The Social Media Puzzle

The other day I had a conversation with some nice people from the market research company Coleman Parkes Research. They wanted to tell me about a study they have recently concluded about social networking. I have to say it was pretty interesting stuff.

I will leave it to you to search for them and to download their full report. What was interesting to me is the evidence they turn up about adoption and how the adoption of social media to date by companies follows an early adopter pattern. As you know, in an early market, there is a lot of misinformation and skepticism about the new technology — rather like a political campaign. Eventually everyone understands the importance of whatever the new thing is, and those who need it adopt it.

Before that time, a lot of education and explanation needs to happen, and that function is carried out by sales and marketing (or candidates). So where is the social media market in the adoption curve? From the data, it looks like we are at the beginning of adoption. There are some notable successes, but a lot of skepticism driven by simply not knowing about the category. Some top line findings paint the picture.

The Coming Wave

According to Coleman Parkes’ research,

  • More than 75 percent of companies admit that social media will come into the business by stealth if not proactively managed.
  • Nine out of 10 companies understand that the next crop of employees will usher social media into the workplace.
  • Companies are not prepared to handle this stealth wave of activity. Approximately 60 percent of respondents say integrating social media technologies is not on the agenda at all at the moment.
  • Only 18 percent of respondents have any kind of strategy in place to integrate these technologies within the company for employees.
  • Fifty-two percent of respondents agree that companies who fail to embrace social media technologies for business purposes will be left behind. More than 60 percent also agree that social media is the next major step in collaborative activities and technology for a business.

If that doesn’t scream “early market” at you, I don’t know what does. It looks like there’s plenty of awareness of the technology, but it also looks like there has not been an “aha!” moment when a lot of people look at a success story and say, “That could have been me!”

The good news to me seems to be that there is plenty of awareness about the category, but the bad news is that few people see the direct correlation between business pain and the potential solution yet. That can change in an instant, but it also highlights the biggest challenge for social networking proponents. Without a clear example of a solution and a benefit, social networking could end up taking as long as it took regular networking to make it to the big time. You might recall that the year of the network ended up taking a decade to roll out.

The Role of CRM 2.0

All this is inextricably tied up with CRM 2.0. There’s no doubt in my mind that, for a whole host of reasons, marketing and sales need to adopt social networking concepts, and there has been good progress, especially with emerging companies beginning to offer point solutions.

Nevertheless, my analysis says that social networking is different from precious innovations. By its nature and almost by definition, social networking solutions need to work in concert with other applications to derive optimum benefit. The day is gone when a solution vendor can say to the market, “Here, take this, it does this one thing really well.” Instead, I think we are coming to a realization that whole interconnected processes are needed to drive business, and that means connected applications.

One of the things I like to tell my clients is that in this market, it is not enough to own a solution, you need to own a business problem. To own a solution for a part of a process is to have a piece of an answer; owning a business problem says to your customer, “We get it, and because we get it, we team with other applications that affect the whole process.”

Platform technology has made it easier for companies to team up to collectively own a business problem and to demonstrate real leadership in delivering a comprehensive solution. In my experience, though, progress has been slow in part because few vendors want to tie their fates to the fortunes of another. Nonetheless, I think we’ve entered a phase when customers will have less tolerance for point solutions or the notion that it’s their responsibility to figure out how it all goes together.

If that’s the case, it will take longer than it should for ground-breaking solutions leveraging social networking to hit the mainstream.

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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