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The Next Great Social Marketing Opportunity: The Internet of Things

Authors: Clinton Bonner Clinton Bonner
Posted Under: Social Media
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In late 2012, we shared an article on the TopCoder Blog entitled 2013: the Year of the Sensor – Your Year to Innovate in the Physical Realm. Thanks in part to a timely re-tweet by Tim O’Reilly, that article went on to be our 3rd most seen blog post in our 2.5 years of content.

I think it’s fair to say that our prediction was pretty spot on.

2013 was the watershed year where we witnessed the continuous invasion of sensor technologies into all ‘things’ – enabling ‘smart’ app-enabled technologies to blossom, creating opportunities for useful, converged (digital & physical) experiences to be delivered to us humans.

What might not be so evident is that the next great social marketing opportunity lies within this same neo-connectivity. Physical ‘things’ are now being transformed into social ‘things’ and when they communicate data with one another, there is an amazing opportunity to create better, more useful experiences at this digital chasm.

Before we discuss this next great opportunity in social marketing, let’s quickly look at two different ways our world is receiving this new layer of digital skin, powered by ever-shrinking in size sensors.

We’re Buying It and We’re Doing It To Ourselves

Whether it’s a haptic snowboard that can teach you how to properly carve a mountain, a very Star Trek-like tricorder that relays medical information to your mobile device, or even a smart carbon-monoxide and smoke detector to compliment your ‘smart’ thermostat; we seem to have an early and insatiable appetite for all things ‘smart’. These products all share the same trait in that the sensor technology is baked in to the product itself, forever altering how the product can interact with other technologies, applications, and humans.

There is another way this data creating layer is being formed. We are actively, and very willingly, embedding ourselves, our tools, and our toys with wearable sensors in order to gain new data and insights about our own performance metrics. This self-embedding is at the core of a movement, dubbed Quantified Self. To learn more about this movement, take a look at this article: Big Data + Mobile + Sensors + Visualization + Gamification = Quantified Self

Great examples of this are quantified self products and applications such as the fitness sensor devices made by Fitbit and this really cool, small clip-on sensor brought to us by Zepp that monitors details like velocity and club angle of your golf swing, visualizes the data back to your mobile, and provides you feedback on how to self-improve. Pretty awesome.

Bottom-line, app-enabled, sensor-powered ‘things’ are exploding in volume, and yet, it is still quite early for the entire movement that is bringing about the Internet of Things.

If you were at Dreamforce ‘13 in November, you were given a heavy dose of all things ‘smart’ and connected. Mobile platforms, such as Salesforce1, are creating environments where developers can build open APIs and create extraordinarily smart and social applications on top of the platform. This is when the 3.0 gets really interesting.

At the crossroads of ‘smart’ and social, highly useful human experiences are waiting to be created, and it’s not just Salesforce. Very recently, Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest thrust the tech giant squarely into the #IoT arena.

The Early Bird and the Social Skyscraper

Internet of Things applications and uses will take the same path most new technologies take. An analogous example is the maturation of augmented reality applications that started off with low-risk, mainly ‘just for fun’ apps (like the Starbucks animated holiday cup we saw back in 2011) that then evolves (usage wise) into something IKEA showed us last year, which allows us to transform our own living rooms into IKEA showrooms. The applications become exceedingly more useful and we can expect the same path for social Internet of Things applications as well.

A great example of a fun and low risk social 3.0 application was a social vending machine that was powered by tweets, brought to Dreamforce ’13 by my company, Appirio. It required users to interact with it socially to gain access to some of the really cool items held within.

The machine had a significant impact on Appirio’s overall visibility and share of voice at Dreamforce – an event that attracts the who’s who of cloud computing. Most attendees are looking for the next big thing – ways to blend the old with the new – and this machine not only drove social awareness, but was a fun, modern new take on the time-honored tradition of handing out swag.

While socially interacting with a machine to receive some free (and very cool) swag is fun, it’s not by any means the end-all for the social 3.0.

What’s happening beyond the fun are applications and open APIs that focus on what is known as social access management. This is where buildings can be transformed into social counterparts that enhance our experiences. This movement centers around the idea of creating frictionless physical experiences for humans by using social digital credentials. For example, physical access into buildings, the alleviation of lines by creating environments where services can be greatly streamlined and enhanced, the exceptionally timed delivery of social or media content, and much, much more.

Below, Brivo Labs – an Internet of Things company creating applications and open APIs for social access management – shows us just one example of how these types of applications can and will be used in our not too distant future.

Some will make the mistake of saying it’s time to re-think social, but that’s not what is needed here. It’s more about the expansion of what constitutes social data and how that data can be used to create useful applications that were previously reserved for Sci-Fi moments in the likes of Minority Report.

It’s time to be bold and to experiment in the greater #IoT sphere. (click to tweet)

It’s time to ask questions like:

– Do I need to wait 8 minutes for this cup of coffee when I get the same thing 98% of the time?
– Why can’t my Pandora “workout” station play and my RunKeeper app start the moment my jog begins without me fiddling with buttons and taps?
– How come Yelp reviews paired with a geo-local Twitter feed don’t appear the moment I say “Google, I’m hungry”?
– Can’t my Facebook friends use the “I’m Here!” app to find me at this ridiculously crowded concert?

No matter what business you are in, what you may produce or provide, it’s time to ask questions like this. The platforms now exist, the APIs are here, the social data is mostly available, and the ‘smart’ devices are flooding the market.

Expand what you would traditionally consider social data and realize that the venn diagram between social marketing and digital innovation is rapidly increasing as the two converge at an exceedingly quickened pace. Inside that venn exists brand new human experiences, waiting to be created.

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