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In 2003, in the midst of the dot-com bust, Nicholas Carr wrote a now infamous piece in Harvard Business Review entitled IT Doesn’t Matter. Although the controversial title certainly grabbed readers’ attention, the underlying point of the article was more nuanced.
Carr argued that IT infrastructure was becoming too ubiquitous to be the source of competitive advantage for companies. The rising digital tide raised all ships, and companies could not gain competitive advantage simply by investing more in the company’s IT infrastructure. Certainly companies could continue to use their IT infrastructure in innovative ways, developing novel business processes that would create competitive advantage. These advantages would be the result of how these companies used IT to transform their business, however, not a direct result of the IT itself.
A decade later, it’s clear that Carr was right. Today, a company’s IT infrastructure is so far from being the source of competitive advantage that many companies are moving their IT infrastructure to the “cloud,” allowing third parties like Amazon and Google to provide the essential IT infrastructure. Many universities use Google to mange their email, calendar, and file-storage services, rather than invest in and maintain their own IT infrastructure to handle them.
Even IT startups like Dropbox and AirBnB, each valued at around $10 billion, do not own and manage the IT infrastructure upon which they are built. When companies do choose to manage their own IT infrastructure, they usually do so to control proprietary data, not because they think they can manage the infrastructure better than others. Digital processes and innovation still matter, but the IT itself does not.
I argue that we have reached the same point with social media marketing. In terms of competitive advantage, social media marketing simply doesn’t matter. Having a presence on Facebook and Twitter is no longer sufficient to provide any source of competitive advantage for companies — not when all of their competitors have a presence on Facebook on Twitter, too.