Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Future is Already Here...

William Gibson is credited with the wonderful quote, "...the future is already here. It's just not very evenly distributed." I was reminded of this quote twice here in Helsinki this week as I spoke with a variety of companies about the impact of social technologies on their businesses. It is way too easy when you are sitting in the middle of the tornado of change to lose perspective on the winds that rage around you and, more importantly, the seeming calm in the path ahead of the tornado.

Forrester has done a great job of documenting this path, where it has been, where it is now, and where it is heading. The survey data which they have made available through the Social Technographic Profile Tool can give you a snapshot of this progress. Now updated with 2008 data, you can see the differences between the US, where 38% of 18-24 year-olds are now creating content online and Germany, for example, where the number is a much smaller 22%. Or the difference between the 18-24 year-old cohort and 45-54 year-olds in the US where the creator rate is only 16%.

But as Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang shows on his Web Strategist blog the trends for every demographic in every region are toward more engagement. Perhaps the most dramatic finding is the change in "inactives" -- people who are paying no attention at all to social media -- from 44% in 2007 to 25% in 2008.

In addition to engaging more people, the other often overlooked impact of social media is in the way that it is changing mainstream media. So even for those people who are not engaging directly, the news and entertainment that they consume is changing. Journalists and entertainers are amongst the most likely to be engaged with these new social technologies and what they report and create is clearly being influenced by this new medium.

As Gibson might say, the future will never be evenly distributed, but the path of this cyclone seems clear to us now -- social media will change every business and will change virtually every aspect of how we develop products, market and sell them, provide service to our customers, organize our work environments... In every industry there will be companies that embrace these new tools and new approaches and those that are torn apart by the fierce winds of change.

Which will your company be?

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