A number of people I’ve talked to recently don’t understand all the fuss around social media. What is it? Why is it growing so fast? Can Twitter help or hurt us? Do we need to do anything? Psychologists say that people remember things presented to them in 3s so, briefly, here’s my take, in 3s:

People use social media for three primary reasons:

  1. To acquire knowledge, which is why content is so critical and the key to both your personal and your professional brands. Sharing knowledge (value) and developing your brand is also driving much of the growth of corporate blogs.
  2. To see what other people are doing and buying, which is the basis of sites such as Digg. Digg is really just a recommendation service.
  3. To connect with other people, which is a basic human need and the foundation of the success of Facebook and the other social sites.

The proliferation and success of social media is driven by three factors:

  1. Trust: Many surveys have documented that people trust “someone like me” more than any other source. Moms trust Moms and car-nuts trust car-nuts – it’s how we humans are wired. Today, for the first time, peer opinions are more accessible to us than the wisdom of experts and the propaganda of sellers (e.g. product brochures).
  2. Online access: No matter how unusual or obscure the topic, the wired world (that’s all of us) knows it can find a lot of information – details, perspectives, and context – online. According to Google and Enquiro, over 70% of product and service searches now begin online. At any given time, there may be thousands of people online discussing the merits of various screw drivers, packaging, and how to effectively launch a product, just to name a few.
  3. Confidence: It’s all about how we enter the decision-making process. We are less willing to make decisions without a great deal of solid information. Since the information and recommendations are relatively free, it would be nonsensical for us to do anything other than to go online and access both the information and the available recommendations. Why do you think Amazon, iTunes and so many other sites have rating systems for their customers? And what’s more, those rating systems are essentially managed by their customers. Talk about letting go of control!

You and your company should be a part of social media for many reasons, but here are my top three:

  1. We all know the power of the network, of networking. It is the best way to gain employment, gather unbiased information and, as I’ve mentioned, it’s how our new connected world learns about products, services and what other people think. Social media allows you and your company to expand your network exponentially for virtually no cost.
  2. Your customers, peers and superiors are already part of social networks. So it’s a good idea for you to join the conversation, express yourself and, frankly, monitor what’s being said about your company, its products and your competition. Why would you not want to listen in to that conversation? Your email will be there when you return.
  3. If growing your business, circle of friends and contacts, and expanding your influence are important to you, then you need to be part of the social media revolution. Bottom line, it’s where all the people are.
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