There is constant change in how we communicate and the players we have now - Facebook, Twitter, etc. - may not look like they do today for very long. But social media is a permanent fixture of the modern world and I'll tell you why I'm confident of this.
1. Ubiquitous Broadband
Big words that mean: high-speed internet is everywhere, including our pockets, and available to most of us. If we were still on dialup to connect to the internet then social media would be clumsy, sluggish, and few would want to use it. But, instead, most of us can have broadband and do. And it makes the networks and media available to us fast and powerful.
And it's only going to get faster, broader, and more mobile. The mobile speeds we are about to see in the next few years make even the fastest connections now available in the home pale in comparison. Soon there will be almost no delay between asking for something and getting it no matter where we find ourselves in the western world.
Unless broadband goes away, social media is here to stay.
2. Dirt Cheap Storage
Do you remember when storage was an issue? Do you remember what online storage even is? When I left university in the mid 1990s my laptop was able to hold less information than my Gmail account will now allow me to send in one email. The size of our hard drives were among the most important considerations when buying a new computer and just 15 years ago were commonly measured in units 1/1000000 of what we measure them in now.
Storage is so cheap now that it is a non-issue in the purchase of a new computer for most people and is being given away for free by the gigabyte. Google gives us over 7GB of storage for free - an amount I still have not yet been able to fill after over 10 years with my current Gmail account. Dropbox gives us 2 GB of free storage and many others do the same.
Have you ever paid YouTube to store and stream one of your home videos? Has last.fm or grooveshark.com dinged you because you downloaded or streamed too much data from their music servers? Storage used to be a barrier to using various forms of media and it's just not anymore. And since much of what we do on social media is share media, the limitlessness of storage is a big enabler.
Unless cheap storage goes away, social media is here to stay.
3. Superb Usability
Do you know why your parents and your kids use social media? Because they can. We used to argue about the challenges of building websites and user interfaces that people will use without confusion and frustration but that doesn't happen so much anymore. Some interfaces are better than others but we have learned a tremendous amount about what works and what doesn't in engaging users and making things easy and we're not likely to unlearn these skills anytime soon.
Facebook ate MySpace's lunch largely because it was more usable and intuitive. Twitter exploded into the mainstream because it is simple-simple and takes most people about 15 minutes to figure out (sure, it takes months for most to be comfortable with it but that's a cultural issue, not a usability one).
Unless we forget everything we've learned about how to build great human interfaces, social media is here to stay.
Social Business Is Also Here To Stay
The telephone found an important place in our business world and became an indispensable tool that connects people inside companies and with their customers and partners. Try to imagine dealing with a business that withholds the use of the telephone from its employees and refuses to give a phone number where you can reach them. I'm confident most people would refuse to do business with them.
And this will become the fate for any business who responds in a similar way to social media and their customers who demand to be served through it.
It won't happen overnight. In the early days of the telephone some businesses DID withhold the telephone from employees and considered it a distraction, not an enabler. So businesses can be forgiven for choosing a fear-based response to this new phenomenon in these early days.
But eventually consumers will only connect with businesses who are truly connecting. Talented people will only consider working for open, connected, and social corporations. Investors will only put their dollars in leadership and cultures that know how to build communities that show support with dollars and their networks.
Choose what changes you will make and when for your business. But do not make the mistake of hoping social business will go away. It won't. And based on the tremendous opportunities and benefits it provides us all, once we get past the culture shock and fear, no one should hope it does.
Am I overconfident in my prediction? Tell me how your business is making the shift or why you're not in the comments below.