Three years ago I started thinking about how I might do consulting around my knowledge of online communities and collaboration, social networks, and general web strategy. I started meeting with David Swedlow, then Bill Anderson and Honoria Starbuck joined us. We were thinking how organizations could work through their social networks to build collaborative efforts. This could include viral marketing and collaboration with customers and clients. Bill and I had an engagement with an academic client that seemed to work as a proof of concept. I went on to form a partnership with David Armistead at Social Web Strategies, and as we worked through the construction of an ontology for our potential work, a couple of things happened. First, marketing communications professionals started seeing one point that we had been discussing – that mass aggregation of mindshare was becoming a thing of the past, that attention was fragmented and distributed among many niches and applications. Second, Twitter caught on with marketing professionals and they started thinking how they might use it, Facebook, and other social networking platforms to create presence for their clients. We started to see the label “social media,” and a few people who sort of knew marketing and sort of knew social software started building buzz for a new discipline, hoping they could sell consulting hours based on their (more or less limited) knowledge. However, well-established large consultancies started adding social media expertise, and selling social media consulting as just another of many services. Also, just incidentally, the economy crashed and money stopped flowing. (We started thinking about low barrier to entry/low cost of production as a social software plus, and we also started thinking hard about the impact of low transactional costs – thinking how we could consult on the uses of social software for coordination and collaboration inside companies – what others later started calling social business).
So now I’m seeing that the enterprise will buy social media marketing expertise from the same large consultancies that they’ve always used, and the same will probably be true of social business expertise, as thinking about the impact of social media on internal operations evolves. Medium-sized companies seem to be hiring rather than outsourcing expertise, if they’re willing to spend money at all. Small companies are doing what they can on their own. As a consequence of all this, there’s not much of a market for small social media consultancies and freelancers – I keep hearing of “social media consultants” who’ve gone to work for larger companies doing community management or working with marketing groupss to help address social media channels.
At Social Web Strategies, we saw that our best option was to do corporate training. We’d been doing these workshops anyway, so it makes sense to build a business around them. I changed my relationship to the company, giving up my partnership but staying on as a principal, partly because I didn’t want to be as focused on training, and partly because I wanted more time to think and write – hard to do when you’re charged with building and running a business.
I also think that we’ve lost “social” in social media like Twitter and Facebook, that are set up for drive-by posting but don’t facilitate real collaboration very well. I’ve been working (with Kevin Leahy of Knowledge Advocate) to become a Google Wave expert, because I think Wave really does support collaboration. I want to help people build true collaboration and true community, where connections become sustained relationships and lead to authentic experiences. I’m also interested in support for collaborative innovation, and how R&D works in an network environment (I’ll post more about this later).
Currently I’m freelancing, and planning to write more here and elsewhere. I’m also still working for Social Web Strategies, and will be co-presenting a training on social media for entrepreneurs in February, based on Dave Evans’ book Social Media Marketing an Hour a Day.