“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

46% of people think that Facebook will disappear within the next 5 years.  Sound surprising?  Well, at the time of writing those were the latest results from a survey currently running on the Forbes website asking readers to vote for whether they think Google, Facebook or both will have disappeared by 2017.  You can go along now and vote yourself although you might be too busy wondering why on earth people have started talking about Facebook’s demise even before it goes public in a couple of weeks.

Actually, it’s all too easy to get caught up in details like this – in guessing whether Google or Facebook will win the network war or Android or iOS will rule mobile – rather than concentrating on what’s really important, which is spotting the underlying shifts in consumer behaviour that are really changing the game.

A few weeks back I wrote a post called “I never liked you anyway”.  It responded to suggestions that there is no place for social media or digital tools within financial services.  I used that post to explain why I think that financial services differ from retail, why they demand their own special approach.  To some extent, however, these issues are just small pieces in a much larger jigsaw.

The world – and that includes financial services providers – will be forced to respond to the digital revolution because it is just that, a revolution.  The changes that are sweeping client behaviour are fundamental changes in the way the world works, not small responses to the growth of a social network here, the loss of search engine there.

Some people use the speed of change as a reason to stand still.  They cite the fact that MySpace has already all but disappeared as reason to ignore Facebook, or tablets or virtual financial advice.

Infact, experience shows that it rarely makes sense to stand still.  The key to the future doesn’t lie in choosing which network to piggy back onto.  No, the real skill lies in noticing and reacting to the broader shifts in client relationships – the changes which will never be undone but will only continue to evolve.

In his excellent book, The End of Business As Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution, Brian Solis uses mobile phones to illustrate this issue.  When it comes to phones it isn’t the fact that landlines are disappearing that’s important, it’s the bigger impact that mobiles have had on society at large:

“Displacing landlines is one thing.  The cell phone’s impact on behaviour is something different altogether.  For years, we frowned on bringing anything to the dinner table that might detract from the interactions that meals foster.  But then cell phones quietly took over our attention one by one, until the table was surrounded by people with their heads focused downward and their thumbs texting away.  To an outsider, this conduct would appear nothing less than rude.”

A similarly seismic shift has occurred in the relationships between clients and their wealth managers.

It’s not so much that fact that conversations now occur via Twitter, Facebook or Skype that’s important, it’s what these changes represent – which is a fundamental shift in the power dynamics between client and advisers and an equally huge change in the way we all consume and share information.

Together, these shifts have put clients very much in the driving seat:

“Who’s in control of the information that circulates within each network?  It’s not the brand or its clever messaging, attractive promotions, or creative gimmicks. People are in control.  The choices they make and the experience they share through their words, relationships, and actions, influence those around them.”

People are connecting with each other to form vast networks of information.  It’s not just the fact that we’re all connected by just six degrees of separation; it’s the fact that we’re motivated to educate and inform each other… and trust each other’s opinions.

Facebook and Google might very well be gone within 5 years, but their legacy will be very much alive.  Yes, we might have a wholly new way of sharing information, but that drive to be connected, to engage is unlikely to disappear and that’s why, regardless of how long you think social networks will survive, you’ve got to get used to change happening fast, happening more often and happening now.

In the words of Solis:

“Once “too big to fail” businesses such as Borders, Tower Records and Blockbuster are now gone.  Each business is a victim of Digital Darwinism, the evolution of consumer behaviour when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to exploit it.  Digital Darwinism does not discriminate.  Every business is threatened.”

Escaping the threat means embracing change and developing a culture that lets you change and adapt again and again and again.  At the end of the day, it comes back to that Forbes article on Google and Facebook which ends with the challenge “Those who own the future are going to be the ones who create it.  It’s all up for grabs.”

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Hazel McHugh

Before becoming a freelance writer and digital marketer, Hazel was Group Marketing Manager at Santander.
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