Social Media - Then, Now and Tomorrow

November 2, 2010

Talent Connect 2010, our first ever LinkedIn Recruiting Solutions customer conference, is in full swing. The conference rooms have been abuzz with best practices. It’s incredibly powerful to hear 500+ customers from over 350 companies talking about how they get the very best out of LinkedIn for finding, contacting and building relationships with the best talent, globally.

This morning's keynote panel featured Jack Dorsey, creator and co-founder of Twitter; Reid Hoffman, co-founder and Executive Chairman of LinkedIn; and Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University, author of ‘The Dragonfly Effect’ and industry thought-leader. The discussion was packed with fascinating nuggets on the ever-evolving world of social media. In no particular order, here were my key takeaways from the session:

Social media: built for, then by users

Dorsey shared how Twitter has evolved from a prototype built in 2 weeks in 2006 to one of the most powerful communications platforms out there, with 175 million users, 65% of them outside the US. The key ingredient in building out features: users.

The Twitter team expected companies to use the platform for promotion; but they soon found them also leveraging it for market research, and as a core means to surface and respond to customer issues. Essential Twitter functionality like the @ sign and the hashtag stemmed from user suggestions.

Why you won’t ever find gaming on LinkedIn

As a board member of Zynga, Reid was once asked when he’d be putting Zynga games on the LinkedIn platform. The answer? “Never!” LinkedIn was, and is, all about giving professionals a time-efficient way to solve problems and get continually better at what they do. Gaming doesn’t come into that equation.

Using 90 characters to launch a company

Dorsey is currently launching a new mobile payments company called Square. At LinkedIn we’re fond of saying we like to eat in our own restaurant, and Dorsey evidently believes in the same principle, as Square was launched with a single 90-character tweet, resulting in 160+ new articles. Such a strategy requires responsiveness – “If anyone asks about the company on Twitter, we respond” – but has also helped the company hire great talent and manage customer service.

Driving change through social media

Aaker cited eBay’s green initiative as an example of how companies are using social media to really drive change. What started as a small internal campaign to get eBay acting in a more sustainable way has today spread to hundreds of thousands of customers. The keys to making that happen: sticking with a simple call-to-action which is easy to track; grabbing attention around why you’re doing it and why it’s important; cultivating stories from customers as assets which are then shared with key constituents; and making it easy for others to join in.

The upside outweighs the downside – dive in

For those who are hesitant to embrace social media due to concerns about being highly visible in our networked world, Hoffman had these words of advice: “You are not the only active agent in a networked world – there are millions of others. Engage in the network to find and be found by those who can help you. A few spam emails is not the end of the world, and the value of the signal always outweighs the downside of the noise.”

Likewise, Dorsey reminded the audience how Twitter has "humanized organizations large and small, in a way that really engages customers." To stay uninvolved is missing the opportunity to make your customer feel good about consistently using your brand or your product.

Reference-checking your (potential) boss

While there’s a wealth of information out there to help companies do background checks on prospective employees, it works both ways. Aaker commented on how people are deciding where to work in different ways thanks to social media. People now select opportunities based on what they can uncover about their boss and their team, not just the product. There’s often a much more holistic decision-making process that takes into account where a candidate feels good about spending their time and whether an employer will let their personal brand blossom.

So, what’s next for social media? According to Dorsey, 96% of business is still conducted offline, so there’s still massive opportunity, particularly for SMBs and entrepreneurs, to unlock social media.  Hoffman talked about the big three trends being integration of consumer Internet with enterprise; using data as a platform; and the rise of mobile, letting you do anything from anywhere via a smart device connected into the crowd.

All I know is I’ve heard the phrase ‘scratching the surface’ used multiple times today, and listening to this panel, I can’t help thinking that we’re only just getting started.