Over the last few years, social media has reached its noodly tentacles into the business world and taken hold. It’s moved so fast, in fact, that those within the business world have had difficulty grasping what social media is and why it’s such a phenomenon, all while attempting to find a proper perspective on what social media means to them as business leaders.
So, let’s take a step back. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae. Fundamentally, social media has altered the relationship between customers and the merchants who serve them. With this in mind, and in order to fully grasp the nebulous object that is social media, we must jump into the Way-Back machine. Follow us, if you will, to the pre-Industrial Revolution era.
Consumer Behavior in Pre-Industrial Revolution Times
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the average size of a village ranged between 50 and 300 people. When customers purchased items, they knew exactly who they were buying from. The relationship, for obvious reasons, was deeply rooted.
Given this truth, we can look at five essential qualities for business success in this era:
1) Because the village was so small, merchants had to be actively involved in the community.
2) Merchants had to provide an excellent service or product. Within the village, word-of-mouth would quickly destroy anything sub-par.
3) The product or service had to have fair pricing. You couldn’t swindle your neighbor without expecting a backlash.
4) Amazing customer service was a must. A company could not afford negative word of mouth; it would destroy not only their company, but their legacy.
5) Businesses that followed the above four principals would not only be successful, but their knowledge and skill sets that made them successful would also be passed down from generation to generation.
All information around a single village flowed freely. It’s a simple equation; if someone bought a shirt from a seamstress that lacked any of the above qualities and told someone about it, pretty soon that seamstress would be out of business. Each business was held extremely accountable for the way they ran their trade.
Business Communication in the Industrial Revolution
Then, the Industrial Revolution happened. Cities popped up. Large manufacturing companies came into power. The world became a melting pot. What happened?
Well, a number of things. For our purposes, we know one thing: the small village scenario became more and more rare. In diverse cities where enclaves developed, people chose which merchants to patronize based on nationality, race, and creed. Merchants were no longer required to put out amazing products that were fully and publicly scrutinized.
When it came to large companies and mass production of goods, word-of-mouth all but disappeared. One-way messaging became the force de rigueur, whether it was the town crier newspaper or, eventually, radio, television, or the Internet. Word-of-mouth still existed, but it could only go so far. Large companies could simply exponentially touch more people through advertising than a single person could with a complaint, suggestion, or an insight.
The power of diversion is a strong one. Faults within an industry could be wiped away without a backlash. The small village was no more. The common man or woman lost the ability to influence their peers.
Social Media Is Bringing Us Back to Pre-Revolution Communications and Marketing
With the advent of the Internet, message boards, and, now, social media, what we’re seeing again is that consumers are building relationships. However, these value sets are no longer based on the need for survival the way they were in the village.
No, this time they exist as a resource for trusted information. Who in your social group has the best taste in music? Who knows the healthiest, most affordable recipes for your family? As a society, we’ve started to reconvene in the small villages of yesteryear.
We’re sharing information. The average Facebook user today “Likes” 130 friends and 80 businesses. That’s smack dab in the middle of that number (50 to 300 people per village) we previously discussed.
As consumers, we’re once again building these relationships and merchants are being held accountable for their wares. This truly is the magic of social media. Businesses and governments need to realize that there’s powerful, useful conversation going on within their consumer base. They just need to be part of this conversation and resign themselves to one simple fact: from here on out, they will be held accountable.
It’s no longer good enough for companies to simply launch a new marketing idea. One-way messaging and glitzy marketing programs won’t single-handedly create more consumerism. At the end of the day, businesses have to be relevant in their communities, listen to the conversations, and adhere to those five principles. That’s how you win these days. There are no shortcuts.