If you read blogs about marketing small companies, you’re inundated with “social media” advice about why you need a blog and a Twitter account and everything else.
Even my 90-year-old grandmother who doesn’t own a computer and reads my wife’s healthy cooking blog on print-outs asks “What’s Twitter?” because she read about it in the New York Times.
In the next five minutes, I’d like to convince you that you have to jump into the world of blogging and Twitter and Facebook.
Back in the late 1990s….
(Ew, don’t you cringe when you hear the phrase “back in the late 1990s?” Here comes a tale of hope and of disappointment, of “paradigm shifts” and of “eCommerce,” of lessons learned and history we shan’t repeat! Yuck. Sorry about this; it has to be done.)
Anyway, back in the late 1990s, there was a day (let’s call it October 19th, 1997) when suddenly every company in the western world decided they needed a website.
Not that anyone knew what a website was for. Was it a brochure? A storefront? A billboard? The geeks say “It’s a new way of doing business.” What the hell does that mean?
What pushed everyone over the edge was that on October 19th, if you didn’t have a website you were invisible. Not just hard to contact, invisible.
Sure you had advertisement and PR; you could get a message in front of people. But then what? Would they go to your store? Call your 800 number and request more information? Not on October 19th; they want a URL, and if they don’t get one they are finished with you.
Mind you, most companies still had no idea what websites were for, but they realized they had no choice. “This is the next big form of media, and whoever figures it out will win,” it was collectively decided.
How do you “win” the Internet? No one knew, and even those geeks who indirectly convinced the world to live on the web didn’t foresee its massive effect. The Internet was not, in fact, “just another form of media” — it created opportunities where Amazon is 34x bigger than Barnes & Noble, where NetFlix destroyed Blockbuster, and where Skype is worth $2.6B while telecom companies drop like flies.
It’s not just a new media, it’s a completely different world. Business models are changed forever.
Flash-forward to today, and the same pattern is emerging, just in a different guise.
Today, a new website is invisible on the Internet.
Take for example my little fun project, LinksFor.Us, a tool that shows bloggers who is linking to and talking about their posts. Thank God I have no interest in making money with it, but suppose I did.
LinksFor.Us is invisible. How would you find it? Googling “blogs?” Yeah right! All the search engine and AdWords optimization in the world wouldn’t put a new website at the top of a Google search for “links to blogs.”
So what could I do? Take out ads in a magazine that bloggers read? Oops, bloggers don’t read print. Okay I’ll advertise on actual blogs! Oops, bloggers read blogs in RSS readers that (generally) don’t show ads.
LinksFor.Us is invisible. I suppose with enough money anything can be noticed, but in practice it ain’t gonna happen. Certainly not if I wanted to bootstrap a little company from it.
The days of “have a website and advertise” are over. It’s too expensive to be noticed on an Internet that’s already full.
Social media is the only way LinksFor.Us could get traction. If Darren Rowse or Brian Clark talks about it, it’s visible. If it hits the front page of Digg, it’s visible. Once it’s visible, once you have things like incoming links and lots of regular traffic, then you have a shot at using traditional SEO techniques for staying visible. But social media is the only way to overcome static friction (short of spending crazy money).
Social media is already changing the rules of the marketplace, just like the web did a decade ago. It’s still early of course and no one — not even the experts — knows where all this is going. But it’s clear that times are changing again, and those that don’t jump in will go the way of print media.
In the next ten years there will be more stories like this, not fewer.
Will all these social networks and websites survive? No.
Do we understand how to use them most efficiently? No.
Will there be another new thing someday? Sure.
But today and for the foreseeable future, this is the world. You have to jump in even if you don’t yet understand it.
Is social media required for everyone, or are there circumstances where it just doesn’t matter?
Leave a comment and join the conversation.