As I read, watch and listen to other people describe the changes in our industry, I’m consistently seeing two problems:
- Not enough people are recognizing that the web is being fundamentally rebuilt around people, and that this is going to change how all of us do business.
- Too many of the people who are thinking about social, are thinking about it as a distinct entity.
Let me show you an example of each.
I really like A List Apart. But in their reader’s review of 2011, where their readers talked about the biggest changes they saw in 2011, I think they missed the biggest change of all – that the web is being rebuilt around people. They talked about apps, mobile first, emotional design, measurement. But social design was a glaring omission. All designers should be recognizing, and should be on top of, this shift. Yes, “social” has become a buzzword, and there are many charlatans selling themselves as “social media gurus”. But this shift is very, very real.
At Le Web a couple of weeks ago, George Colony, the CEO of Forrester, gave an interesting talk where he described three social thunderstorms. The first and third thunderstorms were interesting – moving from browsers to local apps interacting with the cloud*, and the rise of social design within enterprises. But the second thunderstorm is where George missed the same shift as the readers of A List Apart.
George misunderstands the shift with the social web. He said “social” is:
- Running out of hours: people have a finite amount of time in the day and are already interacting with social applications more than many other activities such as exercising.
- Running out of people: penetration of people interacting with social applications is hitting 80 to 90% so doesn’t have much room to grow.
This analysis makes no sense. Social is not a feature. Social is not an application. Social is a deep human motivation that drives our behaviour almost every second that we’re awake. It doesn’t matter if we’re online or offline, on a browser or using an app. Humans are social creatures. George says 86% of US online consumers are social, and describes a “post-social” world. Again, this makes no sense. 100% of online consumers in every country in the world are social because it’s deep in our DNA to make connections and interact with other people.
The big shift that George is misunderstanding is that the rise of the social web is a structural change being driven by online life catching up with offline life. The winners in this world will be the ones who assume social behaviour in everything they do. It won’t be the ones thinking about social as a feature or product in isolation. The winners will be existing businesses who build on top of social platforms to rethink how their business operates. Here are three recent, and simple, examples:
- When you buy tickets on Ticketmaster you can see whether any of your Facebook friends have bought tickets, and if so, where they are sitting. Simple. Want to spend time together? Sit next to them. Want to do your own thing? Sit far away, or don’t buy a ticket.
- When you book flights on Air France, you can see if any of your Facebook friends are on the same flight and where they are sitting. Same as Ticketmaster – sit close by, or far away.
- When you browse for gifts on Etsy, you can use the things your friends have liked on Facebook to filter your results. Your friend likes Bill Murray? Here are all the products about Bill Murray. This moves the experience from a random and almost limitless set of options, to deep social personalization.
These are three dead simple integrations that substantially improve the core product/service experience. The leading businesses are recognizing that the web is moving away from being centred around content, to being centred around people. That is the biggest social thunderstorm, and all of us are going to have to understand it to succeed. So stop talking about social as a distinct entity. Assume it in everything you do.
*You should watch George’s talk to hear his pitch about the first thunderstorm. I’m not sure I buy it, but it’s a fascinating perspective.