Tao of Social Media

What is Tao? It is often referred as the pathless path. What does it mean? Osho, in his commentaries about Taoism, puts it succinctly, "..the way and the goal are one." Leaving aside its philosophical ramifications, I would like to use this language to ponder over the way we perceive Social Media. 

Given the staggering amount of discussions this topic generates everywhere, with  innumerable consultants, gurus and the like who are dying to share, "Everything you wanted to know about...", "The Ultimate guide to..", " Top 5 killer strategies of .."(Ok.I confess.I made up the last one)Social Media, I think it would be worthwhile to examine whether such a thing exists.

Wait. I am not denying the validity of their claims. Those killer strategies might work. I am simply pondering over their language desperately clamoring for attention. (Any one who has been in the content-blogging business will tell you that titles with numbers + ways, paths,strategies etc. will definitely attract more traffic)

What does it mean when we say that the way and the goal are one? It implies that means is the end.  When we are exploring an unfamiliar territory, the way acts as  compass,  helping us navigate through the unknown terrains. 

The human mind often likes to divide the means from the end. In the case of Social Media, we have our Social Media gurus, ninjas who strongly vouch for the means. They belong to the camp where the means is celebrated over the ends. The reasons are obvious. Their occupassion  demands it. They want you to outsource means so that they could profit and you need not worry about anything other than results. As much as pornographic artists love showcasing their assets, people who belong to this social ilk  are eager to flaunt and share their kick-ass strategies, tactics and frameworks, which would delight customers and transform businesses. They would go all the way to keep the means at the altar, because, ultimately, that's what their business is all about.

On the other hand, we have several, celebrated people gurus(or success gurus) who, with the power of their high caffeine rhetoric, celebrate ends over the means. Focus on people. Rest everything(read as technology, processes, tactics, strategies) will fall in place. Means are just necessary. They seem to be saying it all over. End is meaningful, as it changes everything. Ultimately, it's all about people. There is no need for strategy. 

Seth Godin recently echoed such views,when he said
Hard to imagine a consultant or investor asking the CMO, "so, what's your telephone strategy?"We don't have a telephone strategy. The telephone is a tool, a simple medium, and it's only purpose is to connect us to interested human beings.
And then the internet comes along and it's mysterious and suddenly we need an email strategy and a social media strategy and a web strategy and a mobile strategy.
No, we don't.
 So on one end, we have people who go ballistic about their best practices, strategies and go about evangelizing it, while on the other end, we have people who completely debunk such highfalutin claims, and focus only on the transformation it manifests.

As several wise sages have proclaimed, the truth lies in the middle path. That which is able to embrace the means and the ends mindfully. Belonging to one continuum in which the way is the beginning of the goal and the goal is just the ending of the way.

This understanding is very critical in the case of Social Media, because it helps us to understand one critical component which bridges people with the technology.

This topic, within this context, warrants several posts in detail to understand its complexity. Of late, I have noticed myself using this word quite often when I am talking about the new realities of business with my colleagues and clients. I shall try to summarize my thinking within the context of Social Media.

What is an ecosystem?
Businesses today in the networked world operate out of highly dynamic, continuously evolving ecosystems. Ecosystems point out to the emerging terms of reference which helps us comprehend  the bewildering array of changes happening. It has replaced the term industry used in business parlance.

In the case of Social Media, it refers to the chaotic,emergent environment arising from the humongous  amount of conversations that are happening about products, brands, services etc. As these conversations cannot be (and should not be) controlled, the best way for brands and products is to participate in these conversations (and thereby in such ecosystems) in   an open, transparent manner and seek to build humane relationships with customers. 

The word humane is important because the emerging business environment driven by Social Media and its conversations places humans above institutions, business processes and systems. This is very critical to understand,because our old patterns of thinking, if you care to look deep, is imbued with tacit assumptions over the infallibility of  institutions and processes.

Until recently, businesses only knew of relationships that were built on transactions, as dictated by their CRM systems. 

Ecosystems play a critical role as they bring the people at the fulcrum of business. Social strategies are increasingly being defined by the social relationships it fosters amongst its customers. Without deep understanding of the complexity of the ecosystems, any talk about people and technology would be naive without being moored to the realities of today's business. 

What makes ecosystems so powerful? They operate based on a simple, fundamental principle which drives the networked world. Aggregation is bound to happen around value. When one  understands the mind-boggling implications of this principle, along with its fluid nature , one begins to understand its strong potential.