Too often, when speaking about social media ROI, I get the inevitable comparison to the telephone. But we don’t question the ROI of the telephone is the usual statement. But if you study the history of the telephone and adoption rates, there sure was a lot of ROI questioning at one point. That point was 120 years ago so our generation doesn’t consider it.
In the late 1800s, Bell had a heck of a time convincing businesses to use the telephone. I mean, after all, the Pony Express, mail, and telegraph had worked just fine until that point.
They needed to be sold on the benefits. With the telephone, they could communicate with their customers at real time speeds. There was no waiting anymore. They could then take orders in a minute instead of a week or two. You could reach someone 100 miles away without having to spend a day in your horse drawn carriage.
As Emerson has finely said:
“We had letters to send. Couriers could not go fast enough, nor far enough; broke their wagons, foundered their horses; bad roads in Spring, snowdrifts in Winter, heat in Summer — could not get their horses out of a walk. But we found that the air and the earth were full of electricity, and always going our way, just the way we wanted to send. Would he take a message? Just as lief as not; had nothing else to do; would carry it in no time.’
Theodore Vail, One of Bell’s first executives said, “I saw that if the telephone could talk one mile to-day,” he said, “it would be talking a hundred miles to-morrow.” And he persisted, in spite of a considerable deal of ridicule, in maintaining that the telephone was destined to connect cities and nations as well as individuals. “To connect one or more points in each and every city, town, or place an the State of New York, with one or more points in each and every other city, town, or place in said State, and in each and every other of the United States, and in Canada, and Mexico; and each and every of said cities, towns, and places is to be connected with each and every other city, town, or place in said States and countries, and also by cable and other appropriate means with the rest of the known world.” *
The benefit was connectivity. The by-product was speed. The ROI was measured in the weeks of travel time eliminated. Ease of use for the customer was vastly improved. And suddenly you could talk to dozens of customers a week. You could expand your geographic business borders. Any of this sound familiar?
We don’t question the ROI of the phone because it was proven a million times over already. What we’re going through right now with social media is exactly what was being gone through 120 years ago.
I would ask you to go to http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=CasTele.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=7&division=div1 and start reading at section 230. It explains much more eloquently than I the plight of the telephone in its early days. And it saves me from paraphrasing three quarters of the page.
My mission is to get people to see all angles, all sides. Too often we don’t question general convention and theory. We have become a society that fails in the due diligence department. We’ve become too trusting of experts and authority figures. We need to become free thinkers. That is the only way to create progress.