Attention social media types: the tech industry is about to eat your lunch

This isn’t our first time at the rodeo, but for those who’ve never had a ring-side seat for the kind of massive technology consolidations we’re about to witness, allow me to fill you in with my predictions, based on more than 20 years in the tech industry. All the bubble-talk in social media is of interest to stockholders, but there are real-world implications for anyone working in this space (side note: I was actually working on this post as news broke that Oracle is purchasing Vitrue).

Do you think companies like IBM and Oracle are purveyors of technology products? Think again. These corporations have learned that the margins are in services, and they have far-reaching tentacles that go deep into the C-suite. They also have money and international armies of consultants at a level most of us cannot even fathom.

At the enterprise level, “social business” (a term that will stick, as these behemoths are now throwing their enormous marketing muscle behind it) will belong almost exclusively to these companies (and once they conquer the Fortune 1000, SMBs are next). Theirs is the enabling technology that will actually make social business work, and they have consultants who know how to gather and translate real data into actionable insights for CRM and ROI. Most importantly, their customers pay the big bucks to listen to what they have to say, so changing the business culture to embrace new approaches will be an easier sell from entities that can actually provide the nuts and bolts tech solutions in all geographies.

Want to partner with these international powerhouses?

That can work, but be careful. Sucking knowledge from others and then reimagining it as your own has been a tech industry pastime since before Steve Jobs was “inspired” by Xerox. I’ve seen some mid-sized social-centric firms out there that seem to be cruising for a bruising – and they may be shocked if (when?) their friendly partner leaves them in the dust.

Furthermore, agencies thinking they can cobble together capabilities similar to the big guys using products and services from other providers may soon find these other providers gone – with their offerings assimilated into the acquiring company’s solutions, or (sadly) done away with entirely as a large competitor buys them for the sole purpose of swatting them like a gnat.

What can consultants and agencies do in this climate?

While it’s time for a reality check, the news isn’t all bad, of course (and contrary to how it may sound, I actually love the continual evolution of technology – keeps life interesting!). With larger players throwing their hats in the ring, it means there will be more social media/social business education out there (and hopefully more acceptance, and fewer confused looks from clients/executives as a result).

To help ensure your long-term relevance, consider taking the following steps:

  • Be aware of the various players in the social media space, even if you have your go-to favorites. This will help if you need to switch quickly due to an acquisition.
  • Know that there will always be small business offerings – the market for them is just too large to ignore – so stay abreast of the lower cost options available, since these can be useful to agencies and consultants, as well.
  • Start now to try to obtain access to your clients’ back end systems. Do you have access to your clients’ Google Analytics? Are you tracking social activities and click-throughs as they relate to business objectives and providing reports (or are they reporting this data to you)? The more embedded you can be as a member of your client’s team, the more indispensable you become.
  • Have (and position yourself as having) an area of expertise beyond social. While planning for the integration of social technologies into businesses may become largely the domain of tech providers, strategies and tactics around public relations, content, marketing, digital, etc., will always be in demand.
  • Never accept what companies say in their acquisition announcements as gospel – they’ll almost always note that the acquired company’s leadership will continue to be involved and their products will still be available.  Often, the acquired companies themselves believe this to be true (I could tell you some sad stories about startup founders’ often-delayed realizations of their fate).

Do you agree with these predictions, or do you see a different way forward? Have you taken any steps to hedge your bets in the social technology space? Let us know in the comments.