you'd rely on your firm's marketing department to disseminate press releases and media advisories to drive more eyeballs to your craft. 

Now I'll put out a couple of tweets and likely blog piece to a network of literally multiple thousands to capture attention.  Within hours, the word is out and people will either react quickly with their comments, or choose to ignore it.  For example, the April Fools' Day blog post Obama to ban offshore outsourcing received 18,000 web-hits within a 24-hour period, while a more routine industry piece Wipro and Oracle partner to blow-up the BPO delivery model still managed 4,000 eyeballs within hours of being published.  Clearly, catchy headers get attention, but more importantly, it's the delivery of information which is changing the game.  So where I could, in my past, comfortably manage my network of 100, it's now an insane group of thousands right across the globe.   

So what should you read into all of this?  Basically, we're deluged with a massive overload information and have to scan selectively data to extract the points we need.  We're all getting Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) whether we like it or not, as information is thrown at us from blogs, tweets, emails, websites, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. 

Information overload

So who's at risk?

Media:  People are becoming incredibly selective about visiting media websites these days.  The days of pulling people to media-sites are over; it's about pushing information to willing audiences.  Tier 2 media publications in the past could easily convince advertisers to spend money with them – now it's a lot harder.  Most sell-side firms are much savvier at understanding how to attract eyeballs to their wares.  Some tier 2 media publications barely get a few web-hits a day in today's industry – and it's getting worse for them.  They need to pull people to their sites, and can't expect to sit pretty, waiting for people to magically stumble upon their content – regardless of how good it may be.  Most media sites which fail to drive compelling content through social networks, will not be around this time next year.

Analysts and Consultants:  Executives want to know the low-down on industry occurrences the day they happen.  They also don't have anything like the time or patience to read more than 500+ words on a topic.  While there is still a need for seminal reports that evaluate vendors and markets, the general commentary and analysis of topics and events as they happen has completely changed.  Analyst firms which cannot get their reaction out to industry quickly are wasting a lot of their own time and resources.  The same applies to consultancies which have traditionally relied of quality white papers to excite prospective customers about their skills and experience.  No-one has time to read entire papers these days, so consultants need to use smarter channel to get their qualities to market.

PR firms:  No-one opens press releases these days… unless they're compelling.  Moreover, many firms today find they can deliver their own press release info by pushing the news out to interested people via social networks.  And it costs them nothing.  Some PR agencies charge over $1000 to distribute a press release and manage the follow-up.  I'd be surprised if many smart firms still followed that practice today.  Hence, PR specialists need to push their clients' news to targeted influencers in social networks, with the hope they will relay the information to their massive networks in turn.  The old way of doing things is quickly dying, and many PR agencies which fail to live with the chance will fall by the wayside.

Service Providers:  The traditional means of influencing markets and creating awareness are dramatically changing.  Ultimately, service providers need to influence their prospects and those people influencing them, and shrinking marketing budgets are driving them to make smarter and bolder investment decisions.  Getting shorter, sharper messaging out to market is key, and the influencers are changing too.  Targeting consultants and analysts with powerful social networks is increasingly important, in addition to using smarter PR vehicles that micro-target the right audiences.  Most buyers today simply want to know who's out there who's working with firms like them – and whether they fit the bill.  Hence, marketing messages that are more direct, better targeted, and to-the-point are paramount.  Long-winded sales presentations and lengthy brochures / white papers are a thing of the past.

So what's the solution?  While disruption is clearly hurting the majority, opportunity is opening up for the smarter minority.  The key is to go with the change, cut down on the verbiage and source the new channels and influencers that reach your audience.  You might well be surprised by the speed of the change…

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18 Comments

  1. William Mougayar
    Posted June 6, 2009 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Good call for action to the stakeholders. Eventually, all media will be social!

  2. Hamish Taylor
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Disruptive YES, Dangerous NO.

    Like any environment change, the change itself is only to dangerous to those who do not anticipate and embrace change, adapting their behaviours appropriately.

    Just as fax killed telex and e-mail displaces snail mail, social media just means that we have to change the way in which we communicate with target audiences – today instead of broadcasting to consumers, we have to converse with them; instead of telling them what we want them to hear, we have to listen to them to hear what they want.

    Change is inevitable, resistance or failure to change… now that’s dangerous!

    For evidential data support, ask the dinosaurs!

    Regards

    Hamish.

  3. Scott Berry
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    It can and will be both. It is a challenge to keep business content professional and relevant. If the material is not insightful or is presented in a shallow way, the social media is likely to hurt. Who is going to tell an executive that, although he can run a company, he is hurting himself and the company by not being the best he can be on his blog? Company’s may have to resort to HR or Marketing oversight before comments are published to avoid exposing the company to poor PR. The downside is that once others within the company begin censoring the content, you really aren’t getting the data “straight from the horses mouth”. Not every business leader is cut out to publish social media.

    Scott Berry

  4. Bill Hefley
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Is it dangerous, or does it open up additional channels for communicating and connecting? Can I use the networking technologies and near-instant communications media to span the divide that geography imposes on us? I regularly interact with many of my colleagues in other parts of the campus, city or world that it would be difficult to walk around the corner to see, but we can communicate and collaborate seamlessly using these technologies.

    I guess I am asking whether the technology is dangerous, or is it how we effectively and efficiently make use of this to better our situations and more easily communicate with others.

    Bill Hefley

  5. Carolyn Mabbitt
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    This is very true, you will need to outsource your Social Media Marketing to a professional company that can do it right, or hire someone who can get the job done the right way so the impact to your business is a positive one.

    Carolyn

  6. Raj in The Woodlands
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    It is the Wild West for gossipy business news (aka social media).

    Tier II Media no longer affords any fact-checkers and bloggers have absolutely no journalistic approval processes. Opinions are often confused with responsible reporting to attract readers.

    WSJ, NY Times and Wash Post still maintain fact checkers (three of the very few left that do). Online versions of dying magazines have become sensationalized gossip centers with more blogging and advertiser-submitted articles than reporting.

    As the content moves more into the cyberspace and false data is pushed out to these resources without accountability, I expect we see a whole new field of litigation against those who act carelessly with social media.

  7. Phil Fersht
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Raj -

    While you are correct in general, I doubt whether most tier 2 media ever really used fact-checkers anyway (they always seem to be run on a shoe-string)… and most bloggers seems to be reasonably in line with reality (at least in the services industry – tech is probably different).

    The most dangerous example of social media so far has clearly been the “web-survey culture” of entities ranking vendors with zero accountability or controls.

    PF

  8. Collin
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, but all bloggers are part of this new “wild west” including you Phil. Blogging is 100% opinion and ego. You make tech analysis & blogging sound like you’re curing disease and saving rainforests. Reality check!

  9. Lance Larsen
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Frankly, I find the biggest danger to be the fact that nothing ever completely disappears from the Internet once it has been posted. You can never completely get your life and privacy back once you enter information (see the WayBack Machine in the first link.) It is nearly impossible now to completely extricate oneself from the Internet.

    I think the best solution would be the much touted but never fully implemented promise of the automated digital assistant who knows what you are really interested in, is able to sort the wheat from the chaff as it is pushed on you, and can interact dynamically and in real time with people and systems in order to fine tune what filters up to you. There is such a wealth of information available now that the real challenge is to find what is pertinent and useful, while simultaneously filtering out everything that would only serve to distract the human brain.

    But I have to admit that as I am getting older, technology is getting more intrusive, and young people aren’t even able to conceptualize that the world could be any other way. Either willingly or un-willingly we submit volumes of personal information by the minute as we browse websites, make online purchases, update social media sources, or simply walk down the street while being constantly monitored on camera. As the noise gets louder and the world gets more intrusive I find myself thinking the opposite of Timothy Leary: “Turn it off, tune it out, and drop the connection”.

    I’ve actually noticed that the less plugged in I am, the less news I read, watch, or listen to, the fewer messages I receive and sort through, the more relaxed I am. But perhaps that is not the answer you were looking for. :)

    Lance

  10. Phil Fersht
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    “Collin” – I’m still publishing your comment, even thought you won’t reveal your true self.

    There’s a lot of opinion on here – not so sure about the “ego” (although there’s always a bit of that around). There’s also a lot of data, facts and discussion. Not so sure why that constitutes the “wild west”. So answer me this: what did we have before blogs? I’ll tell you -

    *Dull lower-tier media written by journalists who quoted lower-tier analysts;

    *Bad print media at the beck and call of its advertisers;

    *Awful third-tier “analysts” who rubber-stamped their corporate logo on white papers written by vendors.

    If you feel there are blogs that constantly cross the line, then feel free to “out” them here. From my perspective today’s reader can pick an choose what “opinion” they believe, or what “egos” they can endure.

    True, you get the occasional bad egg, but you have to admit that those people prepared to blog, tend to have something to say. If you don’t want to hear it, then DON’T GO THERE. Go on twitter and tell people what you’re having for lunch…

    PF

  11. Vijay Menon
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    The affected company and the individual who posts will have two very different views on this, of course..

    For companies, the proliferation of social media is an extension of watercooler gossip–people can post good and bad information about the company that the company should be aware of but not be unduly alarmed about. Becoming aware of it it easy–within hours of a damaging post, someone somewhere is going to forward it to the company. But like all unsubstantiated information, such posts only become material if (a) it is true, and (b) it is corroborated by authentic sources, ideally credible 3rd party media. Companies sometimes over estimate the pester power of a scurrilous post and hyper ventilate.

    Individual’s point of view: For someone with credible information about a company and frustrated with the secrecy around it, social media is an ideal vehicle to leak it out and hope that conventional media or other bloggers will take it up and amplify it. Naturally, such a person is also vulnerable to company or state laws should be be found violating confidentiality. Again, individuals must realize that companies can also use the same social media to counter this information with their own posting on the subject.

    Over the years, I’ve come to realize that social media democratizes information dissemination greatly, but people still flock to branded, credible media houses for sustained research and coverage. Big media will continue to be the lodestar for credible information–social media will mostly be its last mile connectivity into a niche community as citizen journalists.

    Vijay Menon

  12. Padric O'Rouark
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Phil,

    It reminds me of what Timothy Leary was supposed to have said, “Tune in, turn on, drop out” Forgive me if I have misquoted him, I am often amazed at the texting craze and grunge blogs with chat rooms that revel in the spread of ignorance over substance. Of course the candy stripers think they are with it and their craze is their world.

    Sometimes I think its a phase and often an unhealthy one. But it may in time reveal itself as a class system. I think this is unfortunate.

    I watch children texting and it reminds me of a weird addiction. It is hard to carry on a conversation with them as they lingusitically abbreviate the English language to death. I do not feel safe when I drive because of their fixation with all that button pushing when they should be driving.

    If you think this kind of technology will give rise to a smarter minority, then the smarties must be finding the time to contemplate what they are experiencing and are able to create an inner model that can seperate fact from blog and reality from illusion.

    500 channels of TV tells me that one has to be selective to find good content and unbiased knowledge. I happen to work in a very high tech environment and many of the youth are good with computers but they still have poor working and interpersonal skills. They can learn them but they remind me of those kids who polished the apple for the teacher. ADD or not, at some point the homework is going to come due and the virtual canine will never be an acceptable excuse for its loss.

    Padric

  13. Tony
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    The availability of good and bad information is more readily available – that’s the change. It’s all because there are more journalists now that the cost of publishing is nil and the ability to get eyeballs is so great.

    Not so long ago, people would spend $3,000 on an analyst report and base their entire initiative on it. Many people couldn’t afford more than a handful of reports, and some couldn’t afford any.

    Now, there is literally a ton of information available. While the consulting firms publish what are generally PR pieces (white papers), they leave out the “how-to”. Bloggers are filling the gaps, giving more and more information to the public for free. They can drive eyeballs using tools readily used by all: LinkedIn, Plaxo, email subscription, RSS readers, etc.

    Most bloggers don’t monetize their media. However, there are a few, such as Phil and a handful of consultants, who publish and use social media to reach eyeballs. Look at Phil’s stats, which he shared in his blog’s 2nd B-day post. It’s effective, like it or not.

    Why? People need little bits of important information that is very accessible without buying a Gartner research seat – or they simply want to dialogue on important issues to drive important advancement in key ideas. It’s like a 24/7 panel discussion.

    Tony
    http://360vendormanagement.com

  14. Herb Briggs
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    20+ years ago, I was speaking with an IT guy who was installing a new training machine. Part of the hardware was a 1 gig hard-drive. It was about the size of four to six shoe boxes put together. Brand-new, amazing stuff at the time!

    This gentleman told me in all seriousness that 1 gig drives would never get any smaller- and that storage capacity in excess of 1 gig would never exist outside of mainframes. He said that you could miniature the actual storage devices, but that there could never be processors fast and powerful enough to pull the data through a myriad bottlenecks into one buffer, where it could be accessed.

    He would have bet his house on this at the time, but obviously he was proven wrong- and very quickly.

    My point is this: at the time this gentleman made this prediction there actually WERE no processors powerful enough to handle that much data.

    Today the situation is a bit different, but the problem is basically the same. We now have no search engines SMART enough to handle effectively all the data on the web.

    But give the techies time. They will deliver. We aint seen nothin’ yet as far as search engines are concerned. In just a few years, new engines will sort the wheat from the chaff with sophisticated algorithms that crunch all that data out there, identify sources that have proven reliable in the past, and give us information that is as close to the absolute truth as possible.

    In 50 years, data processing has yet to hit to slam into a single brick wall. It has tunneled through each of them, or gone around, or gone over.

    Y’all have been talking about a need that has been identified. This need is an enormous marketing opportunity. Someone will fill that need. Our only problem will be: which of the super-engines do we decide to use?

    Now as regards texting and tweeting. Personally, I would find being in 24X7 contact with my “posse” to be an unendurable hell. But give these young people, a chance. 15 years ago, some of us Boomers were writing off the GEN-Xer’s as hopelessly cynical and selfish. But they have leveraged some distinct characteristics to become extremely powerful in the business world.

    Now these GEN-Y’s, in constant communication with one another, may be a bit too Borg-like for me… but give them a chance! There is power there, and they will find it, and they will use it.

    Herb

  15. Mary Jacobs
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Phil,

    When it comes to service, you often only hear about the bad examples; how many times does one write about a great experience v. a really bad one?! So I think, if anything, it will help those good times to be drawn into the limelight. And instead of social media becoming dangerous for the service industry, it will work TO the advantage of the service industry. Just a thought…

    Mary

  16. Richard Loveland
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    I think the danger lies in the fact that organizations can no longer rely on asymmetrical access to information.

    This danger is simple: If your organization mistreats or misleads its customers, people will hear about it. More alarmingly, the record of that event will never go away. Sites like the Internet Archive (as Mr. Larsen pointed out above) ensure that that record is permanent, searchable, and easily referenced and linked to by anyone. A few negative blog posts or news articles from trustworthy sources, a few links to evidence of bad behavior on social news sites, and reputations are damaged very quickly.

    I should also mention that this applies to treatment of employees as well. There are many infamous writings on the web from disgruntled former employees of major companies. Some are exaggerations, to be sure, and reasonable people can disagree on that. Not all are mere hyperbole, however, and again, the truth will out.

    It behooves executives to realize that every single interaction that occurs, both inside and outside the organization, is a chance to shine or to fail. No longer can businesses afford to treat their customers or employees with indifference or worse.

    Of course, the flip side of this “dangerous” situation is that organizations which actually do the hard work of treating people well and delivering quality products and services will be rewarded. I think what’s often hard to accept is that your name comes first, your money second. Spend the time to build your name into something you can be proud of, build trust by keeping your promises over time, and profits will follow.

    I’ll end with a great quote attributed to Warren Buffett: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

    Richard Loveland

  17. Posted June 13, 2009 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    The role of social media in our lives and business promotion is changing fast. Earlier it was used more for business generation now it is used primarily for information transfer but still it’s importance can’t be ignored while making marketing policies.

  18. Kamalika Nandi
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    I guess I don’t get the logic as well as the rest of the world on most counts.

    Social Media is being hailed as the best way to send out ‘targeted messages’ to the right audience. But the reality is that you don’t choose your audience. You post someting out into the space and hope that it catches the eye of the relevant people and then becomes the biggest thing since sliced bread!! At the end of the day it is simply your contacts and how ‘well known’ you are that establishes the popularity of your blogs and tweets.

    But hey, you always had those contacts, the only difference now is that instead of connecting with them once in a blue moon, its much much more frequent and easier to connect.

    Its great to have so much of interesting information at hand, and the only reason I am reading your blogs as against any other person’s is because I have heard of you and am aware of your work and I find it interesting!!

    This, however is my personal view and has nothing to do with the way my organization views or needs to view social media :)

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