Enterprise Adoption of Social Business 2010—Three Technologies to Watch

In this second installment of the Midyear Update, I’ll outline three social technologies that are potential game-changers, and give general guidance for what you can do to evaluate their relevance to your business this year. I’ll decipher them and explain why you need to care about how Geosocial applications are transforming retail, how “federated identity” enables customers to log in to Web 2.0 sites with their Google, Facebook or Twitter credentials and how Web 3.0 slipped in the back door while most executives weren’t looking. [update: the third installment gets personal]

Geosocial Applications Will Reinvent “Retail”

Foursquare“Geosocial” applications like Foursquare usually sit on your mobile device. The “Geo” refers to exchanging information related to one’s current temporal and physical location via a mobile device. “Social” applies the now-established bundle of practices called “social networking” to one’s physical location (interacting with friends, friends of friends). Many geosocial applications utilize GPS technology to automatically report the physical locations of their users, subject to their privacy settings. Read a more detailed primer here. The key point is, geosocial enables spontaneous social networking in physical locations. In other words, if you’re looking at new shoes for a summer marathon and check into the Nike Store, your friends can see it and join you—or, if you’ve enabled it, anyone in your running club. Also, people comment on their experiences at physical locations. This is another manifestation of a larger trend: merging of social networking and mobility.

How does this change retail? Let’s simplify and say that retail has two channels of value: obtaining the goods and the social experience of obtaining the good. The goods channel might be epitomized by daily grocery shopping—and social channel by “shopping” with friends. In the social channel, the value is sharing your reactions to all the things and people you see with your friends: buying something may be quite secondary to the value you obtain from the trip (even though people also buy more goods when they’re with friends). Ecommerce and supporting infrastructure have intensified retail because the goods channel has shifted to big box and online, where one often gets infinite selection and better pricing. In other words, all retailers will be increasingly required to amp up the value they offer from the social channel.

Action Items

  • Realize that geosocial gives tremendous new capabilities for social shopping, so retailers that understand it can create unusual advantage by increasing satisfaction and sales. The fact is, in many cases, people enjoy exploring and shopping more if they are with friends than when they are alone.
  • Geosocial’s impact on retail is accentuated since retail will increasingly have to differentiate in the social channel.
  • Take a hard look at your business, and monitor geosocial adoption, which will be very Niche-y for a long time. If early adopters are a segment you care about now, you need to explore pilots right away. Also put it up on your priority list if business partners, which are adjacent to you in the value chain, cater to early adopters.

Federated Identity and “Social” Commerce

Facebook ConnectTwo more game-changing social technologies to watch carefully are Web 2.0’s version of federated identity (i.e., Facebook Connect, Google FriendConnect, Twitter and OpenID) and federated voting and connection (Facebook’s Like button, Google coming soon). Think of these as “social infrastructure.” You undoubtedly use or have noticed Facebook Connect buttons that enable you to log in to third party sites. For example, if you want to comment on blog posts, you have to log in to most blogs, and many enable you to authenticate with Facebook Connect, Google FriendConnect, Twitter or OpenID. For more on how this works, see Web Single Sign-on Update.

From an adoption perspective, federated identity will affect more businesses earlier for two reasons: it is far easier to use, and Facebook, Google and Twitter user bases are far larger than geosocial’s. But the log-in is less important than what happens afterward: people who log in with Facebook Connect have the option of sharing their comments on the third party site and on their Facebook Walls. Likewise with Twitter. They can also see what their Facebook friends have commented on the third party site. Example: a customer uses Facebook Connect to log in to adidas.com to talk about the tremendous service she just received, or she met a world cup player in one of their stores. Facebook Connect gives the user the option of publishing that to her Facebook Wall in one click. She also sees what her Facebook friends have said on that site. Unlike geosocial, this is equally applicable online; it’s one click promotion of your business to someone’s friends.

This also means is that your customers’ friends increasingly follow them wherever they go, and they can ask their friends’ opinions on anything, including buying advice, on the fly. The cost of consulting friends is falling fast. An old adage in sales holds that the salesperson should try to get all the decision makers in the room to come to a deal: now, there are infinitely many, and they’re available via customers’ mobile devices. Imagine this: one of your salesmen has spent 90 minutes moving a young couple to a $2,000 product sale, he’s just filling out the paper work, and one of the couple’s iPhones beeps. Facebook friend: “Stay away from that place, no matter what they tell you, they have terrible service, I really got burned.” Since the average Facebook user has 130 friends, that couple has 220 (allowing for duplicates) advisors in their pockets.

Related but different is the “Like” button. Facebook’s Like button, (Google coming soon) enables users on any site to give that site or page a “Facebook thumbs up,” which is a “social action” that gets published to that person’s Facebook Wall and broadcast to their friends, along with a link to the URL you choose. Try it with the Like button in the right sidebar on the SNR home page. To take advantage of this, Web venues insert a snippet of Facebook code on their pages, and anyone visiting can “Like” the site, which is a rudimentary voting system.

Action Items

  • Whatever your business, you are losing competitive advantage every day the Like button is not on your pages. You need to conduct pilots ASAP.
  • Depending on how you code it, the Like button provides certain clickthrough statistics. A great source of social CRM you can’t afford to ignore; the only cost is some time, but upside is significant.
  • Taking advantage of Facebook Connect and Google FriendConnect is more complicated but just as important. Enable members of your interactive sites to log in with Facebook, Google or Twitter, and observe behavior because you want to learn what’s really important to customers who log in that way. Also important is to reach out in Facebook itself to engage customers and their friends on Facebook, thereby strengthening your relationship with them.

Did You Miss It? Web 3.0’s Been Here a While Now

web30Web 3.0 is more abstract, but it’s very critical, so bear with me a minute. Although definitions varied, most agreed that Web 3.0 was to do two things: the Geoweb would superimpose the digital Web onto the physical world while the Semantic Web would enable “The Web” to “think” and be more proactive.

We are building the Geoweb every day. We all carry the 1970s equivalent of supercomputers on our hips now, and $10 equivalents are in the offing in India and elsewhere. Depending on settings, pictures you take, comments you leave or other interactions are metainformation about the physical world; in effect, we are “documenting” the universe. Threat: this will shatter what we used to think of as privacy because anyone can videotape and publish to the Web with one click from a cheap mobile device (for one example, see Kyte Mobile). Voice recording, photos, videos, text. That means that we are, as individuals and businesses, on candid camera all the time. That said, the effect will be dampened in the short-term because people have to superimpose text (“metainformation”) on non-text content to enable others to find it, which is too much work for most. However, witness Apple Faces face recognition technology; this type of technology will become pervasive, so the machine will do it for us, which will end privacy as we know it. Geo-tracking, unless a user turns it off, provides where the content originated. On the lighter side, the Geoweb affords businesses fantastic opportunity to engage people and promote many aspects of their businesses to their friends. You can create meaningful suggested actions for your customers using these technologies to create completely new value with products and services (at a relatively little financial cost).

As for the Semantic Web, you probably hear increasing references to “algorithms” (or “algos”). These are abstracted digital machines that apply sophisticated rules-based procedures to “think” and “act.” A crude example is how Amazon “learns” what you like and “offers” more things like that, or how Google “learns” from your search behavior and delivers content. I appreciate this more than most because some days client work has me conducting deep search analysis for days, so Google starts pitching my clients’ products to me (it thinks I’m personally interested). The Semantic Web is being built, one application at a time. As “computers” are in everything mechanical, they will start reacting to the environment more automatically. Algos’ abilities to do this will only improve over time.

Action Items

  • Geoweb: Think to yourself, “What kind of information about us could customers share to benefit themselves and our business?” Then, create programs that reward that behavior. Ideas: (photo) how many unique ways can you eat a [food product]; (text or vid) what’s your most memorable ride [our car]? (photo) what’s the most surprising use of [our product] you’ve ever seen? To help, create subcategories and contests.
  • Semantic Web: Conduct digital social actions as a company (i.e. employees, business partners) and, even more important, excite customers to talk about you digitally, which educates the Web about all the great things you do. You need to help your customers educate the Web about your company. Increasingly, all kinds of machines will depend on the Web’s “intelligence” to function (think cameras, TVs, cars). You will need to enlist your best SEO people to help, but think about social actions holistically and how you can encourage the right ones. Examples: using the Like button, sharing a video and publishing to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, MySpace, iTunes…

Key Takeaways

  • Each of these social technologies will be adopted unevenly, but all will change the rules of many businesses.
  • You need to know enough about them to determine when they will become relevant to your business.

What is your experience with these socialtech game changers? What are you doing with any of them now?

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