For years, our sector and marketplace has been described as ‘old fashioned’, ‘traditional’, ‘technology averse’, and perhaps in the most positive sense, ‘community-oriented’ or even ‘grass roots’. In fact, when NPIcenter arrived on the industry scene in 1999, this quality was impressed upon us, and our group of advisors guided us through initial high-touch personal introductions that would shape our experience for the following decade.
In subsequent discussions with technology companies and new marketplace entries we were able ‘pay it forward’ and assist these entrants in trying to understand industry behavior, and the nature of the personal interactions at the core of so many industry practices and relationships. As a technology-based organization, we ourselves quickly determined that while we could utilize our own technology, to expect industry to acknowledge and endorse our offering (and our medium) overnight was not practical. Instead, we focused on becoming part of the industry media, not reporting on industry issues, but instead taking an active role as a part of the industry community, with opinions on industry issues, the regulatory and legislative environment, company practices both good and bad, and the way our industry was perceived by the mainstream media.
Later this year, NPIcenter will celebrate its 10th anniversary, quite a milestone for an ‘Internet-only offering’ in a traditionally low tech communications environment. I’ve been writing this weekly column for about 8 years now, and while I frequently do get comments on what I’m communicating, actual feedback and responses online have been few and far between. The same holds true for the blogs on NPIcenter (mine and others), where there is ample evidence that they are read and that they influence industry perspective and even behavior, but the response ‘online’ has been slow to manifest.
It’s actually an ironic state of affairs. Having sat through committee meetings, round-tables and ‘issues discussions’ for years, it’s quite evident that this is a vocal community. Similarly, event-based interactions clearly show that here is a healthy state of differences in many industry categories. The expression of these opinions and differences has not yet made its way into the online world, certainly to the extent seen in other sectors.
Over the past several years we’ve seen a dramatic change in the volume and style of web-based communications – in and out of our sector. We’ve seen use of surveys and polls – tools for experience and opinion sharing – rise. We’ve seen digital-based communications ‘arrive’ as a legitimate medium for information presentation, branding and intelligence gathering. Education and learning, as well as outright product purchase, are dramatically enabled by the internet and technology.
A few years ago, the phenomena of Social Networking ‘arrived’. Paralleling the Internet itself, the belief was that social networking was exactly that, ‘social’ rather than professional, the emergence of ‘professional networks’ notwithstanding. “A tool to enhance email”, the limiters cried. “Another corporate distraction”, jet-setting executives complained. While some of the emerging social networks and tools are definitely skewed social rather than professional, corporations large and small are now starting to glimpse potential benefits not only for corporate participation, but also for selected personal participation.
Whether it’s Facebook, YouTube, Linkedin® or any other vehicle, people we know from our industry are beginning to explore the potential, a potential largely untouched and one that could be pragmatically developed for appropriate business purposes. While we’ve all got business to be run and daily battles to be faced, leveraging the intersection of personal networks and technology may just become a highly cost competitive solution.
This morning I read an article commenting on the demise, or rather repurposing of email. The author noted that in a challenged economy, some professional peers would lose current positions, others would relocate and that social networking groups may remain the great constant. Also, the article noted, that with a continued increase in spam and more active email filtering, the tools and connections accessible through social media applications might take on new and expanded importance.
Whatever the case, ignoring social media can come at heavy cost, and potentially at corporate peril. It’s the medium for 21st century grass roots mobilization, and in an information-overwhelmed society, provides a filter and validation mechanism at Internet speed. I think it will be some time before we see full potential realized and of course we’ll be victims of overuse in the meantime, but I’m intrigued enough to predict that some of the interactions we currently rely upon will be replaced by effective use of social media in our sector and others.
While on the subject, we’ve launched an NPIcenter group on Linkedin where we’ll continue NPIcenter’s value proposition in connecting the industry community, and providing the vehicle for issues explanation and discussion, and effective sourcing of products and services.