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The Evolution of Social Media and Business

Social Media is fundamentally transformative and is rapidly evolving the architecture of business, communications, and the dissemination of information and influence.

Today, there are businesses that engage in social media and those that do not. Those at least experimenting with the formidable, yet shifting landscape of intelligence and communication are learning how to adapt and connect in a new world of conversation, networking, and influence. Those that have yet to evaluate the opportunities and advantages for socialized marketing, service, sales, and branding will find it increasingly difficult to learn, adapt, and magnetize customers, prospects as well as their influencers.

As markets evolve, consumers gain a greater sense of adeptness and perspective. They too learn and adapt. In the process, individuals and the authoritative communities they form, possess a more sophisticated understanding of media literacy, community support, and prowess in new media communication. Consumers have choices and they’re increasingly practiced through natural selection.

There’s a sense of social Darwinism at play here and while it might sound overly dramatic, it is for better or for worse, true. In the new era of influence, those businesses that understand where and how to compete for the future will earn a genuine and advantageous position to shape and steer the perception, prominence, and impact of the brand. It is this idea of competing for attention where it is focused, as it evolves, that will help businesses connect with people and thus set a new, efficient, and effective foundation for advocacy and community.

In order to earn a place within online societies, we must first recognize where they’re emerging, flourishing, and thriving, and also how to engage through authentic and attested immersion.

Social Media: Reporting from the Field

Recently, the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth updated its annual study on the adoption and practice of social media by the Inc. 500, a list of the fastest-growing private companies in the US.

The essence of the report shares the tools that are carving the evolution of the fittest. At a minimum, Social Media is affecting and shaping the pillars of business.

The study found that most businesses recognize the importance of experimentation and engagement, with 91 percent of companies reporting the incorporation of at least one social media service or tool in 2009. Literacy and awareness was also on the rise with roughly 75 percent stating that they were now “very familiar” with social networking. This was reflective in the impressive drop in Inc 500 companies that did not use social media whatsoever, plunging from 43 percent in 2007 to 9 percent in 2009.

Messaging/Bulleting Boards

2007: 33%
2008: 35%
2009: 28%

Social Networking

2007: 27%
2008: 49%
2009: 80%

Online Video

2007: 24%
2008: 45%
2009: 36%


2007: 19%
2008: 39%
2009: 45%


2007: 17%
2008: 27%
2009: 25%


2007: 11%
2008: 21%
2009: 12%


2009: 52%

This is the first year that Twitter was asked specifically, which is interesting considering that the network has been discussed as a business application over the last three years.

No Use of Social Media

2007: 43%
2008: 23%
2009: 9%

Social Media is indeed pervasive. Social networking, podcasting, blogging, and Twitter adoption are nothing less than profound. The number of Inc. 500 companies embracing these platforms and networks increased year over year, and most likely will do so in 2010 until we start to see the segmentation of targeted social activity in the networks that reach and connect niche markets or nicheworks.

The rise in the usage of wikis is encouraging. Even though 2009 numbers are slightly lower than 2007, at 92 percent, it is significantly higher than the 2008 reporting of 77 percent. Applications for wikis include user generated content, ideation, and governance, internal employee communication, as well as the organization of collective intelligence.

I am also pleasantly surprised at the growth in recognition of the importance of social activity within message/bulletin boards. In fact, when I conduct a listening and observation exercise to uncover where, when, how, why, and to what extent relevant conversations are transpiring using the Conversation Prism, messages boards and forums rank among the top of the list, in many cases, outperforming Twitter and placing second only to blogs in terms of consequence.

Not surprisingly however, video appeared to experience a small downward trend but 2009 activity still is significantly greater over 2007. What many either don’t yet realize or learn through a baptism by fire experience, online video requires much more than a Flipcam. Content must be engaging and entertaining. You literally have seven seconds to hold the attention of the viewer and without forethought, most videos are incredibly underwhelming. As such, content requires programming and creativity, much like the programming of any television network or motion picture company. We as consumers need something that captivates and holds our attention. Concurrently, online video also requires a dedicated content marketing strategy in order to connect the theme, essence, and value of the videos to those who could benefit from viewing them.

The Sociology of Social Media

The Center for Marketing Research observed that the Inc. 500 is outpacing the Fortune in many social media activities. In fact, respondents believe that Social Media is introducing a competitive advantage, with adoption ensuring survival and success through practice and evolution. As of now, the Inc. 500 documented success by measuring key, and not so important, indicators such as visits, impressions, comments, leads and sales leads and revenue.

As you interpret and process this information, it’s important to understand that the networks and adoption numbers aren’t necessarily reflective of the strategies you should integrate and pursue. Everything is specific to the behavior, activity, and locations of your community and thus requires an initial listening and observation exercise and audit to uncover the answers to the questions you may have or don’t yet know to ask.

This is why sociology prevails over technology when it comes to engagement. Essentially, brand managers become veritable digital anthropologists or sociologists in order to identify and document the culture of a community, gather information, analyze data, report findings, apply statistics and surface necessary communication and listening skills.

Our work subtly reflects that of a Margaret Mead or nowadays, Intel’s Genevieve Bell or Whirlpool’s Donna M. Romeo, Ph. D. – at the very least, we’re inspired by their work to apply their methodologies and learning in new fields.

While brand hierarchy isn’t necessarily established through social media alone, it is a highly concentrated and relevant amalgamation of integrated services, programs, and values that ultimately establish prominence.

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259 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Evolution of Social Media and Business”

  1. Tom Rau says:

    Dear Brian thanks for this interesting post.
    It is not surprising that the usage of social media services and tools has grown over the last years and will continue to grow in coming years.
    What I find most interesting, also from a researchers perspective, is the development of usage in the future.
    Right now it seems companies are often times trying multiple services and tools simply to be using Social Media.
    As you already point out Sociology determines where companies can successfully engage consumers. With currently so many services and tools available it will be very interesting to analyze which services and tools prove most effective for whom and why. Especially with regard to free services coping to make money to be able to survive.

    • briansolis says:

      Hello Tom! You are right. This is why research before action is so important. It tells us the location, size, and scope of our efforts, before we start.

    • Tom Rau says:

      Hi Brian. Very true. I think the POST model used by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li in their book is a very good approach. It just gets you thinking from the begining, not somewhere in the middle.

  2. Very interesting data, thanks Brian!

    I assume that this research is US-centric?

    I'd be very curious to see how the rest of the world fares on similar questions – in my experience, the divide between companies that “get it” and choose to be active in social media channels, and those who still are either too wary or simply oblivious to the possibilities is huge over here.

    Here's to a 2010 filled with great online discovery for the businesses that haven't yet dipped a toe in social media!

  3. Roger Harris says:

    This well-thought out post offers real insight into the progress of social media as a key tool in a business's marketing kit. In particular, Brian was careful to refer to actually refer to processes of evolution, viz. the role of natural selection. As a trained evolutionary biologist (now putting such thinking into a business context) I am impressed when an author is able to articulate mechanisms and concepts behind the terminology, rather than just bandy around popular buzzwords to boost traffic. Well done, Brian.

  4. dmattcarter says:

    I found this incredibly interesting: “As of now, the Inc. 500 documented success by measuring key, and not so important, indicators such as visits, impressions, comments, leads and sales leads and revenue.”

    While companies are growing a bit more sophisticated in their adoption and use of social tools, their method of measurement lags significantly. Visits, impressions and comments can provide a blunt snapshot of who's been where, but it's difficult to correlate those measures to true performance across the organization. Leads and revenue is closer to true performance but, I'd argue that either they're imposing an artificial direct response mechanism into their social outreach or their missing several factors when drawing those correlations.

  5. dmattcarter says:

    I found this incredibly interesting: “As of now, the Inc. 500 documented success by measuring key, and not so important, indicators such as visits, impressions, comments, leads and sales leads and revenue.”

    While companies are growing a bit more sophisticated in their adoption and use of social tools, their method of measurement lags significantly. Visits, impressions and comments can provide a blunt snapshot of who's been where, but it's difficult to correlate those measures to true performance across the organization. Leads and revenue is closer to true performance but, I'd argue that either they're imposing an artificial direct response mechanism into their social outreach or their missing several factors when drawing those correlations.

  6. M Zayfert says:

    Fascinating to see how the fastest growing comapnies are using SMM

  7. Ken Mueller says:

    Excellent stuff, Brian, as always. I think the numbers for 2010 will be even more telling. In addition to the obvious increase in the use of Social Media this year, I sure hope we see an increase in those companies that are doing it WELL!

  8. cyuskoff says:

    Brian, great post as usual. Do you think the video downward trend is temporary and we'll see a rise in 2010, as brands understand the importance of this medium and learn how to to produce more engaging video content? I think out of all the platforms, video is the most time consuming to produce. Currently, there isn't enough use of video editing in the videos I've seen. It takes a lot of skill and creativity to develop an engaging 2-3 minute piece. I hope to see more companies follow what VW had done with their Fun Theory initiative, which was my favorite use of video by a brand this year.

  9. lewishowes says:


    This is great stuff, and everything you continue to produce adds value. My question is, how do you personally think the trends will play out in 2010?

  10. Cathy Brooks says:

    Am going to bookmark this and enjoy it over lunch as it definitely merits a thoughtful read. As always, insightful, Brian. Thanks for helping start the year off with some solid perspectives!

  11. JDeragon says:

    Excellent post Brian. However, I content that there is a big difference in being social and using social. Zappos did 95% of their business online. There cultural intent was to be social. They used social media and were successfully but not because of social media. They were successful because of their service nd the ability to deliver service beyond expectations as a result of their culture.

    Your post reflects the relevant and relative issues that organizations must deal with or use of social media will reveal their intent. The Intention Economy is here and it is transparent 🙂

  12. cathybrooks says:

    Okay … have taken some time to read through – though again this wonderfully chewy item probably merits a bit more time … in the interest of making sure I actually comment rather than just think about it, here's a thought that comes to mind. As we talk about the socialization of these technologies I think what we also will witness is a need to adjust the semantics we use to describe things … For example: Look at the stunning drop in podcast statistics (21% to 12% from '08 to '09). Assuming that by “podcast” we're talking about audio only content, does this mean the companies stopped using audio altogether? Probably not. But the idea of what a podcast *is* has changed. I host a weekly broadcast (live) that some call a podcast … some call a radio show …I call it an audio broadcast that happens to be on the Net … it could just as easily be terrestrial or be pre-recorded and posted. As so many of these tools ebb and flow, I think that we'll see them come and go and evolve in different forms … and in some cases it may be the same old technology, just called something else.

    I think the most important point to consider is that which Brian raises here, which is about the way in which we consider using the tools and the thoughtfulness that is requisite in doing so.

    Here's to hoping our new decade is a new dawn of awareness on that front.

  13. darabell says:

    I particulalry like the final section regarding human behavior (sociology)' No one I can see of – is discussing how we as humans interact in these platforms, sociology does prevail over technology perhaps may even helps us evolve further but we are still tribal around. I find which tool or technolgy a finicky conversation that irrelavant and the people as you are pointing out are evolving (around) the technology. Tech Trends come and go largely based on human tipping points.

  14. timbursch says:

    Great post and very informative. I appreciate the integration of sociology in applying these new tools to business. Story, listening, and conversation are not new, we are just finding new ways to connect with more people. Exciting!

    I am curious where mobile will fit in the above research? Especially for younger generations.

  15. davedrury says:

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for a very thorough insight.

    In Australia, there are certainly several toes that have been dipped into social media, but very little with calculated direction. As tom Rau says, companies are trying social media but more out of experiment only or through societal misguidance based on where they believe the masses are located, and what they believe their target audiences would like to see them doing.

    Much more planning, observing and strategic execution of social media is required moving forward. I will look forward to following the trends around the globe during 2010.

    Dave Drury

  16. Sam Liu says:

    No doubt the use of social media is increasing in the world of business, but it's effectiveness is still being sorted out.

    In the consumer social media world, personal motivations are enough to sustain growth. In the world of business, ultimately it'll need to come down to increasing “sales”.

    Social media fatigue anyone?

  17. Hey, great piece, I think you hit it right on when you caution that a social media strategy should consider your specific audience and communities that you are really trying to engage and activate. It is interesting to watch as companies progress through their implementation of a social media marketing strategy. Our clients usually start out something like this…

  18. Great stuff Brian!

    As technology continue to evolve, social media will remain
    the prime mover in the success of businesses particularly those companies that
    are using social media for earning revenues. To be specific, those companies who
    offered services like lead generation and appointment setting. Just imagine the
    wide range covered by the social media sites. It brought lots of benefits in
    all individuals.

  19. bookkeeping says:

    That’s a pretty big effect on social media & business. Business need it more to gain more potential clients and consumer interaction and social media, in this way, is a powerful tool.

  20. origami says:

    Much appreciated post. Thanks!

  21. Today, Social media and business work together to provide valuable information to customers and to get feedback from customers and potential clients.

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