You’ve already stopped Facebooking. Next, you’ll be friending your washing machine

Have you been unfriended for a washing machine yet?
Have you been unfriended for a washing machine yet?
Image: AP Photo
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A curious, but predictable thing is happening with social networking.  It looks like it may be disappearing, but at the same time social engagement is appearing all around us.

We have Facebook to thank for social networking, and businesses owe them a huge debt of gratitude.  They’ve taught a billion people and brands how to interact and engage online in ways never before possible. Companies have started to learn that the tools and techniques of social technology, brought about by Facebook, smartphones and many other related innovations are enabling major changes in human behavior.

These tools have always been about how we connect, communicate, collaborate and shape our communities.  And while the lessons of social networking have been valuable, it looks like its students are ready to move on.

A Pew Internet & American Life study from Dec. 2012 on Facebook user engagement levels highlights a stark finding: a stunning 34% of current Facebook users say the time that they spent on the site has decreased over the past year. By comparison, only 13% of current users say that their time on the site has increased. Looking forward, only 3% say they will spend more time on the site in the coming year whereas 27% say they will spend less time.

Social networking has a user engagement problem; however, users don’t have a social technology problem.

Despite the Facebook data, over 121 billion minutes of time was spent on all social media in July 2012, according to NM Incite; that’s over one million man-years of time—in one month. In total, that’s 38% more time than the previous year in online social engagement, activities that now consume more time than any other online activity.

We want to use social technology—we just want to do other things with it.  We want to get more things done with it.

The electronics company LG wants you to use social technology to connect with your home appliances, the electric grid, service technicians, and potentially the entire supply chain. The LG Smart ThinQ technology embedded in say, a washing machine, allows it to be monitored through a TV or smartphone. With a refrigerator, users can also now see from their smartphone what’s inside and when it will expire. While this may seem basic, extend this connectivity deeper into the supply chain and envision a connection through which your local grocery store replenishes supplies automatically through roving grocery trucks. The efficiency gains and opportunities for new levels of social engagement and disruption to the status quo are dramatic.

Toyota and Coca Cola are also embedding social technology into their products and services in recognition of these changes in human behavior and also to change the experience that they offer to their markets. As new man-machine-man interfaces emerge, the context of social interaction rises dramatically.   This is pulling people’s time away from social networking with friends and family, and embedding it into the business of day-to-day life and day-to-day business.

Personal social networking was a great first step, but that’s what it was. The next generation of social will change how we collaborate and shape our communities by bringing deep context through man-machine-man interactions.

Social is now moving from a tool that can merely connect us into a tool that can change how we get things done and how we experience the world around us.

GE, no slouch when it comes to innovation and the next big thing, is investing $1 billion in the industrial internet to drive this kind of engagement between humans and our environment. By networking machines into the social grid, how we connect, communicate, collaborate and shape our communities can be reimagined all over again.

Social technology history teaches us that these tools disappear at a macro level, but explode at a micro level and embed themselves all around us. Other social technologies that capture the effects of connecting, communicating, collaborating and shaping our community have followed a similar path, from the mass-produced written word to the landline telephone.  So while social networking that connects humans on a personal level looks to be waning, social engagement that connects humans with the world around us to get things done, is just beginning and will reinvent the future, once again.