When Familiarity Breeds Familiarity

Everything seems hard the first time we do it doesn’t it? Until it no longer ceases to be difficult and then it becomes innate, routine and sometimes mundane. On the web, we as digital marketers and change agents, worry that the sites, applications and networks that we build, share and promote aren’t intuitive enough. Yet even the toughest of sites to navigate seem to succeed with massive amounts of traffic and uniques. Why is that?

Because people want to go there. People want to use that site. No matter how difficult it is. Sites that are providing some type of payoff to be there, can overcome design inefficiencies on large scales. Be it a utility like email, a social network like Facebook, or a site where we buy stuff like Amazon or sell stuff like Ebay, people who want to, neigh need to use that site, will figure out how to use that site, no matter how difficult is it.

What does this mean?

Besides the fact that those that create web content and applications have a tremendous opportunity to deliver to users who have been inundated with a plethora of bad web stuff, great content and deliverables- What it really means is that when building for a Web 3.0 world… Less is more, more is not better, better doesn’t mean simple, simple doesn’t mean good, good can be bad, bad can be worse, simple can be bad, assuming can be bad, knowing is good, asking is better, change is good, change is bad and change is constant.

So is it a good thing to change? Who’s more comfortable with bad, you or your users?

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The secret sauce of social is selfishness-and that’s not a bad thing

Excuse me while I say the following: If  it wasn’t for social media, you wouldn’t be anywhere near where you are right now in your career. To put it more succinctly, social media has made a lot of you. Yes I know that’s like saying if it wasn’t for the internet Bill Gates wouldn’t be anything but another coder, but let me back up. You see, for a lot of us, and notice I said us, social media added that missing layer. That missing dimension, that lens  into our personal, private and public lives.

Social is the accelerant.

In a way, using social is very much like wining and dining to get what we need.  For some, utilizing social media to “court” others and market ourselves, is the same as drug reps taking doctors on ski trips to “earn” their business.  Or going out on a date where we both talk about ourselves. It’s an interview. It’s the handshake and the introduction. Social is the empty seat next to you on an airplane that soon will be occupied by someone you can talk to for 3 hours. Or not. The potential is there should you choose to engage. The seat is the tool or the platform for discussion..

People have been using each other for centuries. In social media, the same holds true. People are using each other because they’re seeing that our social selves  can be so easily intertwined into our ability to create, and curate; and yet it’s also dependent on consumption, its dependent on sharing, dependent on broadcasting the message, the message that is you and me. Some of you may or may not know this but we are feeding off of each other. We’re sitting across from each other on that plane and we both have the same opportunity to talk to each other and take it to another level.

Without those elements, you are nothing but a product of what we were prior to the boom of the internet- a product of the 80’s and early 90’s. You are static. Social has added flash to your being. It’s added substance to who you are or… who you want to be, should you so choose.

It starts with Linkedin

Think about this.  Linkedin is and became one of the initial gateways into people’s lives; and for a lot of people, who were never into that “social thing”, and who are still not that social, Linkedin is their gateway into social media.  In fact, if we go by the 90-9-1 model, Linkedin might be as social as some people will ever get! But at the end of the day, is Linkedin a social network? Perhaps. It has elements of social. But what Linkedin really is, is it’s our vetting tool. It’s  our way to learn more about others, and have others learn more about us. But really it may have evolved with Linkedin, but it started with blogging.

Bloggers were considered outlaws

Social has a quid pro quo nature to it. In fact, today’s social elements were born out of the early days of blogging which were veiled in a sensibility of  “us versus them”  camaraderie. Essentially it boiled down to a  “if you show me yours I’ll show you mine” mentality of reading, commenting, and sharing each others blogs. It was almost the manual defacto way that you grew your readership. But it also allowed us to show each other and others our many layers in ways in which we never were able to before.

Blogs allowed us and allow us to say whatever we wanted when we wanted, and we used each other, and then we used someone else, and they used us too-and we let them, if it grew our readers. It’s how blogging works.  Funny but in the non-blogging world, we indirectly and directly use each other every day by associating ourselves with new people and entities that we think can help us get where we want to go. It’s not sacrilege to say this but people use each other all the time; but it might be sacrilege to say this though…Using each other is the nature of social media.

We call it social media but it could easily be called useful media.

Social has added that dimension of vetting the who, search added the dimension of vetting the what. Yet we still have to work, we still have to pay our bills, and eat, drive, sleep and do that daily mundane life stuff; because the  human element still weaves its way through all of that offline stuff. The new difference is, social media is adding that dynamic layer of personal utility. It’s adding the layer of creating who we are, so that someone might see who we are. Social is selfish. It helps us. It connects us. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s more just the reality of where we are going.

Value Drivers in Social Media

Sometimes I’m not so sure I always know what that means. Value drivers.  It’s sort of a corporate speak type of thing to essentially describe the capabilities of your company isn’t it? But really the dumbed down version of value drivers is a  term to describe the competitive advantage(s) of your company.

But what if we say you are a “social company”? What are the value drivers of your social company? What should they be?

  • You are social, you are participatory and you are producing content? (That’s a given right?)
  • You engage frequently? (Assumed)
  • It permeates your organization? (Imperative)
  • Business is derived from your social activities?
  • You are measuring your activities?

Does your organization think like this? Does anyone think like that when it comes to social business? When we all start to think like this, then we get to move beyond the the “bright new shiny thing” stage of social.

Is Being Too Social Ruining Social Media?


I was reading an article on MSNBC recently about Groupon and the tag line to the piece was the following:

“When everything’s social, nothing is.”

Which gave me pause to think.  What happens when you have so many options to do something or buy something or say something or share something in social? Is there a tipping point looming here where eventually everyone tires of being so social?

I actually think so.

It’s not going to happen yet, but as I was made aware in a comment on a post I wrote about social media bubbles-“there is a bubble, it’s just different”. So with that assumptive comment in hand, which in hindsight I now agree with. I think it is safe to say that eventually we as a social world will tire of being so social with each other. There’s just too many choices and it’s not decreasing anytime soon.

There will come a time where we just won’t want to share, chat, upload, download, friend, follow, or like from a social standpoint, a mobile standpoint, and a mobile social standpoint. It’s inevitable.  If we produce too much of something (i.e. social networks) then demand goes down right? We’re going to burn ourselves out. Let’s look at this another way.

Being social on the web is not a utility, but a lot of us use the social web from a utilitarian standpoint.  They are two distinct things. But when they start to bleed into each other, that requires more time, and for most of us, time is still a commodity.

When social first came on the scene, the amount of networks were few and far between. Eventually more and more copycat type of networks emerged as the boom spread far and wide. The Big boys i.e. the Facebooks, the Youtubes, The Twitters and even the Myspace’s of the world enjoyed the rush. But as we head toward 800 million users on Facebook and we see stuff like this graph from Ken Burbary, we realize that we truly are in an age of “digital enamorment”.

Eventually there will be a correction where we pare down our networks and we start to refine who our connections are with, and what they stand for. Right now we’re too enamored with social to see that. As things progress we’ll soon realize that there is indeed a bit of truth to Dunbar’s number about limits to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships with. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. The number sits at 150 and ironically Dunbar did not figure online social networks into the mix.

Your goal? Develop and refine the networks you’re in and remember Facebook isn’t your network, it’s your platform. Who you are connected to within Facebook is your network.

The Secret Sauce of Social Networks

What is the secret sauce of a social network? What do you think it is? What motivates people in your networks? What motivates you? Right now, companies are obsessed with or have deduced that the only way to grab market share in social  is to incent their customers into doing something-give them something. Reward them. But at some point a social loss leader strategy will waver because of the weight of constant escalating consumer expectations.

Over the weekend, I was asked the following question on Formspring

“How can media organization encourage more readers to post and more thoughtful comments? Alternatively, what determines when you will take a few minutes to post a comment to a story online?”

Great questions, don’t you think? It’s the burning question that every marketer wants to know.They are constantly asking themselves how can we get people in and keep them in?

It’s all about participation. It has to fit for YOU. It has to be the right platform for YOU and your voice and YOU have to have a desire to be heard. We’re all looking for our tribes every day online. And it starts with the fit, it starts with finding your voice and it starts with wanting to be heard.

Does Social Media Own You?


Recently I was asked by a school administrator whether Facebook should be used as the platform for communication with another school in another part of the world. Great Idea but I can think of a better one and here’s why.

This morning I was reading an article by David Rogers about whether it was time to shut down your website and go social instead. He measures the benefits of having a social presence versus  just a static web presence. Yet one of the points that he made and its one that I have maintained for a while now is this:

Social might be the cool new alternative to a static web presence but what If Facebook, Twitter and Youtube go away tomorrow? I know it seems farfetched, but the point is, what would you do? To Rogers point he states the following as a benefit to the old school web site. And it’s simple really. Own the data.

Social media platforms are owned by the companies that run them, and, as such, they are the only ones holding all the data on your customers and your interactions with them. On your own website, you own all the data.”

The point I made to the administrator was this. Facebook is cool but why not create a proprietary channel in which you own and control the data? Create a profile that is more indigenous of the classroom, the subject matter and the student instead of relying on a profile that reveals  whether a student is in a relationship or not.

We need to take our lips off of the baby bottle that is the big 3 of Social Media(Facebook, YouTube and Twitter) and own the data and own the channel. We need to quit treating Facebook like a crack pipe that no one seems to be able to put down. Own the data and control the channel and the better you can control the platform.

The Voice of the Social Employee Inside the Firewall

In doing some recent research and “listening” to the voice of the customer lately on behalf of clients, it dawned on me that we really don’t talk much about the “voice of the employee”. Sure we talk about employee empowerment and internal ideation at some cool sexy companies that are doing “that”, but for most, the employee doesn’t get the type of play that it deserves. Up to now, we really haven’t given it an official name. For now on, I’m going to call it Voice of the “social” Employee.

For some organizations they will stress how important the employee is and then do nothing about it-call it lip service, while others actually put their money where their mouth is. However, if companies were all about their employees, why would 84%% of all employees in the workforce be looking for a job right in 2011?  Yes, part of that is attributed to an economy on the rebound but the other part of that equation has to be linked to factors such as genuine dissatisfaction.

For some of the dissatisfied, it just might not be a good fit and that happens, but what of the 84% who feel that the organization just  doesn’t care about them? How do you change that as a C level executive? Does any amount of internal collaborative software or initiatives bolster the morale of a disenfranchised employee? Can an internal socially powered ideation platform or network empower and propel an employee into massive production and an upbeat morale?

Does social media offer the panacea to an employee who feels that he is not being paid what he is worth?  Does social give a voice to the employee who isn’t happy? Does social soften the feelings of the employee who thinks that the company doesn’t care about them? Depends on whether they choose to voice that attitude in front of or behind the firewall. Right? In general, dissatisfaction voiced in front of the firewall results in a quick exit strategy-which is where most of today’s “social employees” reside.

Social media can do a lot of things especially in the worlds of awareness, HR, sales, marketing, PR and communication but it may not help when it comes to the employee who feels that they are not getting anywhere.  Consider the following three very general examples:

  • Sure, it’s great for sourcing new ideas but what happens when Betty in accounting can’t stand Fred in the cubicle next to her and Fred stalks her in all of her social networks both internally and externally? Does Betty complain openly on Facebook?
  • How does social enable Juan in shipping who busts his ass and yet no one notices because he’s so quiet and chooses not to use that hot new internal platform? How can a company leverage that through an internal social platform?
  • Roger in sales has devised a great way to save the company money but it involves using social media and might eliminate some positions-should he do it?

The voice of the employee is 10 times different than the voice of the customer. It’s layered in nuance, context and politics. You can’t serve the voice of the customer until you address the voice of the employee first.

We want our employees to be more social internally and to create bonds and ties and networks-but employees need to see the value to them and not necessarily to the company. There is the intrinsic value of participation for participation sake and of course there is the mandate of participation-but aren’t those basically disingenuous? What type of quality of participation can we actually expect?

One could say that the best way to motivate would be to incentivize.  And in a way Zynga struck a nerve when it realized that social network growth and app saturation could be wrapped around and tied to gaming-people like to be challenged, they like to be entertained and they like to be rewarded. Taken a step further if you were to look at Gowalla and Foursquare, and why they are/were successful-it’s based on the notion of a reward system-earning badges for “checking in”.

But I digress with this parting question. How can we empower, reward and engage our employees to higher levels using some of the basic success tenets of social media? We’re asking the backbone of our organizations to utilize social networks and tools to engage the customer and give the customer a voice but in the same breath we may be taking it away from our employees. We may be unknowingly muting and muzzling our employees for the sake of the customer and creating an opportunity for them to take “it” outside of the firewall.