The world has changed. I can feel it in the water. I can feel it in the earth. I can smell it in the air. Much that was once is lost, for none now live who remember it.”

Galadriel

Cate Blanchett’s haunting soliloquy to introduce the Lord of the Rings echoes through the ages during times of change. It applied to the Industrial Age when fathers went to work in factories instead of hunting and farming. It applied when PCs and printers were invented, and typewriters moved aside.

Today’s big change (albeit a decade old) is social media. We’ve talked about it before, how to work with it, how to get the best results from it. But we’re just now beginning to understand that it is an enabling mechanism for changing the world.

It changes the way we interact, the way we shop, search, find directions, listen to music, interact with each other. And it helps with thousands of other tasks, such as finding airline tickets, booking cruises, sharing big moments with the family, keeping track of kids abroad, and understanding the world’s problems. We can journey safely beneath the ocean surface or check weather conditions on Mt. Kilimanjaro. We ask questions. We find answers. We sell things, we buy things, we share things, and we catalog our digital footprints.

From a social marketing standpoint, it changes the way we identify audiences, provide information, and engage their attention. It’s a living, breathing, happening-in-real-time phenomenon. It’s intuitive, mercurial, elicits strong emotions, creates community and archives memory. It has created such a rapid stream of information, that it comes metaphorically close to emulating a collective stream of consciousness, not simply for each human being, but for the world.

Social media captures experience – funny, sad, angry, you name it. And we participate willingly. We contribute personal snippets of our days, talk about and review products that interest us and that might serve others. In business, we use social media to provide information and tell stories about the vision and dreams of larger groups of people or things.

Collectively, social media is shaping a new frontier of virtual and physical existence. Our ideas, pictures and experiences “live” beyond the normal confines of our homes and offices. On an individual level, social media may not feel terribly important, but from 50,000 feet, our social sharing and interactions form patterns of behavior that can be analyzed to provide new insights.

I think one of the reasons Big Data is so exciting is that it enables us to look at these behaviors en masse, to spot trends and to draw conclusions. Whether it’s tracking where the next flu season will strike or predicting ecommerce trends for Black Friday, Big Data scales the outgrowth of individual participation, individual stories if you will, and tracks the relationships between these single experiences.

So don’t reduce social media to the vendors, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest, (as wonderful as they are) who provide the mechanisms for these changes. It’s more important to look at the underlying effects. How is it changing shopping? How is it changing raising a family? How is it changing communications, collecting information, conversations about our health, our politics, our understanding of the world?

We can feel how the world has changed. And it’s changing for the better — better for shopping, recommendations, and reviews, better for planning your next adventure, better for connecting with friends and family — all of which is better for marketing. Social marketing has become an essential tool for sharing and enriching every brand story, creating a community of evangelists and champions.