Social Media’s Long Tail of Industry Disruption

A lot is being made about how Facebook, social media and online communities are impacting / have impacted industry since it first went online, and rightfully so. Facebook and all of the sites that came after it have fundamentally changed how business is done in many different industries.

What I worry about is complacency. Instead of seeing the users of these platforms as a group that will go through life and get older, they are viewed as staid masses who are changing things that we can experience right now.

As power users and even passive users of online communities and social media grow older, and new generations who’ve never known a world without blogs, Facebook, Twitter and high-speed Internet are born, other industries will find themselves in the cross hairs of substantial change.

What got me thinking about this was an excellent post that Mathew Ingram wrote for GigaOm, titled “So When Does Academic Publishing Get Disrupted?”

So why has academic publishing been able to resist these changes? That has a lot to do with the structure of the market. Concentrated ownership is one aspect of it — since, as Monbiot notes, three companies control almost half the market for these journals … The biggest difference in the academic world is that there is a large player in between the creators of the content (i.e, researchers) and the audience for that content (other academics) that tends to distort the economics of the business, and that is the universities and institutions that control access.

While not specifically addressing social media, Mathew raises a point that is indicative of other, more institutionalized-yet-public-facing companies and organizations: Resistance to change because of how it may negatively impact market share and profitability.

The companies currently grappling with those same issues all had the same reservations. In business, change typically costs money. However the change that was exerted upon them came through customer demand and a change in the market, not internally through corporate re-positioning.

This “Facebook Generation” will age, and as they get older, they will become customers of new companies and industries that haven’t  yet been fully impacted by the growth of social media, customer communities and the expectation of one-to-one, rapid customer reaction.

Those companies and industries are running the risk of being caught off-guard and implementing reactionary change in their business in order to keep up with rapid market changes. They should consider this the rehearsal for a few years from now, when the game really changes for them.