Social Media as a Stored Value Currency

The new year is in full swing, and it seems that everyone is back at work -- and by work, I mean spending time on Facebook.

That's right, adding friends... reading the newsfeed... commenting on posts, these are no longer just tasks for teenagers or a company's social media manager. As we head into a world of big data (the hot term of the moment at conferences), the value of social media is moving beyond simple PR and entertainment to become a stored asset translatable into real future value.

"Data is the new Oil. Data is just like crude. It's valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used." -- Clive Humby (via IBM presentation).

So often I hear people say they don't "do" social media because it is a waste of time or that they don't want to post mundane life topics for everyone to see. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by a pretty accomplished group of folks, but these days, it is not peanut butter jelly sandwiches that pop up on my news feed but some of the most interesting insights and tips of the day. I get most of my most current news from the Facebook feed and keep tabs on what is happening in the industries that interest me from LinkedIn. With over 1,000 friends on Facebook and even more on LinkedIn, I am statistically more networked than most but am by no means a power user.

Still, as I started to think about how to start marketing our business, popexpert, I quickly realized it would be somewhat like a tree falling in the forest were it not for the social connections we have developed as a team. Through our Facebook page we already have the potential to reach nearly 400,000 friends of our fans, and our fans are engaging with our posts to the tune of 10-20 percent virality on average. And we haven't really even tried yet. Without social media, we would be reliant on building an audience through personal calls, emails or prayer to search engines, none of which are scalable in the manner we need.

And the value does not stop there. As APIs become more ubiquitous, people become more comfortable with sharing data, and the social graph is opened to more and more applications, there will be tangible value to reap from developing your digital connections. Companies already recognize this as proven by the sale earlier this year of Buddy Media to Salesforce. They have been creating fan pages and mining data for years, but individuals are about to start benefiting as well.

If you are a small business owner and are not a regular contributor to the primary social networks, you are likely missing out. Even if you don't foresee stepping out into an entrepreneurial venture, it it may still be worth your time. In the next wave of innovation, companies are likely to start using social profiles to evaluate their employees, even to the point of making hiring decisions not only in the negative but also in the positive. In other words, it is not just that those photos of you drunk at a bar could cause you to lose a job opportunity, but your industry connections visible through LinkedIn or your social connections through Facebook could cause you to gain one as well. Or consider the scenario where you are interested in moving into a new industry where you have not yet held a job but can demonstrate solid business connections in the space through your connections or followers, this might just win a spot for you over a mediocre candidate who has the requisite experience.

Companies are also starting to use this type of data to evaluate potential risks and provide benefits. It is not unheard of for insurance companies to take social media information into account when deciding on coverage (though the legality of this is likely to be questioned), and there is no question that the squeaky wheel with a lot of Twitter followers gets more grease from customer service representatives.

The hard-to-manage millennials understand this better than generations before them, and those that come after will be even more adept. They are accustomed to spending time on their digital ties and will have spent years cultivating their connections and building a track record by the time they hit their stride in the workforce. This will work in their favor because unfortunately, a social strategy is very hard to develop and execute overnight. It takes time to build a reputation.

What does this mean for you today? Spend time thinking through how you can effectively incorporate social media into your life in a way that feels comfortable for you. Don't discount it off the bat, and don't take the opportunity lightly. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom, a near retirement boomer or in the peak of your career, it is likely that you can make yourself more valuable through a little online investment. And these days with the economy presumed to be in a lull for the foreseeable future, we all need all the help we can get.

Finally, and most importantly to us, as we start to crack open the doors to popexpert, we are requiring that everyone sign in with either LinkedIn or Facebook. The reason for this is there is an enormous amount of value for you, as a user, in learning about the experts your friends already love, and the only way for us to help make this happen in any meaningful way is through the powerful tools that are available thanks to social media.

If you are interested in learning more, see the 2012 Pew Research Study for interesting stats on Facebook usage.