Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why social media will change the competitive landscape...

As the large corporation and frankly many people in the corporate world wrestle with how to think about social media data I am sad to tell you the data singularity has probably already passed.  What do I mean by the singularity?  If you ever saw any of the terminator movies (even though this term is well know...I chose to use a more fun way to explain it) you will remember the singularity as the moment artificial intelligence of computers exceeded humans which led to man's downfall.  In the social media sphere the singularity in my mind is when the validity of social media as a data set is no longer a debate. And while I don't have tools to say whether this has truly happened and that social media data as truly representative as normal consumer data, I will say that the rate of change on the volume and demographics is accelerating so fast that it would be hard to argue that is hasn't happened.

Why do I mention this?  Because when I started applying social media to business problems in 2006, I was often challenged with the validity of the data set.  Even though it was a valid concern, I still had enough opportunities to show that this data was comparable to the knowledge my companies had garnered using slower, more expensive and potentially more biased traditional methods.

This brings me to the topic at hand...if social media data is now essentially valid AND there are glut of new ways to tap this data set, doesn't the competitive playing field soon change forever.  What I mean by this is the following.  Prior to having this data, the only way a company could do market research involved very labor intensive and expensive methods like focus groups, ethnography, survey studies among other methods.  Because most of this work could only yield very specific amounts of data on particular projects, the average small business would very rarely invest in this sort of market research.  In general, they would compete on ingenuity, gut and guerrilla tactics.

Over the past five years something is happening.  The analogy I would use is one of my favorite.   Rather build telephone lines in poor third world countries, they simply installed cellular towers.  Now in third world countries telephones are all cellular and the technology literally jumped the infrastructure.  The same thing is about to happen as it pertains to competition from a consumer research perspective.  We are already seeing how a small company can look very big by setting up a virtual store online.  Now it gets even scarier. 


Why?  Because with tools like those NetBase has any company can easily set up their market research shop for one price.  When they do this...they can look at what consumers are saying on any brand or topic at any time from their desktop.  This means they can compete.

A great example recently happened to me as I partnered with one our customers.  One day recently, I went to work in their office developing some data on their brands.  After about six hours, I went over and shared my findings with my partner.  As we discussed the merits of the work I had done, I took the risk to share what I really learned about their business.  For about 5 minutes, I described what I saw as the key problems and opportunities in their business and what they might consider going forward.  The partner I was working with was a very skilled market researcher who spends tons of times studying the company opportunities and issues.  After I finished, I was not sure I was right so I asked if my interpretation of the data was in line with their deep knowledge.  This person looked back at me and quietly agreed with my assessment saying that's what what they saw too.  This person has been a great partner because over our time working together they have become pretty convinced in the power of social media.  But then I added something to our discussion.  I stated, "you know I have really only spent about 20 hours in your company's data and isn't interesting that in that short time I was able to play back to you the issues and opportunities for your business in a manner that I could talk to your leadership and sound coherent.".  My partner agreed and I smiled and said, "I have seen this before.  The true power of social media is the acceleration of one's ability to get "up to speed" on any topic in a short period of time from a consumer perspective."  At this point my partner smiled and saw the power to an even greater degree.

Now imagine you are starting your own business going up against one of the largest companies in the world.  You now have the power to set up shop on the web, create an e-panel of loyal customers to see what they say AND out research your competitor because the data is there for the picking.  You only need a tool like the ones NetBase has to complete your ability to simply be Goliath instead of David.

Big companies better wake up because the day this scenario can happen is here.  Call it the social media singularity and it is accelerating every second...

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