Social media’s 2.0 moment: Responsiveness beats planning

The social web is pressuring organizations to accelerate all forms of communications.

In 2004, O’Reilly Media delivered a counter-cultural (at the time) message: The dot-com bubble had burst, but the web was here to stay as an economic and social force. The meme they coined was Web 2.0, and their manifesto was captured in a seminal blog post by Tim O’Reilly. Web 2.0 was not meant to indicate a version number, but to point out the deep, persistent patterns of the web that were rewiring business and society.

I led the consulting practice at O’Reilly Media after we coined the term Web 2.0, and I think we now find ourselves at a similar (though softer) inflection point. There are a lot of valid questions regarding the business models in social: Is Facebook not a scalable vehicle for advertising and thus overvalued? Is Groupon bad for merchants and thus doomed to fail? Was social gaming (and Zynga) overhyped?

Taking a cue from Web 2.0, I believe we need to look beyond specific applications of social media — even, God forbid, specific platforms like Facebook — in order to sort out the underlying design patterns that will endure and continue to disrupt marketing and communications.

So what are those design patterns? Here are four:

  1. Responsiveness beats planning
  2. Communities beat audiences
  3. Reputation beats branding
  4. Sociality beats media-mentality

I’ll focus on the first one for now: responsiveness beats planning. The kernel of my argument is that the social web is pressuring organizations to accelerate all forms of communications from “batch” processing to real-time interaction. The result is a fundamentally different approach to how a marketing/communications organization needs to be structured and serviced.

Human beings have spent millennia communicating in real-time. The acceleration of technology is simply an effort to catch up to our zero-latency experience of being. Whenever given a choice, we will opt for a service that delivers response times as fast as our own nervous system. The technology and processes around us are nowhere close to catching up — yet wherever they do, we see incredible value creation. Any information processing technology that moves from batch to real-time experiences a quantum leap in value, especially for those who adopt it first. Consider the arbitrage opportunity in financial systems capable of receiving prices in real-time, real-time trading desks that place advertising based on current inventory and effectiveness, the efficiency of inventory management occurring in real-time across the supply chain and you get the idea. All of the systems that surround and support modern life are accelerating into real-time systems. Social is moving into real-time precisely because that is the speed at which human beings prefer to communicate, and social technologies that have accelerated closer to real-time are now shaping customer expectations.

What are the implications?

With the rise of real-time, responsive communications, marketing and comms are experiencing a massive acceleration in the traditional timeline needed to create branded content. This goes well beyond customer care — it is more like a dynamic content production capability that marketers need in order to sustain brand relationships.


  • The Presidential debates: After Barack Obama’s first debate with Mitt Romney, a debate in which all sides realized Obama had turned in an incredibly poor showing, the Obama camp took just three hours to pour over the debate and edit together a commercial highlighting some of Romney’s more damning statements.
  • Oreo’s response to the Superbowl blackout was retweeted 15,000 times and received more than 20,000 likes within 24 hours. The graphic released during the blackout was “designed, captioned and approved within minutes,” thanks to members of 360i — the cookie company’s agency — gathered at a war room during the game.
  • The popularity of apps like SnapChat and Poke are creating time-limited content and offers based on immediacy.

This type of speed and responsiveness has less to do with strategy and planning and everything to do with logistics and coordination.

It calls on marketers to actually understand how organizations are structured, how governance needs to shift to enable more responsive organizations, how we staff our accounts to develop a drumbeat of meaningful content that engages, how we equip our clients to become digital publishers of real-time communications, and how we automate as many parts of the communications "supply chain" as possible.

In the next article, I will explore the design pattern that is rewiring business, "communities beat audiences."

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