There’s a video on YouTube about the impact of social media. It starts out by asking the question, “Is social media a fad or the biggest shift since the industrial revolution?”
To find out, we talked to Erik Qualman, international best-selling author of “Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms The Way We Live and Do Business.” He’s also the guy behind the video, which itself has been viewed more than a million times. (Click here to see the video.) 
PR: You make the statement that social media is the biggest shift since the industrial revolution. Why do you think that?
Qualman: If you look at Facebook, it would be the third-largest country in the world, just by population. Ninety-five percent of Generation Y has signed up for social networks. It’s really connecting the world.
PR: The vast majority of our readers are small business owners or sole proprietors. They’re incredibly busy. Do they really need to spend time on social media?
Qualman: People think they don’t have time for social media; they’re essentially saying they don’t have time for their customers, because social media is living, breathing people. It touches every facet of your business because it touches every facet of your customer. If you’re a remodeler and you get to the point where you can’t answer every text, tweet or post about your company, that’s a great problem to have.
PR: Your video powerfully demonstrates how rapidly social media has grown and evolved. What’s coming next? What’s the next level of social media?
Qualman: The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, says that Facebook’s competition is something we don’t know today. It’s tough seeing six months out in social media. What we’ll see next is social commerce and social search.
PR: What do you mean by social commerce?
Qualman: Only 14 percent of people trust advertising, but 78 percent of people trust word of mouth. Social media is word of mouth on digital steroids. It will be much easier to see what our friends like and don’t like in products. That’s social commerce. That will be big. More and more stuff will be rated. You’ll be able to see who rated it.
We’re almost there on TripAdvisor.com. If you sign in through Facebook and look up hotels in New York City, it will say, ‘Here are your friends who know about hotels in New York City. Do you want to ask them?’
A lot of marketing is going to go to get people to try to rate something. It’s important to know that it doesn’t always have to be a good rating. It’s more credible if there’s actually a few negative reviews.
PR: What are the most common — and fatal — mistakes that small businesses make in trying to “do” social media?
Qualman: The first mistake is people who don’t think they need to do it. They’re afraid to take the first step. So the first misstep is not taking a step. Once they decide to enter in the biggest mistake is to try to sell something first. You should first listen, interact and then react to that. If 80 percent of people say they love what you do, what are you doing to increase that? If 20 percent have problem, what do you do to fix that pain point? Then you sell. Let’s say you go to a housewarming party and you see four people having a conversation. Would you walk up to them, interrupt them and try to sell them something?
PR: The range of social media that’s out there can be overwhelming. If a remodeler is making the first foray into this arena, where should they start — Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? Or is the key to do them all?
Qualman: That’s in the list of top 5 mistakes — trying to boil the ocean. I’m in this stuff 24/7 and I can’t keep on top of all of it.
Release that anxiety. You can’t stay on top of all of it. LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter — assess which one will make the most business sense. I use YouTube and Twitter. My video doesn’t sell books but it establishes the platform. For remodelers, it would probably be Facebook and YouTube — showing all the great work they do. Make the videos something you’ll use anyway for other things and repurpose it on YouTube. You never know what might go viral. Fifty percent of my speaking engagements come from that video.
PR: What are some of your favorite social media apps right now?
Qualman: The one I use most is HootSuite. If you’re going to use Twitter, you need that. It makes it 10,000 times easier to manage.
Then there’s WiseStamp for email signatures. If you use Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo accounts, it lets you have a creative signature with an image of yourself or maybe a favorite house you remodeled. You can have those icons clickable on YouTube or Wikipedia so people can click on them and go to your web page.
PR: In your video, you say that products and services will find people on social media. What exactly do you mean by that?
Qualman: If you look at the newspaper and magazine model, you’ve already seen that happen. I read stuff people send my way through RSS. Most of the time, I’m reading things people are sending me. If the news is important, it will find me. If I remodel my house and I love it, I’ll immediately blast that out because it’s so easy to do today. Plus, I want to brag about it. I can post on Facebook using my iPhone.
PR: You tell business owners that they need to humanize their companies. How do they do that?
Qualman: Always tell the truth. It sounds laughable, but when you’re at fault, quickly admit it. Point the finger at yourself. The reason it’s important is because we buy don’t like to buy from companies. We buy from people. And you have to (tell the truth). It’s not a choice. WikiLeaks is a big story right now. The world is a fully transparent place.
PR: What’s an example of a company that does a good job with social media?
Qualman: Zappos. I was there two weeks ago with the CEO (Tony Hsieh). It starts at the top down. He wrote this great book, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.” He took a lot of marketing dollars and said, “Why am I spending this on billboards and TV when the most important thing is word of mouth?” So he put that into customer service and empowered people to fix things on their own up to $100. Social media isn’t necessarily a strategy — it’s a complete cultural shift.
PR: Last question: How much money has Fatboy Slim made from people downloading his song, “Right Here, Right Now,” after watching your video on YouTube?
Qualman: Hopefully a lot! I’m glad YouTube woke up and smelled the coffee, realized there’s money to be made here, and gave people a way to download songs from the site. Everybody wins -- the music label wins, the artist wins, the developer wins, YouTube wins.
PR: Is there anything you want to cover that we haven’t discussed?
Qualman: One of the key things is that people think social media is more complex than it is. You can have success if you have common sense and passion. The other piece is that it is hard work. There’s no magic pill. You have to roll up your sleeves because you’re building relationships. A lot of people don’t want to do it, so you can separate yourself from the competition. It’s a beautiful time to be in social media.