Yesterday I had the chance to visit some friends at VMware (they get community) which was a reminder of where my journey with social networks began.  I first started using social networks for business in 2008.  I was asked to build a business within Tripwire for the virtualization market.  As I was exploring the players in this market, I discovered that this community was using Twitter as their back channel of communication.  Everyone on the business side of our team got a second monitor and introduced to TweetDeck   I think they all thought I was nuts at first but it ended up being an amazing thing for us to do.  After a few months, the team had formed a number of amazing relationships on Twitter.  This resulted in many of the top bloggers in the world on virtualization writing about us even though our product was overly complex.  When we launched the product at VMWorld in 2009 the market had the perception that we were doing much better than we were because of the buzz we had created.

The business was ultimately shut down.  A few years later I had a chance to chat with one of the guys who ran one of the top blogs in the world on virtualization and lived on Twitter.  I asked him why he took so much time to test and write about our product.  He told me that each quarter he received 100’s of pitches from people hoping he would write about them.  He wrote about us because we were his friends.  It was that simple.  He was thinking of taking a trip across the US (he was from the UK) and he was planning on sleeping on our marketer’s couch.  We had a relationship with him and that mattered.

How did we do this?   We just hustled.  We worked our butts off discovering, engaging and building relationships with this community.  This is how the early days of social worked.  Where has this gone in our approach to social?  Community seems to be a word that is not fashionable to say.  We now are trying to mass market to people through advertising or “Influencers” because they have a ton of followers.  There are more lists that score and rank people than anyone knows what to do with.  What happened to organizations adding value as part of a community and building relationships?

These networks have gotten so large that hustle is no longer enough.  With a billion people on Facebook and 500 million people on Twitter the size and volume of the noise has become overwhelming.  It is a huge challenge for marketers to articulate their mental model of how they think these massive communities work to the business.  That is why most marketers have resorted to these mass marketing techniques.  It is something they can articulate and the business understands.

We can do better.   We have more data about these networks than any other channel we have ever had.  The challenge is that these networks are different for multiple reasons and the old models in how we understood the Internet or the physical world don’t translate.  .  We need new intelligence that starts to deliver on the promise we had of social before scale overwhelmed us.