What are markets? A timely reminder

When marketing seems a bit messy, virtual, or removed. When you’re wondering really what’s going on, what you’re doing, imagine this helpful scene:

The first markets were markets. Not bulls, bears, or invisible hands. Not battlefields, targets, or arenas. Not demographics, eyeballs, or seats. Most of all, not consumers.

The first markets were filled with people, not abstractions or statistical aggregates; they were the places where supply met demand with a firm handshake. Buyers and sellers looked each other in the eye, met, and connected. The first markets were places for exchange, where people came to buy what others had to sell — and to talk.

The first markets were filled with talk. Some of it was about goods and products. Some of it was news, opinion, and gossip. Little of it mattered to everyone; all of it engaged someone. There were often conversations about the work of hands: “Feel this knife. See how it fits your palm.” “The cotton in this shirt, where did it come from?” “Taste this apple. We won’t have them next week. If you like it you should take some today.” Some of these conversations ended in a sale, but don’t let that fool you. The sale was merely the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence.

Market leaders were men and women whose hands were worn by the work they did. Their work was their life, and their brands were the names they were known by: Miller, Weaver, Hunter, Skinner, Farmer, Brewer, Fisher, Shoemaker, Smith.

For thousands of years, we knew exactly what markets were: conversations between people who sought out others who shared the same interests. Buyers had as much to say as sellers. They spoke directly to each other without the filter of media, the artifice of positioning statements, the arrogance of advertising, or the shading of public relations.

These were the kinds of conversations people have been having since they started to talk. Social. Based on intersecting interests. Open to many resolutions. Essentially unpredictable. Spoken from the center of the self. “Markets were conversations” doesn’t mean “markets were noisy.” It means markets were places where people met to see and talk about each other’s work.

Conversation is a profound act of humanity. So once were markets.

Words by Doc Searles and David Weinberger
Markets are conversations, Cluetrain Manifesto, Page 74

Written in 1999, still valid today.

How to deliver social impact with social media – a guide

Cover of Social by Social
Cover of Social by Social
Thought I’d bring your attention to a book and website that has just launched that could prove useful for you or or organisation if it’s thinking about social media.

Social by Social is ‘a practical guide to using new technologies to deliver social impact’. Supported by NESTA it has been put together by five highly experienced social entrepreneurs and reporters using social media in the UK. Their aim with the book (which you can order (£7.99), download for free as a PDF or read online) was to:

…help people in the public and third sectors do more good, by showing them the power of these technologies and how to access them. In the process, we hope we can also educate funders and policy workers about the huge shift of mindset and expectations needed to commission these projects successfully, to give the innovators more space to work.

Reading through, the advice and information given is as valid for corporate communications and businesses as it is for anyone in the third sector, individual or groups planning a campaign. Of particular note is the set of 38 initial propositions (or manifesto) for working in social media, which include advice such as:

1. Give up the illusion of control
2. People make technology matter

5. Go where people are

8. Learn to listen before you start talking

14. Start small

16. Keep it simple

Worth a read.

Also see: Writing a corporate Twitter strategy.

Is social media a fad?

If you are looking for a summary of why social media is currently considered de rigeur look no further than this video by Socialnomics. The video aims to answer the question: “Is social media a fad?”. It neatly summarises recent statistical data (with a bias to the US) and the extent to which social media is being used across the web and web connected devices. It’s definitely worth watching and I shall be using it in my next training class to kick things off.

As Kara Swisher points out, it’s slick, but social media is “more like a financial dud so far”.

This is a viral video to promote a site (and book of the same title) regarding how social media “transforms the way we live and do business”, yet there are few references to the trickier questions of finance and business. Whilst social media services themselves are gathering huge audiences very few people have managed to make the sums add up. Watching the video new to the subject you might also presume that social media is a new phenomenon that’s sprung up in the last few years, not something older than the web itself*.

To answer the question “is social media a fad?”, it’s worth taking time to understand Gartner’s hype cycle. This is used by the company to estimate how long technologies and trends will take to reach maturity, and help organisations decide when to adopt. Their cycle has five phases:

  1. Technology trigger
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations
  3. Trough of Disillusionment
  4. Slope of Enlightenment
  5. Plateau of Productivity

Below is the graph by Gartner for emerging technologies, taken from their latest report, courtesy of We Are Social. It shows how different elements of the social media phenomenons mentioned in the Socialnomics video are in different stages of the hype cycle.

Particularly worth noting is that e-book readers (like the Kindle) are currently at the peak of inflated expectations, whilst wikis are on the slope of enlightenment.

Source: We Are Social
Source: We Are Social

So whilst social media may be statistically more than a fad, and that certain elements are possibly coming towards the end of the hype cycle, the video glosses over that what makes media social. Media is made social not by technologies or websites but by people. As Mark Earls points out:

People not things shape fashions.

Notes
* For example, the discussion forum, Usenet, used internet technologies that pre-date the web.

UPDATE 24/08/2009: This review about the video over at ZDNet is worth a read too.