How does one distinguish between a fad and a social or business transformation? And in which category should we put Facebook, Twitter and all the other Web-based networks that come under the heading of social media?
I am convinced of two things. The first is that social media is much more than a fad. It is not just that Twitter has been at the heart of the Arab Spring and other social and political developments of recent years. Nor that Facebook has acquired so many millions of users all over the world, its influence being recognised by academics and film-makers alike. It is also the fact that people use new media in a variety of ways that it becomes impossible to distinguish between business and pleasure. Wikipedia, for instance, has shown that people not only long to find things out, they long to share them. The psychological effect on business and public life has been immense. There really is a new climate of openness and organisations that have failed to adapt have gone under.
But not all the ancient verities of business have disappeared, which brings me to my second firm conviction - simply that we should not get carried away. US Congressman Anthony Wiener was not the first public figure to be undone by the ill-advised use of Twitter, and he would not be the last. These things need to be handled with care. Besides, the memories of the dotcom boom and bust are surely not forgotten so quickly.
Important Business Tool
It was with great interest, therefore, that I read a survey published a few weeks ago by my own company, Regus. The survey, of more than 17,000 senior managers and business owners in 80 countries, showed that most global businesses see social networking as an important business tool and an essential ingredient for success. But there were huge discrepancies between countries.
China and India topped the list of those who use social networks to find new customers, at 65 percent and 61 percent respectively, both figures much higher than a year ago. But while the global average hovered around 47 percent, up from 40 percent in 2010, the Japanese were far more sceptical, with the idea of using social networks to find new customers finding support from a mere 23 percent - down from 30 percent a year ago!
Another note of caution: 61 percent of respondents said companies would not succeed if they used social networking and online campaigns to the exclusion of other marketing methods. And although 35 percent of companies said they planned to devote more budget to social networking, this remains a minority, one that is almost precisely matched by the 34 percent of companies who devote none at all.
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