What social media gurus miss: Forecasting

MIT anthropologist Grant McCracken has published a book arguing firms need Chief Culture Officers. His view is social media tools alone won’t cut it; society is now changing so fast that companies that don’t track and predict trends risk disaster. Case study: Levi Strauss missed a billion dollars in the mid-1990s when it failed to see the urban baggy-pants craze coming.

What we like about this is Grant talks about watching society, not technology. Companies enarmored with Facebook and Twitter might rethink their approach: Are they focused on gimmicky channels that build revenue for their ad agencies, or are they deploying strategies to see what people will be talking about tomorrow?

It’s the future, not today, stupid.

Social media gurus always talk about listening, but rarely about trend forecasting. Which is silly, when you consider most corporations need a year or two to put any new products or services into the pipeline. Most social media buzz metrics track conversations of the moment, but the horizon is woefully short — even when messages go viral, the downside of the bell curve of interest is just as sharp as the spike upward. Here’s a look at this summer’s balloon boy interest within Twitter, a meme that shook the nation and was just as quickly forgotten. If you don’t really listen to society and then build coherent forecasts, your 2010 social media tools may be akin to a bad 1999 web site: all digitized up and nowhere to go.

(Via Charlie Quirk.)

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