At the NLab Social Media conference there was, almost inevitably, a steady undercurrent from the assembled business types . It goes like this: but how do we make money? Sara mentioned buzzword bingo. How about this for a buzzword: monetize. Money being wasted, time being wasted; earnest new media consultants, saying "yes but". The "two cultures" divide seems alarmingly prevalent at this late hour. People like Booksquare have long and intelligently argued that publishers need to invest in social media, or new media more widely, in order to stay relevant to the readers that sustain them. We all, one hopes, know the compelling arguments for doing this, just as we are all familiar with the squeezed margins and tighter than tight bottom lines that publishers across the board have to operate within.
Andrea Saveri from the Institute for the Future said something that struck a cord. Rather than thinking about social media as an investment with an expected return, we should think of social media like we think of the office plumbing: an overhead, a simple cost of business.
Social networks have been compared to cities, to natural social systems and even ice cream. Of course what they most fundamentally resemble is social networks; not glittering web pages but the dense morass of social interactions that each of us exist in. Companies have always relied on these networks- to market, to gain clients, contracts, news, people.
Arguably the book industry, driven by word of mouth, utilises and exists upon (old school) social networks more than most. Given this, investment in social media looking for a determined ROI is not necessarily the most applicable or sensible business model, yet attitudes in most businesses and publishers see social media as something new and "extra", not an extension, enrichment and opening of present opportunities.
Using social media is no more an investment than using electricity or telephones. It's a tool, an increasingly essential one.
The debate was over a long time ago. Social networks are the (new?) plumbing.
Photo: "Plumbing Nightmare" by Tesla314