When Abraham Lincoln was faced with keeping the United States together during the Civil War he was fortunate to have a new technology– the Telegraph. For history buffs this historical record gives us amazing insight into the war and the mind of President Lincoln himself. President Lincoln never kept a diary but the his thanks to his telegraph records we get a peek at his thoughts and it reveals how comfortable he was with this new technology.

What spurred these thoughts for me was I recently watched a great program on C-Span (Mr. Lincolns T-Mails) from Tom Wheeler where he speaks about his book, “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War.”

During this time the telegraph was a new device (used primarily by the financial industry) and no national leader during wartime had ever had technology access to such a powerful communication device. Suddenly it was possible to get a fast and fuller view of the battlefield from every theater of engagement. The Telegraph provided Lincoln with the thoughts of his generals, reports from spy’s, and in some cases near instant reports from long away battlefields. Quite a few historians have argued this tipped the balance of power for the President and his cause to re-unify the nation.

That’s where I thought about today, what new communication technology do we have at our hands?

The Telegraph as New Technology

It was being used in the finance and banking industry but was a little known tool to the national leadership. As an early adopter President Lincoln had to learn how to use it and he had to build a leadership model around it– all while in the middle of a civil war.

The Telegraph (image by cpitcher@verizon.net)

Like social media the telegraph is an electronic form of communication. The telegraph increased the speed at which information and communication could be received  it changed the world, it changed war, and it changed daily life.

Enter social media in today’s modern era– another electronic means of communication. It has increased the speed at which communication happens, it has changed the world, and it has changed daily life.

The Aha Moment

Like many ground breaking technology advances sometimes it takes a moment of inspiration for people to truly get it.

For Lincoln and the Telegraph it took him asking one of his general’s aids if there was any news from the front. The aid responded “nothing new in the file Sir.”

While this was technically true what Lincoln discovered as he walked into the generals office was a copy of a telegraph with news of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. That copy never made it way over to the file inbox, so the aid was technically (or some would say lazily) correct in his statement.

This discovery made it apparent to the President that he was not getting a true look at the war as it was happening. This quickly changed as President Lincoln and congress created a new department for communication that was virtually housed next to the president himself. We then entered the era of real time information for warfare.

The Aha Social Media Moment

I hope for each business owner or person in business today you have had this aha moment with social media. Never before has it been possible to see the thoughts, emotions, and conversations of so many people. Never before has it been possible to learn what your target market likes, dislikes, and talks about. This power is now in your hand and within your reach.

Something As Simple As Hiking

Let’s say your target market has an affinity for hiking. Good thing to know right? Well let’s go deeper with social media and see how this allows you to learn about your target market.

Here is the amount of people I could find on Twitter who list hiking in their bio: 3,965. Now try reading the bio’s from Twitter on people who list hiking. Would this allow you to learn more about your target market? How about learning more about what interests them and what is important to them?

Or use SocialMention.com to get strength, sentiment, passion, reach, plus top keywords and users.

Listen and join conversations on Facebook on the Hiking pages herehere, and here. Better yet do a public search on Posts by Everyone on Hiking. Visit some off the profiles… can you learn a little more about your hypothetical hiking target market?

Lincoln Was an Early Adopter and So Are You

Just as President Lincoln used a new technology called the telegraph to get a full picture of a nation at war you can use social media to get a full picture of your market place. No filter, no clerk telling you that there is “nothing new in the file,” just raw actionable intelligence that will help you connect and engage with your target market.

Now think about your target market. How can you use these tools to find more information about them? Can you find more buying trigger points? Are there more ways to emotionally connect your product or service? Can listening in on people’s conversations in real time give you insight you wouldn’t ordinarily have? This new technology– this new form of communication is open for you to explore.