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Predicting The Future Is Easy. Complaining About The Future Is Getting Old

One of the lamer trends that pops up every six months are so is the column from an industry stalwartbemoaning the rise of social media in the human resource community.  Having watched this unfold for over ten years, the pattern of behavior as social media invades yet another walled fortress makes this really boring to me, but the earnestness in which social media is denounced and accepted compels me to write something about the situation. 

Social media is all over the place because it's scary.  With a public (that consists of both B2C and the general public) that craves information and now has learned to share it, the ability to tightly control information is no longer possible.  In fact, once social media has breached the walls, attempts to control information actually increase the growth of adoption as people learn they don't have to take it anymore. 

This is very damaging to the old guard.  It first hits pundits, who find themselves forced to cover social media, but only at a distance.  Later it progresses to consultants, who explain that social media is important, but not as important as the basics they teach. Finally, it reaches executives who have not prepared their companies for change, and are terrified of what it portends.  It's true in every industry, starting with the media, and continuing on to marketing, sales, customer service, and of course human resources.  It's about the only thing we can count on in today's economy.  That order is also the order of outrage, with first pundits, then consultants, then executives taking to blogs and online magazines  (ironically) to decry the barbarians at the gate.  "You Lack Experience," they proclaim. "You Can't Show Your Results," they mock.  "You Need A Steady Hand" (one they provide at hundreds of dollars an hour), they beg.  And many people cheer them along, grateful that someone is there to protect them from LinkedIn invitations and Twitter searches.

And then another year passes, and the naysayers turn around to find themselves surrounded with change, as social media participants in their company, supply chain, customer base, and competitor's sales force ignored their warnings and just dove in.  Without consultants and without direction, working off slivers of information provided at conferences and online, the companies and people of the world are doing more on their own, without the hallowed gatekeepers giving them the go ahead.  The peasants are revolting, without even bothering to ask for permission. 

It's as if the early adopters, in using their imagination and testing out new technology, sparked the use of creativity and imagination among the workforce, who in their day-to-day activities realized their customers were already using social media.  

It's as if early adopters, far from being the catalysts for change, were simply noting that the world was changing, and that paying attention to those changes might be important if a company didn't want to get lost. 

What we now know, is that early adopters are not special.  They are not super talented gadget freaks with magic social powers.  We know this because the masses who came after them are exhibiting the same behaviors once exposed to the platforms.  In other words, paying attention to the early adopters and their actual use of social media, was a pretty gosh darned good way to predict what would happen. 

These trends aren't difficult to see in hindsight.  It wasn't that long ago that people didn't use credit cards online, and certainly wouldn't swipe it to a mobile device.  Now?  We're on the cusp of using our phones as the credit card.  Mobile check-ins seemed a huge invasion of privacy, until you start checking and realizing that the information you need about a place was left by the last 10 people who were there. 

I'm not one to give "social media consultants" a pass simply because they're on Facebook, but I do see a value in simply jumping into the pool, and if a business is comfortable paying someone to do so, more power to both parties.  For those who like to complain, I simply wait a few months, and then point out they've added "social media consulting" to their website, despite having done nothing to earn it. 

The world is changing, and that means learning new ways to sell, market, hire, and provide customer service.  When someone tells you that nothing has changed, it's a sure sign they' are afraid of being left on the sidelines.  It's an understandable reaction, but one I've seen too many times.  I may be a social media consultant, that most vile of the barbarian hordes, but at least I'm original.