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Navigating the New Currencies of the Social Web: A Conversation with WCG’s Greg Matthews

The pace of today’s digital communications, largely driven by the evolution of its technology underpinnings, continues at breakneck speed – the latest Conversation Prism 4.0 created by Brian Solis and JESS3 that tracks social networking services across 26 categories, revealed 122 individual services were removed and 111 services were added just in the last 3 years.  With so many changes, what are the constants that marketers should keep their eye on as they navigate through the rough waters of the social web?  I asked my friend Greg Matthews of WCG to share his thoughts on the disruptive forces he sees taking place in B2B and healthcare.  Greg provided a terrific snapshot of how things like quantified self-tracking and BitCoin are shaping new currencies in the marketplace.

What has been the most rewarding part of your digital experience to date and why?

I’ve always been a relationship-oriented person, so for me, my most rewarding experience in digital has absolutely been the connections I’ve made. I love being able to connect with people who are passionate and engaged, essentially other kindred spirits who are likeminded in learning new things, meeting new people, etc.  Some of the most fulfilling professional and personal relationships I’ve experienced are a direct result of being digitally connected.  In fact, there are several folks that I’ve developed a strong connection with even though we have never met face-to-face.  One that especially comes to mind is a person I met through Twitter back in 2009 where we quickly discovered we shared a passion for wellness in the workplace.  Over the next few months, we continued to exchange ideas and perspectives, which became the platform for a TweetChat we co-hosted over a couple of years.  We eventually met one another in person at South by Southwest Interactive in 2011.  It’s those types of amazing people surprises that I love best about participating in the digital ecosystem.

Most underrated digital media channel out there – what makes it so great?

I believe one of the most underrated social technologies is RSS.  There has been a growing cacophony of noise that it is dead.  This chant grew even louder when Google announced it was shutting down Reader – many claimed that the headstone was being placed on the grave so to speak. However, RSS at its core is still one of the most vital technologies that drives the underpinning of the social web.  RSS is a basic building block to getting people online in a way they can digest and grasp – I think of it as the ‘Ellis Island’ of getting into the digital space.  The general theory out there is that we don’t need RSS because Facebook, Twitter, G+ have become the main newsfeed.  And to a large degree that is true.  But the rise of ‘Social Curators’, people who are subject matter experts are driving the majority of the social content distribution and RSS is the curator’s best friend, its the lifeblood of the whole digital ecosystem.  I think the retirement of Google Reader actually helped expose how vital RSS technology is to the community and hopefully will bring about an even richer set of tools.  I am using exclusively now as my RSS reader – its a great reading experience and they’ve integrated my favorite sharing tool called Buffer.  Buffer allows you to schedule the publishing of all your clips across social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  Flipboard is another tool that is taking RSS to the next level with a beautiful visual presentation and an easy navigation experience.

What is the biggest achilles heel with B2B digital strategies you see and how can it be addressed? What are the biggest challenges companies are facing to implement their strategies?

I find it really interesting that there are still so many B2B companies out there that feel as though social/digital isn’t for them – that it’s only for consumers. There have been some incredible advances in the B2B use of social media, and the smart companies are already getting way ahead.

One thing that I think could be a game-changer for B2Bs is that, unlike the typical B2C player, they have a universe of potential customers that’s finite. It may be large, but it’s still finite.  What that means is that, in addition to using digital channels for listening (picking up on trends, understanding search behavior, analyzing influencers in their industry), B2Bs have the opportunity to index their entire ecosystem of potential customers. What I mean by that is that they can literally create a digital footprint map of every customer’s online presence and they can listen to and analyze everything their customers say and care about. They can see who they’re interacting with. Whose content they’re sharing. The things they care about outside of a narrow buyer/seller transactional space. We’re doing that now for physicians, who are the customers for many health care brands, but we’ve also created indexes and listening stations for IT Buyers, Hospital CIOs, Healthcare Journalists, Legislators and Regulators.  I think that this is the wave of the future for B2B.

Where do you think bus-tech disruption will happen next in your industry and 3 things brands should do to prepare for and leverage it?

In healthcare, I think the thing that will have biggest impact is how the reimbursement models are starting to change.  Currently, the more services a health care practitioner provides, the more they get paid.  Soon, this will change towards the more people you can help keep healthy, the more you get paid.  Moving from the goal of ‘filling hospital beds’ towards one of ‘keeping a set population healthy, creates a drastic change in how you operate your business and marketing.  We’re already seeing individuals become very focused on the digital aspects of health through the quantified self-tracking, which thousands have done through things like Nike+ and FitBit.  Technologies in this space will have an enormous impact on how health happens, with their true impact much further out than people understand.  Many healthcare companies want to invest in an app, but they miss the deeper part of how to create ‘behavioral movements’ in the communities they serve.  This is paramount and it begins with a consistent word of mouth capability.  Word of Mouth will become a number one asset for hospitals in the future but few have begun tapping into it quite yet. There’s a 10-minute slidecast about this concept on WCG’s SlideShare channel – Upside-Down Analytics.

Any other emerging disruptors to keep an eye on – who or what is next on the horizon?

This may sound a little far-fetched, but I think that at some point in the next 10 years, digital currency has the opportunity to be an absolutely massive disruptor.  We saw the beginnings of this in SecondLife (remember the Linden Dollar exchanges?), but we’re also seeing a much more evolved version of that with BitCoin now.  It’s really easy to pooh-pooh this concept until you consider the following: It is possible to conduct commerce across borders and without any real limitations in complete anonymity.  Which means that such transactions cannot be tracked – and cannot be taxed.  Can you imagine the disruptive force that could have on the current version of the nation-state?  Countries that cannot levy taxes wouldn’t continue to be countries for very long!  In any case, I don’t think we’re going to see the impact of this in the very near future, but it’s something to watch with interest. The way that people respond to the very concept of it will be very telling.

Greg Matthews has spent his career helping to build, grow and transform businesses in the healthcare industry.  He currently is a Group Director of Interactive & Social Media for WCG, where he assists Global and Fortune 500 healthcare companies with social media, communications and enterprise change management.  His work has helped clients including Amgen, Boston Scientific, Surescripts, Kaiser Permanente, Roche, Qualcomm Life, and Highmark.  Prior to WCG, Greg served as the Director of Consumer Innovation at Humana.  Greg is co-founder of #co_health chat, a member of the SxSW Health Advisory Board, and the creator of #MDigitalLife. You can connect with him on Twitter @chimoose

About Michelle Batten

Michelle Batten is a seasoned digital marketing & advertising leader. She has spent two decades in the interactive arena, working with Fortune 1000 brands + start-ups to define and execute their digital initiatives. An emerging media visionary, Michelle is currently serving as Head of Global Marketing for Mobile & Innovation Intrapreneur for Amadeus, a global travel technology company. She is also the President for the Chicago American Marketing Association. Her passions include culture + tech evolution, mentoring, experiential travel and foodspotting.

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