Shih Wrote the Book on Social Media

Clara Shih is a friend I met through She recently published The Facebook Era, which looks at the relationship of social networking to front office computing. She is really busy these days promoting the book, and she recently left Salesforce to pursue new ideas in social networking and to form a company dedicated to the task.

Shih is bright and articulate and she’s been involved in social networking and social media for several years. She even wrote a little code — the first integration of Salesforce and Facebook (Faceforce, now Faceconnector). I caught up with her in an airport as she was leaving to visit family in China. I wanted to congratulate her on the book and learn about her thinking on some important issues surrounding front office computing and social networking.

Violent Agreement

I think we’re in violent agreement on most points, and I have to respect the fact that she spent a year researching social media — especially Facebook — and writing her book. One thing Shih makes clear in the book as well as in conversation is the disruptive nature of social media, “As disruptive as the Internet was for any industry,” she says. “Who knows who and how will be critical in sales going forward.”

True enough.

As the market continues to move from one where innovators sell to early adopters toward one with more stability, we can expect that personal relationships will become increasingly important — that only makes sense. When early adopters buy something, it’s to gain a competitive advantage by being the first to implement a new technology. Early adopters are like the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. They buy stuff and play with it to find a profitable use. They don’t need a lot of hand-holding, and often the most basic documentation is fine, so it’s no surprise that selling to early adopters is pretty easy.

Mainstream Goes Mainstream

Most of us today have lived through a long series of new waves, not just in technology but throughout the economy, and we have all been early adopters. The new economy is a lot more about mainstream buyers, and many of us might have forgotten (or never learned) how to sell to them. That’s where social media comes in, and it’s why the amalgamation of CRM and social networking is such a big deal — if it gets done right.

What exactly is meant by doing things right is a tricky question. According to Shih, if you think about a maturity model for the space, “We’re about at phased 1.5. In phase one, people didn’t understand what [social networking] was or why it mattered. We’re at the stage now where people know Facebook and Twitter, but they don’t necessarily know what to do with them in business.”

Shih makes the analogy to the early Internet when no one knew how to monetize their investments in Web sites. In a lot of cases companies simply “…tried to apply old models to new media.” It sort of worked, but today we’ve moved on in many respects. Whenever you apply old models to new media, you are basically trying to extend the old paradigm, getting the most you can out of it before you have to invest in something new and expensive. It also gives you time to see which models are most likely to be the winners, because no one wants to go down the wrong path and end up spending twice — not that that ever happens in the software market.

‘Exponential Growth Phase’

There is also the issue of developing the right metrics for measuring success, and to do that the business objectives need to be in place. So what are the business objectives, and which social networking tools are right for each objective? “It depends,” Shih says diplomatically. “There are different tools for different environments,” and her book goes into more detail. But suffice it to say that a blog has a different purpose and orientation than Twitter with a 140-character limit.

It might seem that several social media are carving out niches for themselves — Facebook for sales, Linked-in for personal networking and Twitter for quick bursts. Shih is the first to acknowledge that things are very fluid. “We’re in an exponential growth phase,” she says, ” Everything can change in a year.”

Right you are. In a year, we could have more clarity or simply more companies contending for hearts and minds (and wallets) as the social networking boom takes over in full force. If things work out as Shih expects, there will also be a company headed by her to advise companies about social networking and its uses. We could all use the help.

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].

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