I heard a speaker at the socialtvsummit talking about how we were moving from the invention to the application stage of the social web.

Oy!

Although well intentioned, the phrase is indicative of a big miss and a big misunderstanding of today’s market and what social media as a way of communications is all about.

Culture–not technology–is the magic and DNA of the social web.

We are not moving along a product continuum of market acceptance. Just the opposite.

Somehow this idea has cropped up that the social web is a science project for the technologist and a tool for marketers.

It’s as if product designers and web companies think that cultural and behavioral evolution is part of their product roadmap.

The big social nets today are prime examples of core cultural and human behaviors that found expression in a social platform. The potential of the tools are not ahead of the behaviors. They are not the drivers, but the recipients of a cultural shift.

The old adage of whether Facebook invented sharing or created a platform to capture the pent-up need of the mass market springs to mind.

There has been a market shift. Not yesterday, but over time and it’s now the norm. The powerful tools that we connect and navigate with are getting confused with the market itself.

Does this matter?

Yes, a lot. It is not just semantics.

With the exceptions of a few marketing thinkers, like Brian Solis in his new book, this very old post that he shared with me, and Gary Vaynerchuck’s core approach to markets, many in the business world appear to be looking through the wrong side of the lens.

There is an epidemic of tool and platform worship. A looking at the social web as a product and a unique gateway to a niche marketplace.

I think action and understanding gets diffused and misdirected if you consider the message within the media, Marshall McCluhen style. It’s simply not true at this stage of evolution.

Look at the big brands as an example. At first they needed to be convinced of the value of social media. That it was real. They balked and balked, then acquiesced. Then they ran scared and jumped hard on the need to engage.

But they–for the most part–are embracing the tools not the audiences.

Huge brands who are embedded in the very fabric of society are acting like nervous children who understand neither themselves nor their value nor their audience. Often the results are off target and mostly just boring. Push advertising in a social guise. Cause marketing as masquerade at times.

I’ve never bought into the myth that social tools are the new marketing. That new measurement system to understand social cues was a necessary component of business ROI. And least that the focus on tips and tricks and endless lists of must-do’s and how-to’s warranted focus.

Do a test.

Talk to any one camped out at their local Starbucks, working on their laptops or iPads. Facebook, Twitter, turntable.fm, Foursquare and a few vertical communities are their connecting threads to work and play online and off.

Now approach this as a company wanting to connect with them as customers. My bet is the first circle on your whiteboard at the office will be the network of connections channels you need to work in, not the why of what you are trying to do.

This is the epitome of the misunderstanding. The misguidance of many marketing and business plans today. Certainly you want to take the message to the place, the community. But the message? The meaning as distinct from just ‘sharing’?

The power of these new tools are immense. Distractingly so. But that is not the big change.

The market itself is. Culture in today’s connected world has shifted, even evolved, and our behaviors and the intricacies of our beliefs along with them.

This is not a lab where we are collecting data beyond our ability to interpret it.

Just the opposite. The world has already turned a corner and the majority of businesses are simply looking past the reality of the marketplace. They are focused on tools and tactics rather than the ‘why’ of this. The needs of their customers.

A few weeks ago on Fred Wilson’s avc.com, commenter @substrateundertow, in a conversation thread with me on education that ‘people & culture are the bedrock platform’. Well said and so true, now and always.

Marketers have just lost sight of this. Blinded by the wonders of the tools and the pure power of the platforms.

A while back I posted on my experiences with early communities with Atari and their BBS system. The value was in the community and culture, not in the connecting thread of the system itself. Tools have changed dramatically; core values of culture and behavior are still the basis for business success.

The connection gap, the knowledge chasm between brand and fan, lies somewhere in this realization.

Many, myself included,  have posted about the shift that occurred when the “C” in the traditional marketing planning bulls-eye changed from being ‘Company’ and became ‘Customer’. This is not rhetoric. It’s a reality that has shifted the core of commerce and communications. It’s not about technology, it’s germane and core to culture and behavior.

It feels somewhat trivial to rant on the obvious but the gap between companies and their customers looms large and a huge market frustration point. Most companies play on the social nets. But most are focused on the tool. On measurement systems to determine whether the tool is effective. This is  misfocused thinking from the  marketers point of view.

If you for a second forget about the Internet. The social web. And just think about the culture changes of the last decade.

A global consciousness across all age and economic groups. A necessity for transparency in all aspects of social and business life. An innate cultural disdain for lies and bigotry and inequality. Unlimited choice of where to buy most anything. The end of consumer goods scarcity as a value scale. The reality of the global local.

Huge changes.

Age, country, geography, culturally agnostic. The world has moved up an evolutionary notch.

If you are a company selling a product, stop and consider. Don’t think Twitter or Facebook. Think about this new customer in a new world social order. Figure that out. Tools will be easy to navigate. Messaging and value within these places and communities will become clear.

Asking questions is sometimes most of the way to the answer. Especially in a world where pivoting is akin to planning and iteration often the best strategy.

These three  are the ones I ask most clients and plan on examining in future posts:

-Why care? Why share?

If you can’t answer this about your customer, you are not ready to take any step towards your market place. [Please see my post "Why care? Why share?". Be sure to check out the comments.]

-Is excellence enough?

Build a great product and the market will find you is not unquestionably true. Can you build your community and your channel into your product?

-Does your community want to talk about you, or to you? Or about something else?

Companies aren’t people. Your customers, if you are lucky, want to talk about the value of your product and it’s impact. To each other most likely. Are you self aware and self assured enough as a company to let this happen? To sponsor this? Figuring out the dynamics of your particular community is key and requires an open perspective.

Grab a whiteboard and map these out. Share what you discover and the new questions you come up. Let me know if they help.

 

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