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Embrace The Crowd Or Die

TowerRecordsIf I were to ask you what social media is, you would probably pause for a moment then give me a pretty decent description of user generated material; you would use words like listen, engage and share…and more than likely you would mention (or at least think of) Facebook and/or Twitter.  Do you think it would be difficult to describe social media without these two services? Although social media is so much larger than any one company, there is no doubt that many companies make up a critical portion of this ever growing, ever changing landscape.

Imagine then what social media would be like if Facebook decided to keep their community confined to college students only.  What if Twitter really did make you answer the question “what are you doing?” and excluded external links, retweets and other crowd-sourced behavior? The reason that social media is the way is it today is because Twitter and Facebook, along with countless other services, adopted to the powerful voice of the crowd. They didn’t let pride or “what they knew to be true” hold them back from making smart, and undoubtedly difficult, business decisions.  Embracing the crowd is always challenging, it means you lose a certain amount of control…and to many that is a scary proposition.

Do you remember Tower Records?  I recall going into one of their stores in Sacramento, California with my cousin in the ’80s.  I was blown away by the massive selection of tapes and CDs and thought that it was the greatest music source on the planet. Apparently, so did they; so much so that they refused to change their business model at all as the ‘trend’ of digital music exploded.  It’s not difficult to understand their outcome: they ended up filing bankruptcy and closing all of their stores, the name later being bought by an unrelated group that now distributes digitally online.  Tower Records refused to embrace the crowd, instead stubbornly pushing forward their own way. Tower Records died.

I previously consulted a company that had created what I would consider to be a game changing service, but it was lacking one thing: the crowd.  I won’t get into details, but this service was teed up perfectly to embrace the crowd, to allow people outside of the company to quickly and easily share information provided by the service.  My recommendation to include and champion social media was considered and then put into cold storage.  What was once a front-page news story is now no more than a mention in articles that talk about similar services that do actually allow the crowd to participate.

My point here is simple…the crowd is powerful.  It is you and me, and we now have a voice.  We don’t just want the ability to share your products and services with our friends and others within our sphere of influence; we expect it.  If you are building an online service, a mobile phone application or some other piece of digital wizardry that you just know is a game changer, make sure that it includes the community.  Once you release it into the wild it will change, hopefully for the better.  Where would Facebook and Twitter be if they refused to do this?

Embrace the crowd or die.

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By Matt Singley

Personal: husband to Alison, father to four amazing kids. I used to live a fast but enjoyable life in Los Angeles, now I have chickens on acreage in Charlotte, North Carolina. Just a bit different. I'm an advocate for cycling as much as you can and eating as cleanly as you can afford. Professional: I'm the CEO of Singley + Mackie, a creative digital agency that serves well-known lifestyle and entertainment companies around the world. Clients include Microsoft, Samsung, Hulu, YP and others. If you want to find the more-professional me, go to http://singleymackie.com