I've been out speaking a lot lately, mostly promoting Twitterville and always talking about social media and it's impact on business, government, nonprofits and other institutions. The most frequent question I get is regarding what I see coming next.
Predictions make me uncomfortable. If I were better at them I would spend more time picking stocks. The thing that I've learned to love about the future is that it will surprise us and we can have a good chuckle about how silly predictions can be.
Social media so far has been a series of surprises and these surprises on one hand have led to sustained change that almost all observers now see as changing how business and organizations will interface with customers. These surprises have been spurred by one innovation after another and it has been going on for a decade now. What began in the tech sector has spilled over into business and government;; education and goodwill fundraising. These changes have disrupted and undermined how we get our news, who we talk with, what we buy, watch listen to and a good deal more.
When viewed through social media, it has been a period of relentless change and a pretty exhausting time for most business managers. Their jobs during this period have not changed all that much. They are still worried about operating margins and headcount; costs of goods sold and how to replace best practice which are not as good as they once were.
The fundamentals of business do not really change. They are all about exchange goods and services for profit in a marketplace. They should not change at this fundamental level and those who argue that they should seem to miss the key benefit of social media tools.
The overwhelming benefit of these tools is to make business and markets work better for both buyers and sellers; to make it all work more effectively and efficiently; to make access to markets easier and cheaper and larger to expedite and open communications.
Social media has accomplished enough of that to make enough business people understand the value and want to embrace them. What has slowed the process is that social media has also been very disruptive.
We have gone through a prolonged period of disruption in which social media tools have change a great many aspects of the way modern companies conduct business. I believe that this period is now coming to a close.
We are leaving the age of social media innovation and entering a longer, slower-moving period in which businesses and institutions will absorb and assimilate these tools into their everyday business practices. The novelty of these tools will fade away as the utility of them becomes clearer and more universally accepted.
There was a time when people wrote books and produced conferences to discuss the business benefits of email and fax machines. The telephone got introduced at a public fair and immediately business thinkers warned of the dangers that existed if such a device were permitted into the workplace.
A great many executives agreed about the phone, but eventually, business saw that the benefits far outweighed the liabilities. Businesses that continued to ignored those benefits eventually disappeared. And as the benefits of the phone became clearer to more and more people, the once-heated conversation about the phone's place in business cooled down, became obvious, tedious and would eventually wither.
What I see happening in the near term future is far more valuable than it is controversial or interesting. We have entered into a long, slow, steady, non-disruptive period of refinement and adoption. The tools we have will get better and easier and faster, but they will not be soon replaced by some shiny new thing. The business that have painfully adopted the new tools will feel far less pain and far more results. New people coming into the workplace and marketplace will use social media tools with as little angst or consideration as they use email or phone.
We are entering the Social Media Age of Normalization. The guy in the photo above is Warren G. Harding, one of the darkest horses to ever get elected president. He did it by sitting on a nice porch in Ohio and declaring that after the horrors of the Great War, Americans wanted to "return to normalcy."
The word "normalization" is actually a more recent word. It was developed by database technicians who used it to describe how relational databases work, once all the flaws were scraped out.
That's what happening with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, YouTube and the rest. It is no straight line, but the tools are getting steadily better and their usage, for the most part, is growing in the same way.
Welcome to the Social Media Age of Normalization. I predict an Era about as tumultuous as watching paint dry and as significant as the adoption of the automobile. I wonder what I get to write about next.