Oh Social! (Musings on a few things.)

1) Let’s move past “social media” as a new religion.

I gave a presentation last week at a local tourism conference – incorporating some stats from BI Intelligence showing social media as the most popular online activity (US). This won’t surprise anyone, but as I went on to explore innovative sites like airbnb (for which I’m a very passionate advocate), where social behaviours are integrated into the core product and business model – I wondered whether we should have evolved beyond categorising social media as a blanket behaviour. It’s just too big now and isolating it from digital products is as much about generational perspective as it is about technology.

This week I’m researching the telecoms market and am noticing that the main Canadian telcos isolate social media from the product. Indeed Rogers has created a few microsites that simply aggregate social media from other places, offering little additional value by farming content in this way. Repackaged media is ring-fenced simply because it originated on a social platform.

2) Communicating openness to conversation is different to the reproduction of noise

I’ve been campaigning against embedded tweets and Facebook posts on brand websites – not necessarily as a universal rule, but many companies seem to be under the impression (illusion) that this is interesting content. I’m totally in favour of promoting your social channels, but if I want to read your tweets, I’ll read them on Twitter and even then, it’s probably because I’m already on the platform and get the value. This isn’t the case for everyone. Just because social media is freely available, you don’t have to spread it across your website like honey. In fact if you’re using social media and user generated content to pad out (or sweeten) your website – it’s arguably an indication that the design and intention is flawed.

In various conversations with interesting people last week, it occurred to me that the larger social networks become, the less value they seem to offer. Even with circles, lists and labels – neither the algorithms nor the conscious categorisation of people seem to generate the flexibility or transparency we seek. The lines are also horribly blurred as colleagues “friend” me on Facebook (or I friend them), friends ask me for recommendations on LinkedIn (and I decline) and Facebook pokes around for our professional data – ultimately competing for LinkedIn turf.

3) If relationships have value in endurance, we need to repeatedly earn them in the term. Online is no different.

The trouble with social scale is that it encourages hoarding – so our networks become bigger as our digital lives grow with us. At the moment there is no motivation for us to manage these networks with exception of feeling overwhelmed. Most of the time, we are content to leave it to algorithms, and perhaps serendipity, to decide who we should be exposed to. A friend recently exposed me to the concept of Chindogu – “The Refined Japanese Art Of Making Unuseless Inventions” and in this vein I wondered about building a social platform which tries to dissolve your relationships and erase your contacts if you don’t actively try to maintain them. By this I allude to the mindful cultivation of relationships – not the vanity gesture of liking someone’s content.

4) Influence isn’t simple

I get asked a lot about “influencer strategies” – how can we get those superstar bloggers engaged with our brand(s) and am sensitive to such requests for a few reasons:

1) There is no benefit for the vast majority of the social universe: the Token Influential and I don’t want to reward a one-dimensional elite.

2) “Influence” (quantitative community size and Klout score) is frequently “gamed” – and I have often come across Twitter profiles where said human / “profile” has a following of $25K or more, and there’s a disconnect between the quality of their tweets and apparent empire. As an agency strategist, my clients often get hit with “offers” from “influential” parties – a useful tool would be one that focuses on interrogating influence, rather than identifying it.

3) Sometimes nurturing influential behaviour is more important than wooing influential individuals. An articulate review on Amazon or Trip Advisor is worth much more than a comment on Facebook on YouTube. Indeed Amazon and Trip Advisor integrate and encourage thoughtful interaction  – that builds value for the platform, associated brand, community and consumer.

5) We will only have to work harder, faster, for longer

I know that I have many clients who feel overwhelmed by social media. In fact I often feel overwhelmed by social media. However, we can’t dismiss it as a “trend” or fad – close our eyes and hope that the Internet will still be here, but without all the complications. This is the gravitational pull of the future, the weight of societal curiosity and inevitable human evolution.

Get used to it. Get on with it. Ask questions. Share insights.

6) Facebook is rented space.

A couple of people assured me that Facebook has been working well for them and that they didn’t see the need to invest in their own websites. My reply was pretty pointed:

  • If you only invest in someone else’s space and anything happens to it – you lose your audience, your legacy.
  • With the exception of paying for advertising, Facebook is a close-gated network – so people can only find you if they know what to look for. Therefore you might be missing out on new audiences and potential customers who could discover you through Search.
  • Facebook is generating its own culture and behaviours – you may not always find these complimentary to your brand.
  • Templates make life easy, but I for one, would like to flex a little imagination occasionally and to build my own content landscape beyond the vision of Valley nerds. Keep a little ambition to yourself.


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