Reasons To Be Cheerful

As the human race we have a track record of continually evolving and improving our environment and lifestyles. Whether it’s via natural selection, competition, advances or some other driver – we adapt, we change. New technologies for example, bring efficiencies and enable behavioral shifts simplifying and making possible what once was difficult, expensive or perhaps even unobtainable. Over the past decade we could point to hundreds of examples – kinetic energy systems in vehicles or mobile devices delivering a wealth of information being just two.

Looking ahead its possible to assume an unparalleled level of change is ahead of us. This change is also delivered through ongoing innovation yet perhaps more importantly this time around fueled by the combination of:

a.) how society is evolving to expect instant access and ease of use in products and services or in short – a growing distain for complexity, and

b.) our ability through emerging social discovery channels to by-pass many of the regulations which govern us today.

Take two traditionally ‘black box’ industries, such as the medical profession and financial services. These two industries are ripe for epic change over the next decade – and that’s exciting because… it impacts all of us.

1. Medical
Have you ever been frustrated at the treatment of individual conditions, “here take this course of xyz”, as opposed to your doctor taking a more systemic and preventative approach looking at signals your body is telling you in your biomarkers and taking time to understand why your body is reacting in the way it is?

Emerging biotech companies such as Scanadu and WellnessFX will help shift the dynamic between Dr. and patient. After all we have the ability to know more about ourselves than a stranger, and in a very short time we will be empowered with the data and information to have a comprehensive two-way discussion, where you will be able to have more input into any proposed treatment.

Today companies such as WellnessFX already enable you to optimize your ‘system’ providing diagnostics and insights into the state of your health. By offering biomarker testing, a technology platform enabling you to track your progress and access to forward thinking health professionals – as a customer you are quickly empowered with information to support or challenge a diagnosis. Just last week I personally ordered several tests through a similar provider and with the results now analyzed have been able to make changes to my diet in order to assist me in reaching my body composition goal. Add the promise of Scanadu which is working towards enabling self-diagnosis via mobile device using cloud services which will also return appointment times to see you health care provider or directions to the nearest emergency room as necessary – and as the tag line states we become, “the last generation to know so little about our health.”

It’s funny to think that for years we once kept log books showing the services performed on our vehicles, yet paid less attention to our health. This will change – we’ll know much more about ourselves and have this information readily at our fingertips as opposed to being under lock and key in various medical facilities. With our new found quest to optimize our systems, eating habits will shift radically. The downstream effects should not be underestimated, stores such as Whole Foods with their established supply chains will be well positioned compared to the many restaurants and supermarkets that built their operations and profits on food with low nutritional value. Supermarket floor plans will change radically yielding more space for healthier options.

2. Financial Services
As banks continue to build distain with their customers by charging fees and increasing borrowing rates, new entrants offering ease-of-use and a fee free approach will shake up the industry. Emerging players such as Simple have this very vision.

Another driving force of change will be mobile payments. As many financial industry players scramble to offer their versions of the mobile wallet, consumer centric companies such as Google and Apple challenge with better solutions. However mobile wallets and pre-paid card solutions remain clunky (see the Kangae post, ‘One Continuous Groove’), and its only a matter of time before this step is removed altogether and replaced with a single monthly invoice – perhaps as mobile operators such as AT&T, Virgin Mobile (leveraging Virgin Finance in UK and Australia) or Vodafone for example move into the credit space with their advanced billing systems and large customer base. It wouldn’t take much to win over customers – lower rates and an innovative rewards scheme. Card providers such as American Express and Visa suddenly have new and powerful competitors capable of taking out sizable portions of their business.

3. Social Discovery
Just as online search replaced spending hours in libraries looking up reference material, Social discovery is what threatens classic search as we know it today. It should come as no surprise therefore that Social discovery is what differentiates Google+ from Facebook (see Google+ hits the social sweet spot).

Community managers are no strangers to social discovery – they have after all been working in this space for many years. They understand the immediate value in connecting people with a shared interest and expertise in a topic; not to mention the numbers which count in your favor over a traditional social network such as Facebook or LinkedIn as – you don’t know more people than you know.

Through social discovery we are already following and connecting with people who interest us. Influencing and being influenced. With the emergence of the social enterprise following the good work of salesforce.com, departmental silos are being broken down as we speak and employees are being connected – as these internal deployments mature subsequent phases will include joining partner and customer networks. You can just imagine salesforce advertising, “Salesforce.com: 10m corporate silos smashed and counting.”

The modern work environment changes considerably as customers seek out the subject matter experts (who are already establishing their personal brands). Professional communities today such as stackoverflow.com, focus.com and toolbox.com have the ability to better understand the behavior of a companies employees than the company itself. How many questions they answer, and how many people they help for example. This shift opens many possibilities for innovation and evolution of the work environment. The benefits to an organization of this type of visibility are outstanding – the ability to share the knowledge, foster discussion organization wide and also not forgetting fringe benefits such as ousting the soon to be control freaks of yesteryear who built their careers hoarding information thinking ‘knowledge is power’.

It will be interesting to see how we evolve our governments and institutions which have traditionally controlled these aspects. Will it be a case of riding the wave and in doing so prompting further evolution with new business models, revenue streams, product and services, or perhaps there will be an attempt to yield control in some way – SOPA being a great example of a wake up call to governments.

This all makes for an interesting decade ahead and one we should be excited to be part of. What makes you excited to be a citizen of earth?

Photo credit: flickr/hm11kcom

Google+ Hits The Social Sweet Spot

Google+ lit up last week as comments and jokes bounced back and forth regarding the new user interface and the ‘mysterious’ white space to the right of the screen.

Perhaps more poignant in the battle for most Monthly Active Users (MAU) – a key measure of engagement used by social networks – is how Google positioned its social offering. Often tagged as ‘late-to-market’ Google+ has received both positive and negative reviews. Few, if any however, have taken into account Google’s positioning in the heavily desirable and untapped white space that exists between Social networks and Communities. It is this positioning along with the insatiable interest in all things social, which might just provide the key Google needs to unlock the powerful network effects of Facebook.

To explain this better, take a pen and draw a line on a piece of paper. Label one end, ‘Social network’ and the other ‘Community.’ Now start listing various social networks and communities next to the corresponding label. If we’re on the same page you should end up with something like this:

Social Networks are fundamentally different from Communities

Grouping these sites based on their core allows us to quickly visualize and separate the two models. The primary difference is best described as the glue that holds them together.

In a social network for example – a past, present or future relationship is what connects the members. In a community it’s a shared interest that brings people together. Think of a tennis club as an example of an offline community.

Today, with social media being one giant melting pot term, the two models are commonly interchanged and the fact that they are two models (and very different ones at that) is often lost or overlooked.

The large social networks and communities we use today are at the extreme ends of the scale creating an untapped space in the middle – essentially a foothold in both camps. These sites continue to invest considerable time and resources to nudge themselves more towards the center of the line suggesting a level of desirability held by the space – however given the difference in the models expecting this to happen overnight is akin to stopping an oil tanker on a dime.

While it is true that community can form within a social network and visa versa it’s very difficult for a social network to force or facilitate community and for a community to force or facilitate a social network. The reasons for this are based on both internal and external factors. Externally, the primary reason people join each are different, and internally the skills required to be successful are different. For example, community development is often counter-intuitive or at odds with the social networking business model. This could explain why Google allowed YouTube to be a standalone business and Mark Zuckerburg announced last week on his newsfeed, “We’re committed to building and growing Instagram independently.”

To date neither LinkedIn nor Facebook has seen runaway success in their community building efforts:

  • LinkedIn Groups are an attempt to build community however they continue to lack any community feel
  • Facebook Subscribe allows users to ‘follow’ another user based on an interest however they may have no relationship with.
  • Facebook Groups for Schools launched this month attempt to generate community within Facebook’s social network. To soon to tell but definitely worth watching.

Think of social network operators as brokers

The reason for the investment can be found in the words used by the fictional detective Lieutenant Columbo as he looks to solve a homicide, “follow the money.”

Social networks are interested in community as community tends to generate significant amounts of content (All Things Digital reported Instagram users upload more than 5 million photos a day and generate 81 comments per second, as of today the niche programming community site stackoverflow.com has generated 2,947,135 questions or almost 10m pieces of content based on an average of 2.35 answers per question.) As the age old adage goes, ‘content is king.’

The reason content is king is because when combined with demographic and behavioral information it provides unmatched opportunities for targeting based on a users digital body language. Social network and community operators are essentially the brokers between advertisers and consumers. It is at the point these two parties meet that revenue opportunities exist. It is no surprise therefore that the 2 of the largest players in social networking – Google and Facebook obtain the majority of their revenues from advertising and arguably you could include LinkedIn as it obtains 30% from advertising and 45% from recruiting tools – which is essentially doing the same thing – matching users with interested parties (recruiters as opposed to marketers).

Given social networks need communities for continued growth, adoption and engagement they essentially have 3 options to obtain them. We’ve seen all of these in action:

  1. Build – Google+, Facebook Groups for Schools, LinkedIn Groups
  2. Buy – Facebook and Instagram, Google and YouTube
  3. Partner – LinkedIn and Twitter.

Building takes time, buying requires care and diligence not to upset the foundation of community (see Instagram backlash) and partnering has its own risks given the intense competition in the space. Motorola employees may think back to the partnership with Apple after which Apple entered the phone business and almost destroyed Motorola’s handset division.

Google+ a foot in both camps

Google+ is interesting because in being late to the game, Google had the opportunity to assess the market and position itself in the center. Given both LinkedIn and Facebook have been heading in this direction – could this be the sweet spot for social?

Google+ blends both community and social networking together. As a member you can participate based on interest, a relationship or both. This capability is build from the ground up and is the very fabric of the experience – it is a first and certainly not an after thought requiring a re-architecture akin to changing the engine while traveling at 100mph. The intuitive ‘circles’ enables users to manage the relationships and control their overall experience.

Whilst this social sweet spot or ‘networked community’ for want of a better term is unchartered waters, it does provide a myriad of new opportunities and benefits to Google. Combine these with Google’s other well-adopted product lines such as Search, Gmail not forgetting the YouTube community and the possibilities begin to multiply.

As users look for consolidation of their social presence in addition to increased value/return, and advertisers look to increasingly segment and target the pro-sumers, Google+ becomes a very attractive offering.

Will focusing on the upcoming IPO distract Facebook? Will Facebook be able to address concerns regarding the large numbers of its user base switching to a yet to be monetized mobile experience? Will Google and Facebook be able to walk the line between keeping their member base happy and offering value/return to marketers? Will Google be able to exploit its positioning of Google+ as a ‘networked community’ and clarify their offering as a new social experience? Will Google be able to leverage the developer community to bolster its offering? Will Google win over businesses and consumers to help drive a potential network shift? Will Facebook double down and wow us with something insainly brilliant? Will Google’s diversified product portfolio provide the leverage it needs to break the intensely strong network effects of Facebook?

As these two titans battle out for most active users, perhaps LinkedIn will consider bolstering its community offerings with potential acquisition targets such as focus.com or Quora? We’ll find out the answers to these questions in the coming months – it’s going to be an interesting couple of years ahead.

This article was originally published exclusively on socialmediatoday.com and gained ~300 shares in the first 48 hours helping it become the top post on the site that week.