work: social media as a stored value currency

social media as stored value currency

The year new year is in full swing, and it seems that everyone is back at work — and by work, I mean spending time on Facebook.

That’s right, adding friends…reading the newsfeed…commenting on posts, these are no longer just tasks for teenagers or a company’s social media manager. As we head into a world of big data (the hot term of the moment at conferences in addition to education), the value of social media is moving beyond simple PR and entertainment to become a stored asset translatable into real future value.

“Data is the new Oil. Data is just like crude. It’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used.” — Clive Humby (via IBM presentation).

So often I hear people say they don’t “do” social media because it is a waste of time or that they don’t want to post mundane life topics for everyone to see. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by a pretty accomplished group of folks, but these days, it is not peanut butter jelly sandwiches that pop up on my news feed but some of the most interesting insights and tips of the day. I get most of my most current news from the Facebook feed and keep tabs on what is happening in the industries that interest me from LinkedIn. With over 1,000 friends on Facebook and even more on LinkedIn, I am statistically more networked than most but am by no means a power user.

Still, as we prepare for the launch of popexpert, I quickly realized it would be somewhat like a tree falling in the forest were it not for the social connections we have developed as a team.  Through our facebook page we already have the potential to reach nearly 300,000 friends of our fans, and our fans are engaging with our posts to the tune of 10-20% virality on average. And we haven’t really even begun to get started. Without social media, we would be reliant on building an audience through personal calls, emails or prayer to search engines, none of which are scalable individually in the manner we need.

And the value does not stop there. As APIs become more ubiquitous, people become more comfortable with sharing data, and the social graph is opened to more and more applications, there will be tangible value to reap from developing your digital connections. Companies already recognize this as proven by the sale earlier this year of Buddy Media to Salesforce. They have been creating fan pages and mining data for years, but individuals are about to start benefiting as well.

If you are a small business owner and are not a regular contributor to the primary social networks, you are likely missing out. Even if you don’t foresee stepping out into an entrepreneurial venture, it it may still be worth your time. In the next wave of innovation, companies are likely to start using social profiles to evaluate their employees, even to the point of making hiring decisions not only in the negative but also in the positive. In other words, it is not just that those photos of you drunk at a bar could cause you to lose a job opportunity, but your industry connections visible through LinkedIn or your social connections through Facebook could cause you to gain one as well. Or consider the scenario where you are interested in moving into a new industry where you have not yet held a job but can demonstrate solid business connections in the space through your connections or followers, this might just win a spot for you over a mediocre candidate who has the requisite experience.

Companies are also starting to use this type of data to evaluate potential risks and provide benefits. It is not unheard of for insurance companies to take social media information into account when deciding on coverage (though the legality of this is likely to be questioned), and there is no question that the squeaky wheel with a lot of Twitter followers gets more grease from customer service representatives.

The hard-to-manage millennials understand this better than generations before them, and those that come after will be even more adept. They are accustomed to spending time on their digital ties and will have spent years cultivating their connections and building a track record by the time they hit their stride in the workforce. This will work in their favor because unfortunately, a social strategy is very hard to develop and execute overnight. It takes time to build a reputation.

What does this mean for you today? Spend time thinking through how you can effectively incorporate social media into your life in a way that feels comfortable for you. Don’t discount it off the bat, and don’t take the opportunity lightly. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom, a near retirement boomer or in the peak of your career, it is likely that you can make yourself more valuable through a little online investment. And these days with the economy presumed to be in a lull for the foreseeable future, we all need all the help we can get.

Finally, and most importantly to us, as we start to crack open the doors to popexpert through our private beta, we are requiring that everyone sign in with either LinkedIn or Facebook.  The reason for this is there is an enormous amount of value for you, as a user, in learning about the experts your friends already love, and the only way for us to help make this happen in any meaningful is through the powerful tools that are available thanks to social media.

If you are interested in learning more, see the 2012 Pew Research Study for interesting stats on Facebook usage.

~ Ingrid Sanders, co-founder & CEO, popexpert

career: social graphs as the new path toward job search validation

Tech Crunch Online EducationThere is no question the online education space is booming.  It is the talk of the town in Silicon Valley, was a focal point at Davos, and, we’re calling it now, will be the hot topic at SXSW in March.  Tech Crunch seems to agree with a recent article titled “Online Education is Replacing Physical Colleges at a Crazy Fast Pace“.

While most of the activity is focused on how our traditional opportunities for schooling are moving online, there has yet to be a bigger discussion around what it truly means to lower the bar to gaining a “college degree” which is essentially just a stamp of approval from that particular institution.  In the end, this type of validation is only as good as the name behind it (kind of like our greenbacks) and the scarcity of it.

While the brand name institutions like Stanford and MIT will no doubt vigorously defend their reputation, even those with a slightly lower but still high quality profile like USC are starting to offer online equivalents of their traditional schooling with the same admissions criteria and the same fees.  This level of cost and screening solves for quality, but it does not necessarily address the scale issue as it will be very tempting to let in a greater number of students when technology from companies like 2U make it easy.  And, outside of major degree institutions there are more and more online schools opening each year that offer different, low bar pathways to a degree.

All of this makes me think that we are going to be moving toward a new model of “skill validation” in the future, also facilitated by technology.  Most young people today know that the value of your social graph often matters as much or more than your degree during a job search, particularly in this economy.  Rather than relying on an institution to provide credibility and access, it is going to be more the responsibility of each individual to take charge of our learning, build our networks and validate each other’s skills.  In some ways we are moving back toward a small town world where the reference of a friend matters most, it is just this small town now spans the world, facilitated by social graphs like LinkedIn and Facebook.

Case in point, I turned down the opportunity to attend an Ivy league school in favor of the chance to study journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, what is considered by most to be the best journalism school out there but clearly does not provide streamlined access into any significant network of contacts outside of the journalism.  Many years later I now consider myself fortunate to have a wonderful network of talented, successful people all earned through my own outreach and relationship development and am still very pleased with the quality of education I received.

I like the idea of bringing back this small town feel, but we need to be prepared for it.  The sooner you recognize the power of your networks, the better position you will be in to capitalize on it.

~ Ingrid Sanders, co-founder & ceo, popexpert