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October 18, 2008


A couple interesting articles on the HBR Blog got me thinking this morning…

The first highlighted (still more) insightful comments by Warren Buffet on the financial crises. The second questioned the stability of the social media world in what is certainly a “down economy”.

The first article, “Wisdom of Warren Buffett: On Innovators, Imitators, and Idiots” recaps an interview given by Mr. Buffet, in which the following exchange occurred: “At one point, his interviewer asked the question that is on all our minds: "Should wise people have known better?" Of course, they should have, Buffett replied, but there's a "natural progression" to how good new ideas go wrong. He called this progression the "three Is." First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don't. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. And then come the idiots, whose avarice undoes the very innovations they are trying to use to get rich.

This seems to be a reasonable statement about the financial mess the world is in. Someone creates or adapts a new product to meet a previously unmet need. Others observe the innovation jump on the bandwagon looking to produce more and more of the same. This new product gains popularity and buzz becomes the new “it” thing. All the while still more people are joining up, investing more time and resources into the new product, pushing the boundaries, and expanding the applications. It is very easy in this situation to understand how the original intention for the product may be lost and the how the product could be misused and ultimately be yielding very little value.

The second article, “Is Web 2.0 Living on Thin Air?” questions the value that social networking and social provides and if that might be sacrificed if all of us are concerned about our livelihood and bottom lines.

The author, Tom Davenport, writes: “Have you ever sat at Starbucks with your Mac laptop open, sipping your mochaccino or your chai latte, and looked around at the others just like you? Did you wonder whether our economy had grown a little overly precious? How can we really be producing value if we're all sitting around blogging and Facebook-friending each other? …Now all this fervent typing feels like we drank too much grain alcohol punch at a party last night. In the cold light of a morning-after economic crisis, one questions whether social media can really be the basis of a solid economy. Will people really have time to do all this friending if they fear for their livelihoods? Will we have time for Second Life when we have to take a second job?”

While Davenport’s focus is clearly more about the sustainability of the INDUSTRY in THIS ECONOMY…it got me thinking about how the Innovator, Imitator, and Idiot paradigm can be applied to small business owners and their use of social networking and web 2.0 tools.

Most of the social networking tools out there are smart innovations designed with a purpose in mind. They can be quite useful and interesting. For example, Facebook allows us to maintain strong(er) relationships with acquaintances that we might otherwise have lost touch with. Among other things, blogs allow for additional and affordable publishing venue and give power back to consumers in who openly and honestly express their opinions and critiques. These revolutions in technology are important and often revolutionary, impacting and influencing both social and business landscapes.

While one could easily argue that the creators of ALL these tools, and more tools, and widgets, and gadgets may clearly fall into the innovator, imitator, and idiot paradigm, I would also argue that the users do too. Specifically us, the small businesses owners. Us. Those that try to leverage 2.0 for business development and enhancement.

Given the change in the economic climate, I think it may be important to ask yourself where your usage of Web2.0 has fallen vis-a-vis Mr. Buffet’s 3 categories.

Bluntly, in terms of using social technology as a business development tool, are you an Innovator, an Imitator, or an Idiot?

Think about it…

* Were you the some of the first to use these tools to better reach new customers or maintain relationships with existing ones?

* Are the hours you spend online updating your profile and blasting your daily activities really helping your business?

* Is the time have you spent focusing on how to adapt or introduce new bells and whistles into your business worth it?

* More so than spending the same energy focusing on the overall direction or value that you provide?

* Even if you are a Facebook follower (like me) rather than a leader or initiator, have you really learned much of value while trolling the site?

* Are you using the tools that you spent time creating well? Do they serve a business purpose?

For some of you, the answers to these questions might be YES, and if so, kudos. But I imagine for many more of us, the answer is NO.

Many of us are trying to integrate these technologies into our business regardless of their use and beyond their utility. And my guess, is that is a waste of precious time, especially now.

Certainly this is not a call to throw the baby out with the bath water…I will not be dismantling our blog or our facebook group. Instead it is a call to audit your use of social media. Make sure it makes sense. Make sure it meet a business goal or a client need. Make sure you are NOT being an imitator or an idiot.

posted by Adelaide

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