By Erica Christoffer, Contributing Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
By next year, Generation Y will outnumber Baby Bombers. And 96 percent of Gen Y has joined a social network.
If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth largest in the world.
YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world and has 100 million videos.
Approximately 25 percent of search results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content.
Erik Qualman uncovered these startling statistics and more, which he lays out in his new book Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business (Wiley, 2009). Social media has created a fundamental shift in how people communicate, Qualman says. One only needs to look as far as Qualman’s Socialnomics YouTube video that went viral just weeks after its release, topping out at nearly 1 million views. He believes that soon people will not have to search for news, products, and services — but rather news, products, and services will find them via social media. Thus, in order to be successful in business today and in the future, the social interaction with potential clients must be embraced.
What was your first social media experience and what were your thoughts at that time?
QUALMAN: I joined MySpace, like a lot of people, in 2005. An 18-year-old introduced it to me and it was like she was addicted to crack. She’d always have to check her MySpace to see if she had more friends or to see in anyone commented. It was obvious to me that it was something big, especially for someone to be so ingratiated with it. I hopped on and it made sense to me right away. It wasn’t a surprise once Facebook opened up their platform to go beyond just college students that Facebook became so popular. Then the world was turned on its head when they opened up their application program interface to allow anybody to write applications for Facebook. That decision was so far reaching that it actually caused Apple, which has typically been a very closed environment, to open up and allow others the ability to code applications for the iPhone. That was really the game changer.
What do you say to people who consider social networking just another fad?
QUALMAN: I like to throw out statistics at them, that’s why I made the video for YouTube. I mention, first, that the Pope is on Facebook, he’s on YouTube, he has an iPhone application – so I don’t think it’s just a fad. It’s fundamentally changing the way businesses have to work, to the point that companies are no longer going to be advertisers; they’re going to look more like content providers or party planners.
What I mean is that companies are not going to be spending money on a 30-second television spot as often. Rather, they’re going to provide free tools that are branded with their company brand, and in the long term it will get people excited to use their products. For instance, it might be a travel company that offers free language or translation tools.
There are four main steps to succeeding on social media:
How did you conduct the research for your book?
QUALMAN: I started looking at how people are using social networks, how they are succeeding, and how they are failing. I collected all the statistical data about the platforms people are using, where people are aggregating, what businesses are doing to leverage social media, and why consumers use these tools. The statistic that if Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth largest because they have 300 million users is significant. If you ask someone if they’d rather give up their Facebook or their e-mail, if they are from Generation Y, they’d rather give up their e-mail. That struck a chord with me.
You say in the book that youth under the age of 17 are seeing significantly fewer traditional ads. Do you think social media will completely replace traditional advertising at some point?
QUALMAN: I don’t think it will completely replace it; there will always be that need to see the visual fundamentals of traditional advertising. But it will become less. Social media is not an ‘or,’ it’s an ‘and’ in marketing. Dell recently released a statement that they originally had 40 people focused on social media. But they realized it’s not just the 40 people speaking for the company on social networks, it’s the entire company. Every person, whether it’s someone on the phone answering customer service, or any other employee, they have a Facebook account, they have a Twitter account, and they are representing Dell.
Everyone is engaged, and because humans run companies, you’re going to get that human touch in the dialogue between the consumer and the employees. The companies that listen the best, and are willing to make changes from interactions and feedback, those are the companies that are going to win in the long term.
Are you suggesting that social media is making businesses more honest?
QUALMAN: Yes, transparency drives honesty. It also drives what I call in the book, the elimination of social schizophrenia. For example, in the past someone could go to work and be the best employee during the week. But on the weekend, you have a whole different subset of friends who are party animals. Now with social media tools, it’s not possible to maintain those two different personalities – and the same holds true for companies. If a company claims to be the greenest company out there, but they actually hold a subsidiary in Dubai that’s dumping waste into the ocean, that’s going to be found out. In the end, the transparency is better for society as a whole – both on the individual level and on the company level.
How do people filter through rumors that can spread via social networks?
QUALMAN: Rumors will get sniffed out a little faster. If you think about Wikipedia works, one of the statistics I found is that only one out of 10,000 people contribute to Wikipedia. But since it’s on such a massive scale, it’s more accurate that Britannica, which has opened up its encyclopedia to be edited by people. If you have 20,000 people editing a post, it’s going to be more accurate than if three people worked on it. Social networks are like the world’s largest referral program on steroids.
For someone in real estate, could you name the main points they can take away from your book?
QUALMAN: The first point is really to listen to what’s being said out there. Go to search.twitter.com and type in key words. Maybe you’re selling houses in Alfreda, Ga. Type in Alfreda and see what people are saying. Once you do that, start to slowly interact with these folks, softly at first because they don’t know you. Maybe someone is having trouble selling their house and they tweet about it. Send a message letting them know you’re here to help. Eventually you might develop a relationship and sale. It’s so important to listen to people’s needs.
Secondly, they can look at Delicious.com and Digg.com to see what real estate articles are being bookmarked the most.
Next, they should really be true to themselves and figure out their core. Social networks are making the world more niche. In real estate, you’re going to have to find what you want to specialize in to differentiate you from someone else. You can’t be everything to everybody. And figure out which social networking tools will work for you and help connect you to your customer base.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of these tools. You’re only going to learn by jumping in. It’s better to fail in social media than do nothing, because at least you are going to learn something.