Last week a graphic published by social media software developer Buddy Media and investment bank Luma Partners caused a stir among social media practitioners. Titled The Social LUMAscape, the image is the latest entrant in Luma's series of visualizations that depict the labyrinthine interrelationships among major players in various tech sectors. Although the investment bank has published equally elaborate LUMAscapes for the mobile, digital capital, video, search, and display industries, for some reason this version struck a nerve. Business Insider, one of the world’s top business blogs, reported on the graphic, calling social media "ludicrously complicated," "confusing" and "an absolute mess."
Other than perhaps the absence of vowels in company names, I find it hard to imagine that social media is significantly less messy than any other industry. Consider the automotive rental sector. The industry is comprised of complex relationships between and among auto manufacturers, rental fleets, used car dealers, delivery services, repair shops, aftermarket equipment manufacturers and suppliers, limo services, lease companies, loyalty/points systems, shuttle services, insurance carriers, and logistics specialists. Even transportation, though a mature industry, is changing quickly. Car sharing services like ZipCar and online livery services like Uber are creating entirely new niches. If one were to "visualize" the inner-workings of the automobile rental sector, the image would be no less Byzantine than the Social LUMAscape. What troubles me about this graphic, and the social media populist's reaction to it, is that the image doesn't actually say anything. Swap Facebook for Avis and Loopt for Ensis, and the message is unchanged: business is complicated.
This isn't to suggest an old world industry is more dynamic than social media. Rather, the point is that change and disruption affect all businesses, and it's easy to under-estimate the levels of complexity in an unfamiliar industry, while over-estimating the complexities in one's own market.
In the end, it's like pointillist art. If you stand too close to the canvas, all you'll see is a bunch of dots. You have to step back to appreciate the painting. This is precisely why I've been listening more and more to "safe distance" thinkers like Peter Kim and Michael Brito, who are advocating for the (relatively) sober concept of “social business.” I am also digging Frank Days, John Cass, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff and others who are ambassadors for “agile marketing.” These folks have a knack for “zooming out” to observe how broader innovation can augment the way their companies and their clients' organizations operate, regardless of whether they compete in a nascent or mature industry.