Businesses should embrace social networking because it will change the way they interact with consumers, says Gartner.
The international research company says people live, work and play in a digital world, which opens up opportunities for companies to listen to and learn from consumers.
Stephen Prentice, VP and Gartner Fellow, says because of social networking, people are no longer a single voice, but can join forces and become an entire pressure group.
Prentice expects the rise of social media to change lives – and the way business is conducted – the same way the first PC and the Internet did within 10 years of launch. He sees social media as a tool through which companies can build trust with consumers.
Prentice says companies need to make best use of the information at their disposal, and keep lines of communication open, because good ideas can come from outside of the firm.
However, switching off social media interactions, in order to attempt to stop people from commenting on an organisation's Web site, for example, does not mean consumers will not complain, but that companies may not know what customers are saying, he says.
Technology is a people thing.
Prentice cites the rise of Google and Facebook as examples of changes that have been made in the past two decades. “This is not advanced technology, it's better use of an existing technology.”
Use of social media will proliferate even further in the next few years. Prentice says there are currently a billion PCs, four billion mobile phones, and 15 petabytes of new information created daily.
Already, a third of the world communicates online, and another third will join in within 10 years, says Prentice. Internet protocol-based traffic is expected to increase 300 times in the next 10 years, he says.
By 2013, access to the Internet will be dominated by mobile devices, says Prentice. In addition, by the same year, three billion adults will transact online, he adds.
To understand what technological advances will impact business in the next year or two, Prentice says companies need to look back at what was launched a decade ago. He points to the rapid influence of both the PC and the Internet within a 10-year timeframe.
Based on historical experience, Prentice expects social media and networking to have a big impact on the way companies do business in the next few years. He points out that social media such as Facebook fulfil a basic human need – to connect and communicate with other people. “Technology is a people thing.”
The world's technological revolution, which is expected to last between 50-60 years, started in the 1970s, says Prentice. He explains that revolutions, such as the industrial revolution, tend to last between half a century and 60 years.
Prentice says the technological revolution started in 1971 with Intel's launch of a microprocessor, the Intel 4004 microprocessor. Ten years later, IBM launched the IBM PC, or IBM 5150, which dominated the industry within ten years, either through IBM sales or sales of clone machines, says Prentice.
After another decade, the Internet was made available to the public; a move that Prentice says was among the biggest technological developments during the technological revolution.
However, he says, the first 20 years of the revolution was characterised by new technological developments. The world is now in the second 20 years, in which previously developed technology is being enhanced.