The founder of Facebook, who has himself been the target of legal action, has lent his name to a law. Mark Zuckerberg's Law of Social Sharing refers to his claim that the quantity of information shared online will double every year.
The implications of this idea for business are the subject of technology writer Brian Solis' new book published by Wiley, "The End of Business as Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution."
Solis is an Internet zealot. "I live in social media," he proclaims. When Solis gives presentations, he limits each slide to 140 characters so the audience can tweet it. He says that this sharing of information can be good news for business.
He cites several examples to back up his argument. Each time a Facebook user chooses to "like" a company, they bring it to the attention of an average of more than 100 friends. PC maker Dell has claimed that average daily mentions of the company on Twitter exceed the combined circulation of the top 12 U.S. newspapers. Businesses are so integral to social media that when Google's rival to Facebook initially refused companies, users were outraged, proclaiming Google+ irrelevant. Google quickly rectified the situation.
The Internet means that consumers are able to voice their opinions swiftly and easily. Last year, for example, clothing group Gap was forced to drop plans to change its logo after an outpouring of online criticism.
Solis recognizes that there is not just one type of "connected consumer" — different audiences want different corporate approaches that are accessible on different devices. Users increasingly want more than just interaction and influence. In return for following companies online, they are demanding discounts on products; it is not enough, Solis says, to have a snazzy website and hope that customers will come to you.
He approvingly cites companies that reward consumers for promoting them via social media. Palms Casino and Resort in Las Vegas offers 10 redeemable points for every tweet mentioning its name. In another promotion, Gap gave a 25% discount to people who "checked in" to one of its stores using the smartphone location app Foursquare.
Such discounting has implications on Main Street. Retailers, says Solis, must match competitors' prices, because phone-wielding consumers can seek out the cheapest option when they purchase goods.
He warns that without systems to analyze how online technology is changing consumer behavior, companies face extinction through "digital Darwinism."
So who has got it right? When it comes to picking winners, Solis — of course — chooses Apple.
The problem is that Apple contradicts many of his proclamations. It doesn't have a Facebook page (though its App Store does), and if it did, it wouldn't offer discounts. Instead, it has a great website — something that Solis says in the book does not matter. If the future lies in social media, Apple appears the exception, not the rule.
Readers of "The End of Business as Usual" will also find themselves challenged by some of the writing.
To take just one sentence, which mangles Confucius with Google Translate: "The language [companies use] is the pavement that lays the foundation for the last mile of engagement."
Worse still are the buzzwords: "weblebrity," which describes those with a big online following, is probably the most painful, but "egosystem," "nicheworks" and "nextworks" are also cringe-inducing.
Another flaw is that Solis spends much of the time generalizing from his own experiences.
If tweeters are half as impatient as Solis suggests, they won't get past Page 1. But if they can persevere past the buzzwords and the mangled sentences, corporate strategists might glean some practical insights.
Henry Mance is a contributor to the Financial Times of London, in which this review first appeared.