Thursday, January 29, 2009

Comments in the Social Media; are we being ignored?

You and I both know that the social media gravitates around the conversation. The many new social instruments that appear on a near daily basis are specifically designed to ensure that the Internet is more conducive to interactions. Many have designated the social shift attributed to these two way information flows 'Web 2.0'; a term coined by Tim O'Reilly. The advent of Web 2.0 technologies saw a departure from the generally static web offerings of the mid to late 90's, offering the user an electronic voice with which to respond to web content. This dynamic capacity to react is most obvious in blog comments. Unfortunately, whilst the various Web 2.0 technologies have proven their worth as communications facilitators time and again, I can't help but feel that sometimes we are still being ignored.

Developing Together
Blog comments are integral for developing conversations. Whilst the opening post provides the conversational foundations, by itself it represents little more than an opinion. The result of such a strategy would invariably be a one way broadcast more reminiscent of the traditional media. By encouraging comments however, opinion is replaced by debate, discussion is facilitated, and community based knowledge is collectively enhanced. 'We' are responsible for developing 'Our' intelligence. It is for this reason that I get frustrated when blog authors close their comments sections for contributions by registered users only. The debate which such pages instigate is, as a corollary of registration requirements, diminished, and these authors are almost certainly guilty of detracting from the conversation that might otherwise take place.

Killing the Conversation
Despite the capacity for the social media to establish a direct link with the customer, many organisations implement the various Web 2.0 technologies with a retained traditional marketing perspective. Technologies adopted with the intention of reaching out to the customer often become stale; this being a corollary of contribution neglect. Despite actively inciting discussion through blog postings, many an organisation is still failing to recognize the additional benefits of engaging within the resultant conversations. Unfortunately for the organisation, stagnant conversations are unlikely to draw further commentary. Those companies that are guilty of allowing the conversation to stagnate must realise that in so doing they are killing the conversation; for who is going to use their digital voice if they feel that they aren't being heard?

Enhancing the Conversation
Comments have the capacity to truly develop the conversation, however this is reliant upon two factors. Firstly, your customers must be enabled to contribute; closed systems invariably deter engagement, and secondly, the conversation must not be permitted to become stagnant through contribution neglect. If your customers have felt sufficiently moved to engage with your organization, don’t waste this opportunity for relationship development. In choosing to implement social media based applications, your organization has opted into the conversation described above. In order to reap the benefits, you need to demonstrate a capacity to ‘listen’ in addition to your capacity to ‘talk’.

Let's not revert back to the static, one directional 'conversations' of the 90's. Let's stay social by both encouraging and engaging with the comments we receive.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Dreaded Social Media Checklist

There have been many great articles recently discussing social media implementation within the organisation; two of the more recent being Danny Brown's 'It's Not All About The Blog', and Chris Brogan's 'Social Media is not a Life Raft'. Both articles provide fantastic insight into organizational social media strategies, emphasizing that it is often not necessary to create a presence using each of the social instruments. In creating a social media presence with many points of contact, the organisation faces the challenge of ensuring that the message which they convey doesn't become diluted. Unfortunately, when it comes to identifying appropriate social platforms, many organisations continue to place their faith in the dreaded social media checklist.

Remain Focused
I should note that whilst the passion for engaging the customer demonstrated by these organisations is laudable, maintained focus is essential. Careful selection and implementation of appropriate channels is critical for success. No single social media strategy is universally applicable. Indeed, to suggest that there are instruments which must be present within every organisation is naive, as each of the social media platforms has their own strengths and weaknesses. The capacity for these to influence successful customer engagement will depend entirely upon the organisation's devotion to the project, and the social media based proclivities of the customers themselves.

Fish where the Fish are
This is a phrase which I have often seen used by Jeremiah Owyang, and it's simple enough. Fish where the fish are; or in social media terms, only target those platforms in which your customers have an active presence. When developing a customer engagement strategy for the social media, the importance of monitoring cannot be understated. It is imperative that a thorough analysis of the media is undertaken with the intention of identifying those platforms in which your customers are already established. In so doing, your organisation can ensure that the customer is offered an additional point of contact through which to connect with the organisation. By creating your own active presence, the organisation is invariably depicted as more human, which in turn enhances the likelihood that interactions will occur.

Of course, that is not to say that your organisation should lack an insight into developments within the social media. Even the greatest fishing grounds will become depleted eventually. An awareness into platform developments will allow your organisation to estimate future potential usage habits of your customers. Ongoing monitoring of the platform will allow the organisation to verify their expectations.

Checklist Schmecklist
Checklists would suggest that the social media is easily quantifiable; it's not. Don't get caught in the trap of perceiving the social media as comprising a set of standardized tools which must be employed by each and every organisation. This is naive, and will almost certainly result in your efforts being misdirected. It should be noted that your interest in engaging the customer through the social media alone will almost certainly have placed you ahead of a great many of your competitors. Ensure that your efforts to engage therein are not wasted through resources being inappropriately sourced.

Above all, you need to ensure that you ask the right questions. It's not a case of asking which tools should be employed by your organisation as standard, but rather in which platforms do you customers demand a presence? Answer this and you will be on your way to social media success.

Over to you now. Do you believe there are standardized social media platforms in which organisations must have a presence? Conversely, do you think there still exist occasions in which social media is entirely inappropriate? As always, your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Directing Attention

I read a fantastic article by Josh Klein earlier this week. The post in question emphasized that quality has become a commodity, and that in order to adequately differentiate one's product offerings it has become necessary to win attention. Klein's comments concerning the commoditization of quality were fascinating, and I would recommend the article to those keen to glean an insight into how quality is slowly becoming a minimal entry requirement. Whilst the comments concerning attention are somewhat less revolutionary, they highlight an important consideration which must not be overlooked. As the online environment becomes increasingly conducive to content creation, achieving recognition becomes a significant organisational challenge. How it is achieved will invariably depend upon the source from which it is sought.

Attention Please
As suggested by Klein, demand for attention has increased as the content available online has become ever more voluminous. As this demand rises, those able to direct attention have become 'gatekeepers' of sorts, able to drive traffic to those sites deemed most valuable. Admittedly, financial incentives represent one of the more common factors influencing the direction of attention; indeed, trade in attention is nothing new. Google has offered advertisers attention through the sale of sponsored links for years, and affiliate marketing has essentially grown from a desire to draw the attention of highly targeted traffic. Whilst financial gain represents but one incentive for directing attention, recent digital developments are redefining how and why attention is directed.

Developing Insight
Earlier this week, I made the suggestion on Robert Scoble's FriendFeed feed that the social media platform Twitter has slowly become little more than a service for directing attention. Whilst the platform may originally have been positioned as conversation facilitator, this has arguably been superseded as the platform's users have taken advantage of it's capacity to direct attention. The headline based nature of the Twitter service has resulted in a significant proportion of the messages conveyed directing attention to third party sites and services; the motivation behind which being arguably the development of community level insight.

Louis Gray recently wrote a piece detailing Robert Scoble's recent attempts to incorporate Amazon affiliate links into his FF feed. He probably would have gotten away with it to, if it wasn't for that pesky Gray! Link monetization along the lines demonstrated here is likely to represent one of the more viable methods for introducing revenue from one's social media efforts. Whilst the event did incur mild debate concerning transparency, the results are invariably win-win from both the retailer and the affiliate's perspectives. Whether this will damage the individual's integrity however is another matter; but that is a conversation for another day.

Achieving Attention
As I see it, there are two main reasons for directing attention. Firstly, attention may be directed for reasons of personal financial gain. Secondly, attention may be directed for the overall benefit of the 'conversation'. Whilst both strategies are likely to achieve results, the obvious costs incurred through Strategy A should be carefully scrutinized prior to any significant action being taken. On the other hand, Strategy B requires a more long term approach to content generation. By ensuring that your content remains interesting, informative and relevant, the chances of the community naturally linking to the content increase dramatically. As I see it, this is precisely the goal organisations should be reaching for.

What are your thoughts on directing attention? How should organisations ensure that links to their content are achieved, and what strategies do you feel are likely to represent the most viable means of achieving said links? As always, would love to hear your thoughts.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Perhaps Numbers do have Some Influence after All

Last week I wrote a post highlighting that our slowly developing obsession with figures was beginning to detract from the value of the overall conversation. My principle concern is that as our attention is increasingly drawn to the aggregation of followers, the purpose of the social media moves away from the qualitative aspects of the conversation towards the quantitative aspects of a broadcast. The conversation discussing such contemporary topics as the position of auto follow software and authority is abundant, and only fuels the debate by encouraging such aggregation. Yet despite my strong views on the subject, I think that it would be naive for me to dismiss the benefits of follower numbers out right.

Talking about Tribes
Over the past few days, I have been reading Seth Godin's fantastic 'Tribes', and whilst I am far from finishing it, the points raised thus far do resonate with the above discussion. Essentially, Godin posits that tribes exist all around us; whether these comprise colleagues in an office, customers connected through a shared passion for a particular product, or sports fans united around a sporting team. Although some tribes are in effect 'stuck' through a lack of direction, other's combine under a leader's influence to become a movement; whilst the actual number of followers is important to a degree, it is the capacity of the leader to incite action that will influence the overall success thereof. It is the presence of transformational leadership that dictates the extent to which the tribe is able to unite under a common goal.

Whilst I remain dubious of those who suggest that numbers alone illustrate authority, it is undeniable that the scope of incited action will rise as these figures increase; in other words, action incited within a group of 50,000 will almost certainly exceed the action incited within a group of 50. Whilst this statement is a considerable generalization which will depend largely upon the composition of the group, it is arguable that the size of the group will directly influence the significance of the outcome produced. Needless to say, this action will invariably prove inconsequential if the presence of a transformational leader is found to be lacking.

Leading the Pack
Although figures have the capacity to influence the eventual outcome, alone they count for very little. It is arguable that the presence of a strong leader will determine the success of a particular objective; if she is able to both energise and motivate the tribe. The leader’s capacity to direct will almost certainly dictate the group’s propensity towards successful goal recognition, and I would suggest to you that smaller groups can achieve aims equal to and even greater than those accomplished by tribes twice their size; given the appropriate motivation.

Whilst I would never discourage the building of a community, I would offer a brief warning. The capacity of your community to create a given outcome will depend largely upon your ability to direct them. Be inspirational, energise the group, and turn your tribe into a movement.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Admitting You were Wrong: Thoughts on Apologies and Resolutions

I've had this post title sat in the draft email folder of my iPhone's email box for about two months now. What better time to use it than in the light of Chris Brogan's recent article on saying sorry. In the article 'We're Not Always Superheroes', Brogan highlights the critical importance of apologizing following a service failure. Whilst the arguments raised in Brogan's article are of undeniable significance, I would approach the issue from a somewhat different angle. You see, whilst saying that you are sorry is important, it's only half of the story.

The Position of the Apology
Despite inescapable fallibilities stemming from our being human, within organisations we remain incredibly reluctant to accept responsibility and apologize for service failings experienced by the customer. The fear of negative repercussions is often a significant influencing factor on our likelihood to engage in the admission of guilt (as an aside, Seth Godin covers fear and repercussions fantastically in his his book Tribes; definitely worth a read). Yet despite the potential dent that such an admission may or may not cause to our ego, failure to address the customer's concerns will invariably result in negative word of mouth.

The social media instruments available make ignoring vocalised service failings absolutely inexcusable, and in spite of personal concerns regarding thepotential outcome of the event, it is far better to address the issue at fault and to offer to offer a solution than to ignore it. It is better to give an apology. But whilst the provision of such an apology is the beginning of resolution process for concerns expressed by the customer, saying sorry does not represent resolution in itself. The apology is only half the story.

Actions Speak Louder than Words
If you have absolutely no intention of following up on the actions conveyed to a customer during an apology, my advice will be to avoid the apology all together. If the customer realises that their concerns remain unanswered following the specific identification thereof, then I guarantee that their distaste for your organisation will have been multiplied. Customers convey their concerns for two reasons; to have them addressed or to deter others from future interactions with the organisation. If you fail to address the concern despite having claimed that you would, then your actions will without doubt incur the wrath of the customer; and at a time in which the creation and dissemination of content has never been easier, the repercussions can be catastrophic.

Seeking Resolutions Together
Whilst content creation has never been easier, neither has your organisation's access to market research. Your customers are 'telling' you what they think of your brand through the content which they create online. It is your responsibility to locate these thoughts. This is particularly pertinent when the content created identifies service failings. It is imperative that once such content is located an apology is given, and efforts are subsequently made to craft a resolution with that adequately meets the customer's expectations. If your organisation demonstrates a clear interest in resolving a problem caused by flaws in your operation, then the customer will be significantly more forgiving. Whilst this is not an excuse to allow initial mistakes to flourish, an appropriate resolution system will help to ensure that your organisation's brand equity is not utterly destroyed by mistakes attributable to human error.

Let me be clear; whilst an apology is imperative, it is the subsequent action that will truly influence perceptions of your brand. Make sure that the steps which you take to resolve an issue leave the customer feeling delighted. Otherwise your efforts will backfire, and the results are likely to be ugly...

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Social Media; a Means to an End or Vice Versa?

Whilst reading an article by Chris Brogan earlier this week, I noticed a rather interesting comment by Nicky Jameson. The thought behind the comment was simple yet intriguing; instead of focusing on the potential outcomes recognizable through the social media, we have instead become overtly distracted by the platforms themselves, be these blogs, microblogs, or social networks. This is bad.

All to often, we find ourselves overly concerned with the instruments used to convey the message, instead of focusing on the message itself; a fact reiterated to me by Brogan himself incidently earlier this week. As some traditional organisations struggle to find their place in a 'Web 2.0' world, it is ultimately the object of their attention that will influence the degree of their success or otherwise in 21st Century business. Is their aim to get that oft discussed corporate blog up and running by Quarter 2? Or is the aim something more meaningful; like the establishment of on ongoing dialogue with the customer in the locations which they deem necessary? Will their strategy adopt a rigid structure, requiring that decisions go through several boards and panels before a solution is obtained, or will it be more fluid? Is the focus on catching up now, or being ahead of the game in the future?

I can almost guarantee you that one of these strategies will instigate substantially greater returns; I'll leave it up you to decide which of these it is.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Conversation of Numbers...

I’ve noticed something on Twitter recently; people seem desperate to remove the ‘conversation’ from the conversation! Every other 'person' that has added me of late seems to be a spam account, and even a number of the 'human' users seem to be introducing themselves with a standardized tweet inviting me to read their blog. The engagement with these people clearly isn’t a conversation...

A Place to Converse, Not to Count
Steps to automate the conversation are surely reminiscent of the more traditional media; less of a conversation, more of a broadcast. Why are such elements being introduced? Personally, I believe that the reasons for reengaging automation boil down to simple numbers; a fact addressed by both Chris Brogan and Shannon Ritter just this morning. As the prevalence of conversation concerning ‘followers’, ‘friends’ and ‘subscribers’ continues to rise, shifting attention to the impact which these figures represent has occurred. Recent discussions concerning subjects as diverse as the authority of a tweet and the creation of relationships have identified numbers as a key influencing factor. Has the social media really come down to little more figures?

Shannon Ritter suggests that the social media is not a junior high school popularity contest; and she is absolutely right. As the proliferation of auto follow software continues to rise, it is becoming increasingly easy for large ‘networks’ of followers to be recognised. By simply following everyone that follows you, your figures will skyrocket. Interestingly enough, people still post tweets on Twitter exclaiming that they possess the secret to large follower networks. It’s not difficult to create massive lists of followers; it’s convincing these folks on an ongoing basis that you bring value to the table that’s the challenge.

The Futility of 'Numbers'
Whilst 'futility' may be a little harsh, we must not overlook that it is the power of our relationships, and not the number of our followers that truly illustrates the degree of our achievement within the social media. It’s a conversation, and whilst high numbers do not necessarily result in negative repercussions, figures alone count for very little.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Etiquette; why It still has a Place in the Social Media

Despite society in general becoming seemingly more rude on a near daily basis, simple etiquette retains a position of importance in the social media. As many of us are already aware, the main focus of the social media is upon conversation building. Indeed, for anyone that has read Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff's fantastic 2008 book Groundswell, the realization that conversation is as much about 'listening' as it is 'speaking' is obvious. Over the past few months, I have noticed that whilst many people involved in the social media are perfectly able to talk, it is often their capacity to listen that is sub par.

The Development of Opinion:
One of the many benefits afforded by the social media concerns the provision of an electronic voice to anyone with an opinion. Whilst this has on occasion been employed maliciously to encourage damage to either image or reputation, it has also provided a platform from which users can interestingly convey their thoughts on a plethora of diverse subject matters. The introduction of the various social media platforms has provided users with an opportunity to converse with other interested parties. Unlike the static 'Web 1.0' offerings which differed little from the one directional traditional media, the instruments of what has come to be known as 'Web 2.0' introduced a dynamic element to the mix. Two way conversations became the norm.

Each of the social platforms facilitated conversation in their own way. Whilst blogs allowed readers to comment on posts of particular interest, content aggregation sites such as Digg encouraged the submission and discussion of content deemed to be of interest. More recently, social bookmarking sites, including my personal favourite StumbleUpon, have encouraged users to tag and review the web. Whilst each of these techniques has created an environment conducive to discussion, the opinions being conveyed have, on occasion, been where said ‘discussion’ ends. The provision of an electronic voice appears to have challenged our abilities to listen.

Learning to Listen (again):
Despite the ease with which content can be created online, simple etiquette still dictates that we should be equally open to the thoughts of others; we must listen as much as we talk. We should remain open to the opinions of others; even if we disagree. Whilst I am not suggesting that users must necessarily submit to the opinions of others, by listening to contrary points of view debate can be instigated and insight gleaned. And hey, that’s what so great about the social media; there’s no right or wrong answer.

It is only through conversation and discussion that we can extend our knowledge of a subject about which we all clearly feel passionate. By simply broadcasting our message instead of listening to the insights of others, we are creating a social media reminiscent of the old media; conversations will become one directional, and the value thereof will be reduced to nil.

Let’s introduce etiquette back into the social media.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Organisational Inertia; Public Enemy Number One

Organisational inertia; arguably public enemy number one for the development of organisational efficiency. As we move into 2009, many organisations are continuing to ignore the obvious benefits of regularly evaluating their practices. As business becomes increasingly competitive on a daily basis, practices that were cutting edge today become complete obsolete by tomorrow. Essentially, what provides your organisation with a distinct competitive advantage may quickly have been replicated or even improved upon by the competition. Organisational inertia causes such practices to become 'set' within the organisation, often causing processes to become utterly stagnant. This is completely inadequate.

Organisational inertia occurs when the company becomes inappropriately 'comfortable'. Practices often selected for the operational benefits which they bring to the organisation, can become restrictive if not monitored and adapted on an ongoing basis. More often than not, as organisational practices become established norms, the efficiency thereof drops significantly. This is most glaringly obvious in the 'mechanistic' type organisations, which are characterised by hierarchical structures, strict rules and stiffling processes. Despite the obvious negative repercussions associated with failing to tailor the organisational practices to the competitive environment, the number of companies falling into this trap is continues to rise.

As regular readers will know, I am a huge fan of the potential for organisational application of the social media. Despite the obvious benefits of engaging the customer directly through the social platforms, inertia preventing the implementation thereof is particularly prevalent within this area. What I find particularly frustrating is the frequency with which organisations overlook the importance of conversing with the customer through social media, rather than shouting at them through the more traditional channels; a fact reiterated by Valeria Maltoni earlier this week. Reliance upon archaic communications channels remains high, yet despite falling efficiency and rising costs, many a company continue to invest their time and effort solely therein. Arguably, it is the degree of 'risk' incurred through the implementation of such innovative solutions as these that often acts as a deterrent for the more bureaucratic organisation. How absurd.

Organisational inertia must be addressed in order to ensure that efficiency remains high. It is completely inappropriate to retain a single set of practices. Whilst one strategy may provide an appropriate solution for today's issues, it is probable that these will have become obselete by tomorrow. This is particularly relevant as we move further in an era of inter connectivity. Don't allow your organisation to become stuck in its ways, for whilst these may constitute today's competitive advantage, tomorrow they may hold you back.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Keeping the Conversation Alive

One of my StumbleUpon acquaintances, a London based blogger called Marko, authors a useful blog entitled Marko's blog, as might be expected by the name, provides tips for those looking to develop their web presence, with a specific focus upon increasing visibility, traffic and brand awareness. The advice is, more often than not reasonably straight forward, and as such Marko's blog offers a fantastic insight for those that are relatively new to the concepts of blogging and the social media. Earlier this week however, Marko posted an article on page rank which surprisingly drew criticism in the comments section. The comment in question accused Marko of repeating himself throughout his many posts, emphasizing that simple reiteration of advice does not constitute insight. The recurrent theme; the importance of fresh, informative content. I wanted to examine this statement through broad application to the social media.

Whilst application of the social media is likely to draw significantly different views, there is invariably a theme running through the majority of the content produced by social media facilitators (SMF); i.e. those that offer advice for the development social content. Have we reached a stage in which there is a single best practice approach to engaging the social media? Debatable. One thing is for certain though; the ongoing significance of producing fresh relevant, interesting and informative information cannot be underestimated. Whilst many a unique blog post has been written with the intention of facilitating the creation of content, refinement thereof will invariably produce advice which is conducive to the common points raised by SMF's. At the end of the day, it all boils down keeping the conversation relevant.

Does this constitute a lack of insight? Whilst the statement is likely to draw debate, I would suggest otherwise. The critical importance of producing fresh, informative content is what causes the social media to remain relevant. Although there is a degree of irony surrounding the advice provided by SMF's stemming from the use of a recurrent theme as encouragement for the development of new and increasingly innovative ideas, it seems a little off to criticise these advocates for their retained focus thereon. Whether they choose to discuss the theme is irrelevant; the significance thereof remains regardless.

Whether such repetition
is considered positive or negative is essentially a matter of personal opinion. Whatever our stance on the matter, the theme around which much of this content is directed should not be overlooked. Whether we adopt a position as content creator or SMF, the points which we raise do not change the fact the social media is about conversation. It is simply our responsibility to keep it going.

What are your thoughts on repetition
in the social media?

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Motivation to Share

Last month, I read an interesting piece by Mike Arrington over at TechCrunch concerning Robert Scoble's use of social platform FriendFeed. Arrington's article highlights the vast amount of time spent by enthusiasts such as Scoble in generating content on platforms which essentially belong to 'someone else'. As our capacity to devote time to activities is restricted by the number of hours available in a day, time spent in one area is invariably to the detriment of time spent in another. As the number of platforms continue to increase on a near daily basis, it is becoming ever more difficult for social media professionals to adequately apportion their time. A number of questions have arisen as a corollary of increasingly restrictive time constraints concerning the professional's motivation to act.

Whilst blogged content is clearly the product of the blog's author and has the capacity to be both powerful and thought provoking, content submitted to sites such as Twitter and FriendFeed is arguably more fractured. This suggestion will invariably draw both proponents and opponents, I am sure. In either case, the 'value' recognized through content creation will differ dependent upon the platform. Whilst value resulting from blogged content may be directly recognizable as financial gain, the value resulting from conversational development on platforms such as Twitter is likely to represent another form of benefit; arguably that of self fulfillment.

The conversation turns to motivation; what motivates us as social media enthusiasts to submit content to a given social platform. Arguably, most of those that engage in UGC do so out of a passion for engagement in the conversation; the value stems from developing shared knowledge as a community. The fulfillment recognized through the creation of UGC is often sufficient. Conversely, as suggested by Arrington, motivation may be financial, and hey, that's alright too. Why shouldn't we profit from engaging in something which we are passionate about? What I would suggest however, is that financial reward alone is unlikely to pose a motivator in itself; remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The total absence of passion is unlikely to ever be successfully overcome, no matter how great the financial benefits.

The point of this post is to highlight that even in times of economic crisis people continue to engage in content creation for reasons other than financial gain. The personal fulfillment recognizable through a comment, a 'retweet' or a mention help make content creation the enjoyable pursuit they keeps millions of us coming back day in, day out. As discussed yesterday, whilst it would be naive to assume that this mentality will last forever, I find it unlikely that the main reason for social media engagement will change any time soon.

What keeps you coming back to the social media day in, day out?

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Business vs. Community Based Objectives in the Social Media

So, yesterday I examined the social media mindset, emphasizing that it is the community and not the platform that holds the influence within the electronic media. Why did I write this post; because it is absolutely critical that the organisations involved therein realize the possibilities offered by their communities. Although I am a huge fan of the possibilities afforded by the social media, I fear that many organisation's are building their foundations upon a knife edge, for whilst many of these platforms base their business models on the availability of user generated content (UGC), any future information ownership challenges instigated by the community will invariably result in the loss of a near irreplaceable asset.

As Mike Arrington at TechCrunch suggested in a recent post recent post, users of platforms such as FriendFeed supply content from which they are unable to direct monetization. Whilst content monetization is often of secondary importance to the personal fulfillment achieved through the creation of the content itself (see my upcoming post 'The Motivation to Share'), a dramatic shift in social media expectations could result in a significant reduction in the volume of content submitted to the various social platforms. Although I do not envisage such a shift within the short run, long term societal shifts are significantly less predictable. As such, it would be naive to ignore entirely the prospect of such a shift occuring at some stage in the future.

In order to ensure the ongoing viability of the platform, organisation's should consider incentivizing the creation of UGC. This need not solely represent a financial incentive; on the contrary, such action is actively discouraged. Instead, value adding features such as skins, buttons, widgets and applications could be employed so as to enhance the user experience, whilst simultaneously encouraging willing engagement with the platform.

By incentivising the process thus, the platform takes a more innovative approach to satisfying the customer. Organizational objectives are recognized through the voluntary provision of content and data, which are simultaneously matched against the community based benefits achieved through the availability of value added features. The result is arguably mutual gain.

As mutual reliance of parties in a social media relationship continues to grow in importance, the enhanced matching of objectives becomes even more critical to the operation. Whether incentivizing the process is the best solution for platform success is debatable, however it is only by ensuring that both organization and community based goals mesh that the likelihood of ongoing viability can be recognized.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Challenging the Social Media Mindset

I saw an interesting note on social bookmarking site this morning. The comment, designed as an incentive for potential users to sign up with the service, simply states 'it's free!'. Whilst I recognize the clear appeal of promoting a service as 'free', we need to examine this statement in context; social platforms are allowing us to provide them with content and information at no personal expense to ourselves. A very generous offer, but something feels a little wrong with this picture...

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about user generated content ownership. Statements designed to lure in unsuspecting prospects are commonplace throughout social media signup pages, invariably leading us to the assumption that it is we that are benefiting from this 'generous' proposal. Whilst I will be examining the motivation for users to generate content in an upcoming post, for now I feel that it is appropriate to examine a change of mindset.

The numerous social media platforms offer a forum only; a place in which users may gather electronically to discuss whatever is on their minds. Without this community however, the space offers very little value. Whilst many people assume that social media giants such as Facebook are the major influencers within their respective social niches, the valuations thereof are based extensively upon the perceived value of the communities therein. Power clearly rests in the hands of the users; it's simply down to the community at large to recognize this.

Whilst this post is not designed to incite mass community revolution, as the economy worsens, the importance of offering truly unique value to the user will become increasingly critical for the ongoing viability of the business. Further, as platform users increasingly recognise the influence which they have over the placement of their content, the importance of adequate organisational realisation of community needs rises. As such, it will no longer be appropriate to attempt to manipulate consumer demands through forced developments or service failures.

As the community becomes increasingly demanding, those organisations that continue to place the customer first will enjoy success. Conversely, those that attempt to manipulate the community will be exposed, and will invariably find themselves the subject of significant negative online publicity. In sum, the the road to success has deviated very little. The question is though, are you listening to your community?

What do you think? Will empowering the community result in improved service offerings from social platforms or conversely increasingly unrealistic demands from a fickle community? As always, would love to hear your thoughts.


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Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Discussion of Authority in Twitter

Firstly, I wanted to say Happy New Year to all my readers, and to apologise for being somewhat absent over the past two weeks. I hope that you all had as enjoyable and relaxing a Christmas time as I did, and I look forward to seeing you all back here in 2009.

have no doubt that you have by now all become aware of the ongoing debate concerning the measurement of authority on Twitter. On the one hand, the likes of Loic le Meur and Jesse Stay argue that the number of followers may be used as representative of Twitter authority in search, others including Robert Scoble suggest that this number is merely a trivial statistic, providing little indication of actual influence. As the prevalence of 'auto follow' software continues to increase, the meaning of these statistics diminish still further. Whilst there invariably exists an opportunity for an optional search feature which aggregates tweets according to the author's follower numbers, I remain dubious of the argument that such figures can accurately represent the authority of a given tweet.

Whilst I do not always agree with the comments made by Scoble, having read much of the content produced over the past few days in regards to the subject, it seems to me that there is little disputing the insignificance of follower numbers. I have argued time and time again that the value of Twitter stems from those that we choose to follow; not from those that choose to follow us. Whilst I truly hope that I offer value to each of those that follow me, the number thereof offers little value to me unless I were to attempt to profit from these numbers somehow; for example, whilst there have been suggestions that followers can provide an electronic testing ground for new ideas, the value generated offers little external benefit to the community. In fact, the value that would be created in such a situation would rest solely with the user in question.
I see little to indicate that such value translates directly into authority. Although the potential for functionality such as that described is undeniable, I am lead to the assumption that offering value to follows becomes very much secondary. I find this to be a bit of a shame. If it is eventually decided that followers do represent authority, then the result will invariably be users employing increasingly dubious tactics to increase their follower count. The transparency of the conversation will drop, and the value of the platform in general will be lost.

this conversation concerning Twitter authority seems trivial to me; yet another attempt to attach quantitative measures to something which is inherently qualitative. What are your thoughts on authority on Twitter?

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