Ideas, Innovation and the Danger of Networked Group Thinking

Last year, when Steve Rubel looked into the figures from and realised that Facebook is driving more traffic to news portals than Google is, it appeared that we were witnessing the beginning of a trend, not the end of one.

Since that time, there has been a lot of hype and discussion about Facebook’s 500 million members. Some claim it’s a landmark and that Facebook will just continue to swallow the internet whole. In fact, for some people that I know, Facebook IS their entire experience of the world wide web.

This seems to be confirmed by the following graph from which shows the traffic trends for Google and Facebook seem to be converging. Or more precisely, Google is dipping down and Facebook is ascending.facebookvsgoogle2010

Now, I have written about this as a phenomenon before. Social judgement not only happens online – it has been happening in every social interaction since the dawn of time. But increasingly it seems, we are relying on who-we-know to know what we know. This sounds great in theory – smart people filtering, curating and sharing their knowledge and expertise – bringing order to the chaos of abundant information.

But I wonder …

Are we limiting the gene pool of our ideas?

Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From reminds is that innovation, invention – or what he calls “the slow hunch” – require the time and space to collide with other ideas. (HT to Chris Noble for the video.)

What if social networks reach a certain point and then begin to shrink? What if the noise to signal ratio becomes so large that we begin to partition ourselves and our interactions to those of “like mind”. Steven Johnson says “Chance favours the connected mind” – which I love. But what if those ideas swim around in ever shrinking ponds starved of oxygen by the blue-green algae of group think?

I don’t know about you, but this is not the internet I want to play in. It’s not the internet that I want to do business in.

Get out of your internet comfort zone

Years ago when I ran a creative team, I used to regularly drag them away from their desks to visit cultural spaces. We’d go to the Museum of Contemporary Art. We’d catch buses or trains. We’d experience the day-in-the-life of everyone else. I saw it as fuelling their creativity, and it worked.

It worked because it reminded people to be social. To be social in their experience and in the work. It brought a social connection and a context to their creativity. It’s part of what I am calling “The Social Way”.

But now I feel we need to increasingly push ourselves outside of our internet comfort zones. We need to click those links randomly. We need to visit, search and read sites that are outside our narrow focused expertise.

What are we looking for? Our next great idea. I’m hoping to collide with one today.

The Social Marketer – Feeling the Social Media Love

There is one big difference between what I would consider “traditional marketing” and “social media marketing”. It’s love. Or perhaps more precisely, it’s passion. Mixed in with a bit of love. And as there are a bunch of posts on the love theme this Valentines Day week, I thought I’d climb aboard the love bus.

Now, if you are a brand marketer, you might love what you are doing, and love what you are creating through your brand, but that’s not the sort of love I am talking about. When you pour your professional creativity into a new product or service and stake your professional reputation on its success, your interest in the brand/offering you are building can consume you. And while this takes a huge personal commitment from you, there is no one else who will love what you are doing quite like you do. I know, and I’ve been there.

And even if you are tweeting from the dark side of the focus group mirror, or blogging on the behind-the-scenes tour, this is not being a “social marketer”. It’s sharing your passion. Sharing your love. Sharing your work. But ultimately, it’s sharing your brand. It is good brand marketing practice.

The social marketer, however, starts from a different place. As Michael Brenner suggests, it’s about feeling the love.

For the social marketer:

  • The brand is a means to an end. The brand exists, the people exist – we don’t need messaging, but a tune to dance to.
  • Marketing is about bringing the brand to the people, not bringing the people to the brand
  • The glare of the logo is a distraction and a barrier to forming relationships. What we need is a name and a face, not a 12pt white space exclusion

Sure, the social marketer cares about (and is probably even MEASURED on) brand awareness, recall and yes – sales. But they are by-products of the main game.

The social marketer is in the process of transforming the way that we all do business. You probably have one in the ranks of your company. There may be more. How do you find them? How do you join them?

I call it “The Social Way”.

There’s more to come.