6 Identifying Marks of the Social Age

by Karl Rohde — Get free updates of new posts here. Photo Credit: Karl Rohde

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Continuing on my series on the Social Age, in this post I dig little deeper into the what really identifies today's economic era as the Social Age. We have already established that in the Social Age value is created by connecting buyers and sellers and the passionate to each other. We’ve also established that the Social Age is about connected individuals creating value in a way that only big institutions once used to. It’s a time of change. Often change can be hard to understand especially when it’s relatively new and when general awareness is low. I’ve created a list that I believe explain the fundamental elements that succinctly identify the Social Age. I believe it’s crucial we understand this because when the economy shifts we personally need to shift our behaviours, attitudes and mindset to remain viable in whatever we do for work. 

How the Social Age is evidently making its mark

  1. The Rise of Connected Individuals. The world of business is no longer the sole domain of big institutions. In her book on the social eraNilofer Merchant uses the metaphor of the 800 pound gorilla versus the herd of gazelles. In the industrial age and the information age big institutions – the 800 pound gorillas – dominated. Now in the Social Age we are seeing connected individuals driving a whole new world of work. Power is no longer the realm of big institutions. It is now being challenged by fleet footed, agile, gazelles. Power in business is now distributed. People also tend to trust each other more than they do big companies. Thanks to the Internet anyone can connect people together with an idea and bypass the control of big institutions. Two examples come to mind. Chris Guillebeau started the Art of Non-Conformity blog with a passion around living life to a new set of new rules with a strong focus on world travel. He challenged the long held view that we need to go to college, get a job and fit in. Through his books and blog he now has a global following of aspiring free-agents. Chris’ reach is astounding. I've even met him here in Melbourne. Another example is that of Alex Day, a British musician, who bypassed the big institutions of the music industry, by launching his own YouTube channel. Through it he broadcasts his music and talks to his fans about all sorts of things. Going head to head with big names he even beat Justin Timberlake on the iTunes chart on the day of his release. Quite a feat when you think about the massive 800 pound gorilla behind Justin. In Alex Day’s case the herd of gazelles convened and now we see an individual achieving what was once only possible though the tightly controlled music industry.

  2. Openness. In the Social Age networks of passionate people drive value. If we look at various mediums we see massive amounts of trust being built as people endeavor to deliver some value. The rise of crowd-sourcing, freemium models, social media sharing, blogging, podcasting and vlogging points to a new style of business that is open. Traditionally businesses would protect their IP with vigor  Now we see people giving value away for free. Openness is prevalent in the Social Age. Review sites are everywhere, education is free or cheap, self-publishing of all kinds is highly accessible. Getting access to a domain expert is easy, thanks to social media. The spirit of the modern Social Age worker is mostly about providing value consistently to build trust. Google could be mistaken for being an 800 pound gorilla, but in reality they give oodles away and are fanning the flames of openness that defines the Social Age. It’s no surprise Chrome has killed the once leading Internet Explorer. Google is generous and open and Microsoft is greedy and closed.

  3. Technology is ubiquitous. Yip, tech is everywhere all the time. There used to be a time when there was a distinction between technology users and technology specialists. This is almost gone. People are no longer users of technology, they are consumers and they support themselves. Thanks to Internet connected smartphones, technology is always in our hand. More people have mobile phones than access than clean drinking water. Rich and poor are connected. Technology has transcended the east west barrier – developing countries are as connected as developed countries. Adding to this, most technology is free. Think about everything Google gives away. Think about Skype and Viber that facilitates free phone calls. Think about all the publishing, social platforms that are free. Huge amounts of apps are free – scan your smart phone and count all the free services you get – it’s staggering. We are spoilt for choice. I can run a small business with no money down. I can take an idea to market at no cost. I can find and share anything. Our world is on demand.

  4. Business Transformation. We are seeing a shift from fixed business models where businesses could thrive by telling customers what they needed, to customer driven models where customers are involved in shaping the strategy of the business. Businesses are starting to focus on direct relationships as we see the rise of big institutions playing with social media. Major industries have to rethink how they do business – postal services, music, print publishing, newspapers etc. Marketing has also gone digital often to the point where they are confused with IT departments.

  5. The Customer is King. If you can blog, tweet, you have a voice. Thanks to the Internet customers can amplify their voice and be heard. This is a huge shift for the 800 pound style business. If you don’t know the United Breaks Guitars story, take note. It’s a reminder that in the Social Age customers can hurt your business. In short David Carroll a musician, had a guitar ($3500) damaged by baggage handlers on a United Airlines Flight. He complains and gets no response. He then writes a song called United Breaks Guitars and releases it on YouTube – it goes viral with 13 Million views in 1 year. Bob Taylor of Taylor guitars ends up giving him two new guitars. Finally United pays him $3000, he gives it to charity. It’s debatable how direct the connection is, but within 4 days of the video being posted United’s stock price fell by 10%.

  6. The Service Economy. Technology cloud services are here. This is mainstream – the fear is gone. Almost all of us have something in the cloud. If you have webmail (gmail, hotmail, etc, Dropbox, Apple's iCloud, Google Docs you’re using the technology as service. This is the precursor to service economy. Think about Apple, Amazon and Google, Netflix, Spotify and more. They are all about providing services. IBM and GE are getting most of their growth from services. It turns out what we really want is to get utility not possession. We want to turn on the tap, get some services and turn it off when we've had enough. 

    The producer driven economy is giving way to a new a new customer-centred world in which companied will prosper by developing relationships with customers – by listening to them, adapting and responding to their needs and wants. --Dave Gray, author of the Connected Company.

This post is the fourth in a series on the Social Age. Other posts on the Social Age:

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