Like any good party, there is a period of anticipation, which then leads to excitement and if it’s really a good fling, exuberance (sometimes irrational) which can last till the wee hours, which inevitably is followed by one of two morning after thoughts:

1.  “What the hell was I thinking. ”  Which usually translates into ‘that is going to cost me.’

2.  ‘”Wow, that was fun, I’m glad I did that.” Which usually translates into ‘that will pay off for me.’

Choice number one or number two depends on how irrational the exuberance was.

The tech bubble party led to one giant hangover.  It was one wild party.  Trust me, I was there and saw it first hand….eCompany Now’s launch party renting out Candlestick Park and hiring the hottest Top 40 band around for 750 people is a great example (but it sure was fun!).

Sure, we recovered but it took a while.  Some lessons were learned.  Sometimes you have to go on a real bender and suffer the morning after consequences to learn these lessons.

Social is experiencing some of that morning after right now.  However, unlike tech’s ‘What the hell was I thinking’ thought, social has woken up with a smile.  You see, social’s party, fun as it’s been was a bit more responsible.

A year ago, ComBlu began compiling it’s first State of Online Branded Communities report.  There were a lot of brands trying social on and in all sorts of ways, which was sort of the problem.  It was a little chaotic.  Lots of experiments lacking any real cohesive strategy and lots of ghost towns.  Newly minted relics of the ‘build it and they will come mindset.

Unfortunately, at the time, nobody either thought of or was convinced that a community dedicated to one niche activity and brand (to take a look at who some of these were, click here) would cause consumers to abandon their current trusted, broader social resources and start all over within their walled garden and such a stand alone tactic wasn’t the best idea.  You see community isn’t a place but a concept and a promise.  It must not exist in one place but many.  Early on, this concept was lost or ignored, as the party was on a tear.  Today, we are a little wiser.

As summer winds down and we are compiling our research findings of the second annual report, we see a different picture.  Responsibility is prevailing and results have dramatically improved.  Social is a bonafide business strategy; if done correctly and more and more people are adopting proven best practices and developing disciplined processes. Today, social is proving to be as important as CRM and Product Development in sustaining profitability and market share.

Here’s a simple example of what I mean.  Overall, we see this being manifested with fewer and fewer meaningless buzzwords taking root.  Of course there are still a number of consultants that sell based on buzzwords and convincing clients that this is all net-new and they are the only resource capable of navigating such unknown waters.

However, in large part, social is speaking the language of business.

It took tech a lot longer to figure this out.  Remember ‘The Old Economy is Dead, long live the New Economy’?

Today we see people talking about ‘sCRM’ or social crm and BI or Business Intelligence.  Interestingly, it’s simply a social and collaborative version of the CRM best practices in place since the mid-1990’s.  BI has been important for quite a while. Or take ‘Listening’.  Prevalent but not really a buzz word, just a descriptor that any 70 year old board member should be able to wrap their head around.  Lastly, I hear less ‘next killer app’ language in social and with less frequency, which tends to lead me to believe we are focused on making what we’ve got work.

This is all good news.  Social adopting business terms means social is adopting business philosophies (which exclude give everything away for free and simply drive eyeballs in volume for endless VC dollars or an IPO).  Social is also in love with measurement and usually, measurement shines a light on performance and we see social’s metrics and KPI’s starting to creep toward those seen on the balance sheet.

Within a number of market segments, we see customer engagement assets growing more robust.  We also see the evolution, albeit glacial speed, of campaigns as a tactic within long term engagement instead of the defacto-standard.  We still have a long way to go here but social is helping to speed this process…which in the end is good for everybody.

So all in all, good progress for only the morning after, don’t you think?

As we work to compile our second annual ‘State of Online Branded Communities’ report, I am sure there will be more on this topic before we release it.

Steve Hershberger

Steve Hershberger