Jonathan is a 2008 graduate of the Farmer School at Miami University. He works at a small web development firm in Cincinnati where he brings a fresh interdisciplinary approach to project management and business operations. He’s always either checking in or tweeting his iPhone and he’s passionate about people and bringing digital connections into reality. He’s an active blogger for continuous web and a founder of the group’s Cincinnati meet-up. Got questions, shoot him an e-mail

What (the hell) is social media? I hate that question. I even hate the term. It’s truly just the Internet. It’s so many things and it’s expanding every day and, quite honestly, I don’t care how it’s defined. What’s great about everything that’s happening in the digital space right now is that it can mean something different to every single one of us. Let me explain:

In game theory, utility is defined as “a measure of that which is sought to be maximized in any situation involving a choice” Another definition says “the state of being useful, profitable, or beneficial.”

Here are the important words that I see in those definitions: choice, maximized, useful, beneficial. What’s so great about those words? They can mean entirely different things to you than they do to me. They’re all tied to intrinsic value, REAL value…not market value — and “real” means whatever I decide that it means. It’s what is essential to me.

What does utility have to do with social media? In short: everything. In our country, we seem to have a fixation on ROI. In a social space, it’s difficult impossible to put a measurable ROI on interaction…on being involved. ROI in this space is, by definition, unquantifiable. How many dollars will I make? How many customers will I gain? Traditionally, that’s how a business might measure its return on investment when investing its time, people, research, and dollars into a new venture. When investing in social media there needs to be a paradigm shift.

Someday soon, it won’t be about the ROI some business gets for investing in social media — it will be about the ROI that a consumer person gets for investing in a brand. (aside: i’m not talking about a financial investment, I’m talking time and energy. The important question will be “What do I get for interacting with your brand”) That ROI will be measured in utility.

I believe that we’ll see a shift toward a consumer-centric economy where extrinsic value is replaced by intrinsic value. @nickseguin and I have had many discussions about the importance of intrinsic value and how the success or failure of a brand will correlate directly with its ability to engage its audience. Rather than brands and organizations asking about ROI, they’ll be asking how they can improve the consumer experience. The consumers will be the ones making decisions based on ROI.

As a rational (economically) consumer of goods and services, I will be choosing to engage with brands (products, services, organizations, etc.) that provide me with utility.  The paradigm shift that I mention earlier relates directly to this — brands are losing control of not only the content, but the medium on which that content is exchanged. Social media The Internet will be how i digest this content. At my convenience. AT. MY. CONVENIENCE.

As consumers, we will become the center of the universe for brands. And damn it, I can’t wait!

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