Recently, at the Web 2.0 summit, Palm’s CEO said (as reported in All Things Digital):
Palm created the PDA space with the Pilot and the smartphone space after it with the Treo…So by birthright, Palm should have owned the smartphone market, but it just lost its way.
I’ve been intrigued by this facet of the “smartphone era”: Palm’s, NOKIA’s, Motorola’s whole job—theoretically—was to understand the needs, wants, desires of the mobile phone user. Theoretically they each spent millions of dollars a year in R&D, consumer research, prototyping, product development, etc. Yet Apple smoked them all. Apple focuses on the user experience—from the moment a user decides to enter Apple’s commerce stream, to the moment a user opens a box, to the moment a user first sets up a device to the moment a user interacts that device. With Apple, product = experience and experience = product. It seems a superior user experience—a 365 degree, multi-dimensional experience—is the ultimate killer product/app.
The book Democratizing Innovation by MIT Professor Eric Von Hippel (available via free .pdf download) makes an interesting observation about the term “consumer”. Throughout his book, Von Hippel employs the term “user” as opposed to consumer:
Users, as the term will be used in this book, are firms or individual consumers that expect to benefit from using a product or a service. In contrast, manufacturers expect to benefit from selling a product or a service.
This is a powerful–albeit simple–point of distinction within the context of the social web, with implications for social commerce too (which I have recently written about here). Focus primarily on the benefits of the user, not solely on your needs as a “manufacturer”. What value are you bringing a user of your content, service, advice, etc? By constantly evaluating the needs of your user-clients and delivering benefits based on these needs, you’re increasing the odds that your user-clients will become a passionate community centered around this value as opposed to simply a crowd that wanders by.
This article on social media New Influentials raises an interesting question regarding “influence” in the social web and in social commerce: what’s the core driver of influence? A person? Her community? Or both? The article profiles six individuals who have variously used YouTube, corporate resources, quasi-anarchist tactics, and curating to attract and sustain dedicated communities. Indeed, the question of “what constitutes influence in a social network” has captured the interest of researches, as is evidenced by the articles “A model of influence in a social network” and “Learning Influence Probabilities In Social Networks“. Similarly, Brian Solis has written an excellent post on the genesis of the social consumer. According to Solis:
When a brand does its job right, it creates an emotional connection. The affinity it engenders contributes to who we are as individuals and how others perceive us. In the social web, sharing our purchases and experiences serve as social objects which are essentially catalysts for sparking conversations. At the center of this discussion is the product. Experiences, impressions, and perceptions cast bridges that link us together. As the conversation unfolds, the hub connects the product to individuals who not only respond, but also consume, where information directly or indirectly influences behavior and opinion. This form of subconscious empowerment seemingly builds confidence according to some new research. As social capital factors into the equation, these conversations represent touchpoints where positive experiences take the shape of endorsements and ultimately c0ntribute to the overall branding process.
Solis’ sentiments are echoed by a recent Altimeter Report (also accessed here on Jeremiah Owyang’s blog:
Going back to the original question I posited, I’ll say “influence” is a combination of brand (personal or corporate) and respect and empowerment of one’s community, but where community is the main driver. Solis describes how American Express empowers its community by facilitating conversations along with promoting commerce (and doesn’t this remind you of fundamental concepts discussed in the Cluetrain Manifesto, particularly chapter four?). But for an empassioned–and spending–community, American Express would not necessarily be influential. Thus, the core question of what defines “influence” hinges on how committed you are to your community, what value you bring to your community, and how well you are developing and fostering that community.
Thank you to @sherrychris
for finding this article on Steve Jobs
. What I like about this article is that it delves—slightly–into Jobs’ mindset via an interview with his “last” boss. It’s a fascinating romp. Here’s one meaningful take-away:
“What makes Steve’s methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do.”
Very simple concept, yet powerful. Reading through the interview we learn that Steve regularly met with Akio Morita, co-founder of SONY
, and was given a prototype of the first SONY Walkman. And the first thing he did was take it apart to look at its component parts. I can image Jobs making a list of “not likes” with the Walkman over a decade or more, which yielded the iPod. The same can plausibly be said for a mobile phone too. I can imagine Jobs using NOKIA and Motorola products and making a list of “not likes”, which yielded the iPhone. Focus on making a “not like” list to improve your product offering or client service delivery. Who knows, maybe you’ll revolutionize an industry too.