Does Social Media Scale?

Over the past week or so there have been a series of ideas coming together in my mind. I had been struggling to pull them together into a coherent framework until I saw this post by Peter Kim. He asks some difficult questions around the benefit of social media, but goes further — suggesting that social media does not scale:

One-ninth of the WORLD’s population watched the 2006 FIFA World Cup final.  Social media vs. Television for marketing purposes just doesn’t match up.

But in my view, this is looking only at potential reach around a single, fixed-in-time event. And surely the predominant global brand on display during the match was the FIFA World Cup — all the rest of the advertising space would have been segmented to maximise the returns available in each broadcaster’s market. This fragmentation of ad space is exactly the domain and power of the long tail — where social media can provide a resonance and relevance to niche audiences.

Having said this, there is an issue around the human resources required to activate a social media program. As Peter says:

I do believe social media can help sell.  Social content has started integrating into traditional tactics like banners and emails.  I have a better opinion of Comcast after Frank helped me with my cable modem and will resist Verizon FIOS for a while longer.  From my last post asking if social media matters, the commenting consensus seems to agree, with its impact in awareness, consideration, and preference.

But if social media marketing matters, then does it scale?

I don’t think so.  I think the technologies scale.  But the programs – especially those with a labor-intensive component – don’t.

socialmediascaleThe labour intensiveness of an active social media program can become a bottleneck. There simply are not enough Richard@DELL’s around to help every person with an issue. However, the aim — or certainly the aims I normally have in mind when constructing a social media or digital strategy — is to foster the growth of a community in such a way that “external participants” begin to play an active role. So rather than taking a broadcast view of social media, the aim is to facilitate a range of participatory action/activities. Effectively this means using social MEDIA to activate social NETWORKS.

In doing so you have to manage the constraints — COST, SCALE or CONTROL. Any change you make to one will impact both the others. The more you activate the social network, the less control you will have of your brand, your messaging and your story. Yet this is the cost-benefit paradox — for while you release your brand, your services and maybe even your support into the wilds of the social media landscape, you find, perhaps, a more authentic brand story coming to life — a story borne out of a participatory experience between your evangelists and your everyday or casual consumers.

In a Commodity Market, Good Design is Imperative

glassybabyThe problem with living in “internet time” is that the “new” very rapidly becomes commonplace. Think back 12 months. What websites were you visiting regularly? Which blogs? The velocity of change that haunts our everyday lives means that we are living with the ghosts of old applications that struggle to remain relevant to our ever shifting focus.

When I first looked at Tianamo I liked the interactivity that it offered around search. It was novel. Useful. But the razor-sharp mind of Greg Verdino punctured my enthusiasm — or rather, asked me to elaborate a little more:

@servantofchaos very cool but what do you think the practical application for 3d search visualization is?

My initial response was that 3D visual search has great application to structured data, especially within the enterprise … but there was something more. This approach offered something far more insightful.

For what 3D search does is bring good design (interaction, user interface, usability) to bear on what is now a commodity (albeit a very useful commodity). Take a quick look around at Tianamo and you will soon see that the relationships between data points can yield fascinating insight.

As new products and services accelerate through various adoption cycles, spiraling from awareness to adoption with exponential growth, the lustre of “the new” fades. Think about the term “Google” … which has entered the lexicon as a verb — we now Google <insert term>, rather than search for it. And with that ready acceptance comes user complacency. It is not that we don’t appreciate its value, it is simply providing an acceptable level of service. It fulfils our needs, but no longer astounds us.

However, the future of your brand is dependent upon good design. Good design will ask the restless questions — it will push you to examine the shifting patterns of consumer/participant behaviour. It will demand that you consider a variety of usage patterns. And it will prompt you to continuously deliver new value. And the fact that it will find hidden gold within the mountain of enterprise data is an added bonus. After all, it is still about surprise and delight.

Tianamo — Interactive 3D Search

One of the things that I dislike about most search engines is that they do not provide any context. You don’t get to see the connection between various sites and topics. However, this new search engine, Tianamo,  looks set to change this.

When you use Tianamo, you get to see the topics that match, the sub-topics and the relative connection between them shown in a 3D-style frequency map. The map itself is interactive, meaning that you can interrogate the data and the links by rotating, zooming and clicking. It would be fascinating to see this style of visual mapping applied to tag clouds.

While Tianamo is currently in beta, you can try it out by following this link.

Friend Me? No, Friend You!

I am starting to think about SXSW next year … and am wondering how I can organise to get there. Running from March 13-17, 2009, the interactive event brings new technologies, evangelists, entrepreneurs and creatives together to look at what works NOW, and what WILL work in the near future. Twitter is a great example from last year. Clearly it is a great event with many fantastic panels, presenters and chances to meet with folks who I normally only converse with online.

One of the most interesting aspects of SXSW is that presenters are more than happy to have some fun with the content and format of the panels. This presentation by Merlin Mann is a great example where he introduces the room to — a site dedicated to the under-served visionaries who power all things social media — the thought leaders.

Understanding Facebook for Marketers

Princess AllyI remember years ago hearing about Facebook. It was early days, very focused on student profiles — and MySpace was clearly in the ascendency. As part of my daily routine I would randomly click through profiles, looking at my own, my connections and the friends on the periphery of our intersecting lives.

When asked by my family about my work, I would struggle to explain the hours I would spend navigating through bad profile after bad profile online. They could not understand that this was research, immersion and about understanding a new form of business. From the outside looking in, it probably bordered on voyeurism.

What was clear to me, even then, was a sense of performance. Here in words and image (and atrocious formatting) were people from all walks of life … fretting and strutting their hour on a new global stage. It was fascinating to see (and sometimes hear) what people would share — what they were comfortable with, who they would claim as “friends” and how the lines between “friend” and “acquaintance” held no sway for this connected mass of individuals.

Years later, Facebook is a media monster. Not only do they have millions of registered participants who have linked, connected, profiled and segmented themselves, they also have a sway of marketers keen to leap in and mine, message and measure them all to within an inch of their digital existence.

Is this bad? Or is it the quid pro quo for free access?

Whenever I hear talk about reaching a young audience, or “digital strategy”, it is inevitably followed up with the muttered words “viral” or “Facebook”. It seems like a default response that is devoid of any real understanding of the population of Facebook. Matt Dickman has single-handedly decided to remedy this situation, producing a FREE ebook, The Face of Facebook. And while it is focused on the US population, it provides a primer for all marketers considering their first forays into social networks.

Please read it.

My Blogroll is Not Dead

Blogrolltombstone With Twitter and Plurk peforming a strong role as a link sharing platform, the relevance of blogrolls has become questionable. However, blogrolls do have an important role in building a community, demonstrating a blog’s "membership" through self-branding. And on a more practical level, blogrolls do make a handy way of visiting your favourite blogs.

But, to me, blogrolls allow you to step into the world of the blogger that you are reading. It is like being invited into the inner world of a blog author — and by flipping through the "bookcase" of your favourite (or new) bloggers — you are able to step into, and understand a little of the CONTEXT in which they operate. Think about it. When you visit the home of a new friend, do you check their bookshelves? Do you look through their CD collection or MP3 list? What does this list tell you?

If you are new to this blog, please take some time to visit the sites that ARE on my blogroll. These are the websites that I read regularly. They help create my context and frame my thinking. I read almost all of them every day.

Over the next few days I will also be adding the following to my already large list. Be sure to check them out:

  • Amber Naslund’s the brandbox is  a great site focusing on social media and its alignment with business
  • Julian Coles’s AdspacePioneers has injected a lot of energy into the marketing blog scene in Australia
  • Mike Arauz’s combination of essay and commentary on new media, marketing and technology
  • Ann Handley’s breathtakingly personal blog that reminds us all that storytelling is not a lost art
  • Steven Collins’ AcidLabs site is a great resource for those wondering where social media is taking the enterprise (or perhaps it is the other way around)

Image courtesy of the tombstone generator.

Social Media? I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

In the debate over whether Scorched.TV really is social media, I was reminded of this line from one of my favourite movies, The Princess Bride.

Not content with taking Channel 9’s word for it, I decided to check out the Scorched.TV site and upload a video of my own. Unfortunately, even when I follow the directions provided by the "EP of CPN" (that is, the executive producer of a fictional news network), the best I could do was to send them an email with my story idea. This is hardly social media.

Social media is relatively simple … and it looks like the slide below. The way this plays out, however, is complicated — and is most articulately explained in Michael Wesch’s definition of "context collapse" which I talked about here. The defining feature, however, is participation of "users", or "consumers" or "people like me". And until you have those folks involved, creating, changing, mashing and even destroying, then in my book, you don’t have social media.

Simple Social Media

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: social media)

Mr Chaos Has Entered the Building

I can remember sitting through a pitch on the oddcast technology. These spookily real looking avatars were interesting, maybe even funky, but I could not quite see how we were going to be able to use them for client promotions. And to be honest, the licensing rates were, at that time, beyond what we had in our budget.

But it seems the folks at the BBC have come up with a very neat promotion that integrates the core storyline from their spy drama, Spooks — only this time, YOU are the star. When you upload a photo of yourself, the oddcast engine transforms your image into an animated avatar who is protagonist of this digital adventure episode. You even get to make a couple of narrative choices in this choose-your-own video animation promotion.

The question remains, however … did I achieve my objectives? Did I make it out alive? Hat tip to Stephen Collins.

Ad Guru Taps Into Young Minds

PaulMcEnany-AdGuru Despite the ongoing questioning about the relevance of "traditional media" in a fragmented Age of Conversation, there is no doubt that a blogger being featured in the mainstream media is still a novelty. For while reports and analysis continue to point towards social media reaching a tipping point, there is clearly a way to go before most of us reach the level of respect and authority that is wielded by the intern writing in the local community newsletter.

However, as the passionate and articulate Gen Y begin storming the cubicles and marching every onwards towards the corner offices, it is clear that brands and the businesses behind them are in for a rough decade of transition. No longer can they rely on a form of skull and cross-bones brand promise — interaction and engagement must go well beyond a simple raising of the flag.

Paul McEnany, the brain behind Hee-Haw Marketing, was interviewed in his local Dallas Morning News. When asked what is the biggest mistake companies make in dealing with Gen Y, he responds:

The biggest mistake is to assume that they give a crap about you. This is true across all demographics, but maybe more pronounced or obvious in the younger segment. This group has grown up with total control of their media environment, advertising included, and too many [companies] think they can just stroll in with screeching guitars while adding "for your generation" to the end of a tagline and expect that to connect.

This is echoed in Paul Den’s commentary on the banking industry:

Where all banking and finance [brands] … FAIL is that they lack the ability to resonate with my generation … I’m with NAB – not because I’ve been saturated with advertising, but because my mates recommended their Student Saver program when I was at uni. More often then not, especially with financed related products, we seek influence from our friends, family, work colleagues etc.

With a fragmentation of both media and influence, those brands wanting to reach, engage, hire and retain those born after 1980 are going to have to deal with the complexities and demands of Gen Y. And, to be honest, with an almost 1:1 ratio of Gen Y entering the workforce as the Baby Boomers retire, there is no choice if you want to thrive and survive. The challenge for brands is now to seek out those advisors, consultants and agencies that can help navigate this complex landscape.