On the Red Couch: Brian Solis, Social Media Guru

Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm, and recognized as a prominent thought leader in new media. A digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist, Solis chronicles the effects of emerging media on business, marketing, publishing, and culture. His new book, The End of Business as Usual, comes out this week.

What trends in social media have you seen in the last 12 months?
I’ve witnessed some amazing things in social media over the last 12 months. First, the adoption of social media has soared within businesses large and small. Creativity around social campaigns has pushed the boundaries of what’s possible. Budgets migrated away from digital and traditional spend and invested in social experimentation and in the process, unlocked new doors for customer engagement. The promise and opportunities inherent in social media also started to migrate away from the marketing department to inspire other departments, lines of business and functions to engage in social media. These trends aren’t slowing down either. These are indeed interesting times in which we live. And we have a say in what’s next.

What are the things to watch out for in the next 12 months?
As I discuss in The End of Business as Usual, the future of social media lies less in the media and more within the company culture. Media is always going to evolve, that’s why it’s called new media. Social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ are just that — channels. It’s what we place in these channels, it’s how we use them to communicate, it’s how we use them to listen, and it’s how we take everything we learn and apply it within the organization. That’s the key.

I believe that without thinking about the greater business implications of a more transparent society and the corresponding expectations of tomorrow’s consumers we risk moving from experimentation in social media to automated functions of anti-social media campaigns. We need to market, yes. But we also need to demonstrate that it’s not just about marketing or just about media. If we think about the activity in the social web, conversations are already focusing on service issues, product experiences, ideas and suggestions, sales opportunities, employment opportunities, the need for policy creation or changes, and everything else you can think of. And that’s the point. No one department owns social media. Social media is an extension of the company, its mission and promise, and every aspect of the business that’s affected by outside activity in the social web needs to engage.

How do you stay on top of trends?
I listen. I learn. I engage. I adapt. That’s the mantra here and in the new book…#AdaptorDie. Without adaptation, engagement grows stale. Without adaptation, we risk relevance and at a time when relevance, attention, and commerce are precious commodities, keeping an ear to the ground is critical.

To that end, I monitor keywords related to my world, not just my brand, across multiple networks, including those where I’m not managing a presence today. In times of need, I respond. When activity reveals new opportunities, I engage and adapt. I dedicate a significant portion of my day observing trends and thinking about the significance as it relates to business, people, and technology.

What is your “media diet” and routine?
I have a few hubs where I manually catch up on posts and comments. But mostly I look to key curators who scour the web and feed it into their streams for a much more rapid perusal of what’s happening. I then think about those updates that matter and organize them for further analysis, future writing or research, client related material, or to schedule conversations around the topic. I also fine-tune who I follow within each social network to improve my signal-to-noise ratio. While this works, I’m also constantly trying to figure out how to optimize the process. Certainly there’s no shortage of great information; it’s just a matter of balancing content consumption, creation and also conversation. I’m not sure I’ll ever have it optimized, but I do try to stay on top of everything. To call it a “diet” however is misleading; it’s more of a gorging.

What Flipboard sections are essential reading for you and why?
I use Flipboard as part of my information stream to learn and trigger new ideas. As such, business, tech, and science and learning are key topics/channels for me. As I constantly change who I follow within each network, the social stream in Flipboard is incredibly important to me. Without manual curation of people and topics, my channel would be a hodgepodge of fun, entertaining, useful, and useless information. With curation, Flipboard really comes alive, turning my streams into a vibrant process of discovery.

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