Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Twitter, Evolution and the Cambrian Explosion

I’ve always been a fan of the history of early evolution. Seeing the way that life adapts to drastic changes in its environment is fascinating. Often a significant change in the environment can trigger a wave of adaptations and a wave of extinctions, and the resulting effect is an ecosystem that is substantially transformed from what it had been previously.

So what on earth does that have to do with Twitter? Bear with me for a second.

I recently read a book called “In the Blink of an Eye” by Andrew Parker that talks about light, sight, and the Cambrian explosion of biodiversity. The Cambrian explosion is the term for the rapid appearance of most complex animals in the fossil record about 530 million years ago. Whereas there had been mainly simple organisms prior, there was a sudden appearance of most major groups of complex organisms in this period. The theory proposed in the book was that this diversity corresponded with the advent of the ability to see, albeit in very basic form.

Once organisms were able to see, a back and forth cycle of predation, defense, and consumption mechanisms exploded through the animal and plant kingdoms:

Predation: Organisms that were better able to see and better able to capitalize on that site through becoming predators did extremely well in the defenseless environment of the time

Defense: Organisms that were able to defend themselves through shells, or through rapid escape (again aided by sight) survived, and those that were not so lucky perished

Consumption: Organisms who used their sight to identify resources (water, shelter, food) were at an advantage over organism who felt for these same resources blindly.

The development of teeth and shells in this explosion of diversity also meant that there was something to fossilize, and lead to the sudden appearance of a broad fossil record.
This one simple capability - sight - resulted in the most significant acceleration of evolution ever seen.

Twitter, and social media in general, may result in an equally similar acceleration in the evolution of how we all do business.
It’s that simple. With Twitter and social media, you can now see conversations happening among customers, prospects, influencers, and your competitor’s customers. In the same way that the advent of eyesight enabled a broad range of new evolutionary strategies, social media enables a broad range of customer engagement strategies. In the same way that species unable to adapt to the new environment did not survive past the Cambrian era, businesses who do not adapt to this reality will be challenged over the next decade.

Similarly, this new vision can be used for today’s business equivalents of predation, defense, or consumption:

Predation: Okay, it's a harsher word than we'd like to use, but companies are able to see your customers conversations. If your customers are dissatisfied, you can be sure that your competition will not hesitate in connecting with them.

Defense: Companies are actively putting the processes in place to defend their customer base by ensuring maximum satisfaction. Unsatisfied customers are now visible, and without the processes to quickly rectify this situation, your biggest asset is left defenseless against aggressive competitors

Consumption: Companies are listening, understanding, and seeing where prospect gather, what they are looking for, and how they acquire their information. This insight makes them significantly wiser as they work to acquire new business. Organizations who are not listening to the conversations are like those organisms still feeling blindly for resources – likely to be outmaneuvered at every step.

Social media, and tools like Twitter have made a drastic change in our business environment. Where business evolves to in the next 5 or 10 years is anybody’s guess, but the only safe bet is that it won’t be the same as it is today and that following a script is more dangerous than improvising. Now is our chance to recognize the changes in the environment and consciously and quickly adapt to them. If we don’t we may share a similar fate to the pre-Cambrian organisms who saw the early versions of eyesight as “just a neat little toy that teenagers play with”.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
Come talk with me or one of my colleagues at a live event, or join in on a webinar


Rebekah E. Donaldson (Red) said...

AMEN to the 'following a script is more dangerous than improvising' -- this is wonderful way of putting it.

Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach said...

This comment "Predation: Okay, it's a harsher word than we'd like to use, but companies are able to see your customers conversations. If your customers are dissatisfied, you can be sure that your competition will not hesitate in connecting with them."

It's something folks just don't consider...but it's definitely a business danger. Thanks for highlighting it!