Think that social media has nothing to offer your “traditional” business? I can give you reasons along any of three points of view: velocity, flexibility, and economy. As our tools come closer and closer to approximating and/or enhancing human interaction, and further away from requiring an abundance of technological expertise, those who are exploring and sampling these tools are at an advantage that can be measured in speed, adaptability, and cost of operation.
We aren’t talking about the marketing department. We aren’t equipping PR professionals. This isn’t a new set of tools for launching campaigns. These are tools to improve interaction, and they are incredibly powerful and game-changing when you consider how much less impact on traditional business resources most of these solutions have.
In the United States, in 2008, a “smart” cellular phone costs as little as $150 USD for the device, and under $50 for an account with a data plan. Wifi hotspots are on the rise. A reasonably good laptop can be purchased for under $500 with built-in wireless capabilities. With these two types of units as the base system, we can deliver the following capabilities:
- Instant communication in voice, text, email, photo,video, and even geo-locative.
- Information browsing, including SMS-based and voice search (Google).
- Presence status information (Twitter, dodgeball, jaiku, pownce)
- Shared documents (Google docs)
- Voice Conferencing (freeconferencecall.com and tons more)
- Access to thousands of web-stored applications and data.
All without a cubicle. All without an office, an office manager, any infrastructure whatsoever. We can work out of coffee shops and libraries, at hotels and in the upstairs office, on the side of the road, or across the globe. Fast.
As recently as five years ago, we considered which software our organizations would buy based on the operating systems we supported. (Maybe yours still does.) Before that, we had to choose between Token Ring and Ethernet. Beta and VHS. (Now there’s Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, but you’re not falling for that, right?). Today, we are flexible. There are some considerations to be had, but with so many applications running in the cloud, accessible through browsers, so much of what we choose to equip ourselves with is a personal choice, and is a matter of our Internet access more than any other deciding factor.
- Office apps via Google or Zoho, or desk versions from OpenOffice
- Operating Systems for free with Ubuntu (and hundreds of other Linux distributions), or irrelevant with the browser being our true compatibility choice.
- Collaboration through wikis, shared spaces like Facebook, or in Ning communities.
- Conversations across multiple Instant Messaging vendors via Adium, or Trillium or Meebo
- Blog on WordPress, blogger, movable type, vox, whatever.
- Instant databases through Freebase.com or Zoho
- File storage through Box.net and so many more
- Video hosting from Revver, Blip.tv, Brightcove, YouTube
We can choose from any number of sources, mix and match. Flexibility is abundant. You don’t have to choose what your neighbor chooses. Email can be gmail, yahoo, and whatever else. Just use a domain forwarding/pop3 scheme to keep consistency to external sources.
Why pay for it when you can use it for free? Cost doesn’t insinuate reliability any more than free predicts uptime. Google is free and it is more diverse than any of your data centers. If you have to consider budget when considering social media, as with the rest of the premise, things fall back to the humans involved. Lots of companies are using ad-supported software models. Others are using services and add-ons and behind-the-firewall implementations to support their efforts. The point is still the same: you don’t have to pay anything (or much) to get into the game.
- Use Skype for free voice conversations (and cheap for SkypeOut)
- Use WordPress.com for free blog hosting, or Blogger, or Vox, or Tumblr.
- Facebook is free. Twitter is free. Gmail is free. Google Docs are free.
- Wikis are free. Freebase is free. Zoho is free.
- STORAGE is cheap (not free) for people making media. Price out 500 Gigabytes of storage these days and you’ll see that it costs less than you used to pay for a box of floppies in the mid 90s.
There are other “costs” in retooling your business practices and the like. And yet, what’s the return? If you’re faster, more flexible, and have cost the company nothing in licensing, what have you hurt?
Beware those selling you “solutions” that are “more robust” than what’s out there. What’s out there is working just fine for lots of people. People out beating the street doing important things are using these free apps, these web-minded apps, these “you can’t always be connected to the Internet” apps.
What’s holding you back? What are the reasons you’re hearing for NOT using social computing technology to enhance the way people do business at your company?
(And yes, security will be one of the prime answers. Let’s hash that out in the comments section. What’s YOUR take?)
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
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Photo credit, Ishrona