One of almost every parent’s rules was to always tell someone where you are going and to never tell a stranger that information. Today, a growing number of social media applications means we can now tell almost every stranger at the same time. Why do we do this?
When I was at SxSW (pronounced South by Southwest), one of the world’s largest interactive and social media conference, I asked that question of people from Google, CSPAN and other big names – and nobody had a real good answer. My favorite answers were from people who started to talk, but nothing came out.
After running communities since the 1980s, I have watched behaviors evolve and I may have the answer: Our definition of community has changed.
Community used to refer to the people within the town in which you lived. As we moved from agricultural economies to industrial economies, people started to move to cities in search of new opportunities. The term community started to include the subpopulation of a city in which you have something in common. Perhaps national origin, music tastes, religion or hobbies were the basis for these new communities.
As the 300 baud dial-up modems opened the world in the late 1970s, a relatively small number of early adopters were able to find and were willing to chat with people outside their geographic communities. They likely had other things in common with these individuals, and perhaps met in a CompuServe Forums or later, an America Online chat room.
Even knowing they were early adopters, there was still a vetting process to try ensure the person you were talking with was authentic.
These people expanded the world, drawing the lines of their community in a “cyberspace” that was almost too advanced for (the original) Star Trek television program to visit too often.
Hit that FF button to today.
Forrester Research expects that by 2012, most web browsing sessions will be initiated off mobile devices. That means it is possible that the majority of web sales could be done over a mobile device. Most mobile devices now are GPS-enabled, allowing you to post your exact position for others to see.
Social/Mobile sites such as Foursquare and Gowalla use this geolocation feature to allow you to “check into” locations, including restaurants, schools, work locations and the like. Not only can you check reviews and post your whereabouts directly to Twitter and Facebook, but you can add additional comments. You can also see where your contacts (or friends) are, both locally and in different cities.
This is fantastic during a conference. Now you can find that speaker you’ve always wanted to ask a question of (can we say stalking?).
Sometimes, being the “mayor” of an establishment – the person with the most checkins at a site – can mean a loyalty reward. Traditionally this ranges from a free drink or better service. They are just returning the favor of your loyalty. It’s been reported that some of the larger New York City stores are aware of their most loyal customers on these sites and keep track of them – so they don’t lose them.
Of course, most, or at least many businesses still don’t know they are being talked about on social media platforms. They don’t have a clue that people are checking in and out of them – where everyone can read the details of their visit, if they choose to post it.
Just as we start managing trust and our personal brands with users on Facebook and Twitter, we are extending our community that we are able to ask questions. My “friends,” (a large number of whom I’ve actually met in person) now are all over the world, most with different areas of expertise.
We are, as a culture, moving to the point where our business and personal contacts are blurring, the 40 hour work week is dead and pushing daisies and we would just as soon reach around the world to get an answer instead of walking across the street – if we felt the answer would be better.
It is to keep this global base of contacts informed we tell them where we are – to let them know who we are, what we like and what we dislike. Most of all, to prove we are authentic. And we hope nobody is measuring this data – but we’re sure they are…