By Mike Byrnes
Gerd Leonhard, media futurist and CEO at The Futures Agency, opened up the general session at the FPA Business Solutions 2011 conference in Boston yesterday to a packed room of advisors. His message: Dive in to social media.

'Faster Horses'

Leonhard started his presentation by explaining if Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, "faster horses," because they didn't know there was something completely different and better. It was a thought-provoking comment, setting the stage for his views on the future of businesses, technology and how advisor business will be impacted.

Why Networks Are Important

Leonhard showed how companies like Texas Instruments used to be known for calculators, but not anymore. Today it has adapted and individuals can just download the app. Another change is that customers now have more power than they did before. For example, individuals can use Kayak and other services travel agents would only have had.

What has changed is that there used to be broadcasters sending out information.  Now it is about being a network. Successful companies like Amazon and Google connect people. "They are ecosystems."

Leonhard proved his point by asking, "Why would you connect your Facebook account to Amazon?" He then explained how Amazon was able to cross reference individuals in one's network to see what others are reading. "It resulted in a 13% increase in one sweep," Leonhard shared.

Although the United States has leading companies, "America has fallen a bit behind on mobile [usage], but the country is catching up," stated Leonhard.

When it comes to falling behind the times, the music industry is a perfect example. From $14.6 billion in 1999 to $6.3 billion in 2009, it has seen a 71% decline. Conversely, Leonhard gave the movie industry as an example of adapting, with a company like Netflix doing it right.  

More Fragmentation

Social media is shifting from social conversation to social commerce. Leonhard said, "It's not a better mouse trap, it's a whole new logic."

I Love Lucy
used to pull in a huge percentage of the country's TV viewership, now American Idol, the biggest show, only captures 4% of Americans, because today people have so many more options. Leonhard advised, "Expect more fragmentation."

Leonhard is certain that disruption is something businesses will have to face.  The only question is whether they do the disrupting themselves. Case in point, look what Craigslist did, taking all the business from traditional classifieds.

Opportunity For Advisors

A crazy amount of information is being put on the Internet. For example,
26 million photos are uploaded to Flickr every day. People are publishing more and more information, which can result in just noise.

"A connected world can be noisy.The noisier the world gets, the more everyone will need better filters," Leonard said. The overload of information actually presents an opportunity for advisors to play the role of disseminating what is the most important and relevant in a timely manner. "Your job is to filter the ocean of information. Your clients don't have time to go through it all."

"Add transparency. Declare what you are doing. Trust is crucial," he recommended.

Leonhard encouraged advisors to become active with social media if they are not already.  "Anticipate what is on the horizon," he said. "What is coming up next?" For example, some see newspapers dying, but what about e-mail? He shared that 75% of kids in Brazil have not seen a book, they use their mobile device.  To push the envelope, he showed a video of an Audi that drives itself.

Ask These Questions

Leonhard said the key questions are, "Why are you in business, what do you do, and how do you do it? We are living in a knowledge economy. We are no longer living in an economy of stuff. So how do people use the knowledge? Are [advisors] people of the paper? [If so, are they] working with people of the screen?"

Real-time Engagements

People don't want to wait anymore. "Think about now-ness. They are not interested in last year's info. What is happening today?"  He gave this example to illustrate his point: If you want to know the best place to get sushi in New York City, do you look online at reviews that could be two years old, or do you search Twitter and find reviews from people that are probably still at the restaurant?

Ideas For Advisors
When it comes to deciding how to use social media, Leonhard said, "It depends where your clients are."

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