a different kind of Social Media – finding a language

Where Language Leads we Follow

I’ve been considering the clash of cultures that social media marketing brings to the table. There is the community-first, relationship building,  conversation-driven culture of social media itself. And there there is the marketing culture that is conditioned by its roots in advertising with strong tendencies to depersonalize the transaction, to speak in numbers and the control of what is ostensibly assumed to be a deceptive/persuasive message. One taps into our deepest, surest human values (finding friends, sharing, a sense of transparency). The other tends to treat people as quantities or at best mere intentions or desires.

As these two cultures of community and commerce come together in the new form of social media marketing it strikes me that there is a certain challenge that naturally faces us. If social media is about transparency, and we are building business oriented social media groups based on principles of sharing, honesty and openness, social media marketing itself is in need of a language to talk about users and customers in a way that gives honor and respect. If indeed we are going to carry through the mission of social media to a logical extreme, people cannot simply be click-through-rates and cost-per-conversion. They cannot merely be “eyeballs” or impressions. When we talk about the success or the failure of a campaign, the implementation of a marketing strategy, it cannot be how many “sheeple” we caught or failed to pen. It cannot just be funnels, as useful as that analogy might be.

The reason I am thinking about this is not a case of conversion. That is, I am not just an evangelist who has been taken with a new way of thinking about persons and want to apply it everywhere, overturning tried and true truths of advertising practice. It is that it strikes me that there are some untapped and very interesting possibilities within social media marketing itself if our marketing brains can get to the point where we come to understand the process differently. One of these possibilities that is appealing to me is that of being able to talk openly (and analytically) about social media efforts themselves, amongst the business social media community, and harvest the collective wisdom and experience of all of us who are just setting out on what has to be admitted to still be an uncharted sea. And, in order to do this, openly, we must find a language.

When people quibble about words, they really are talking about mindsets, about concepts. But it is good to start at the words and work out because mindsets can be slippery and difficult to grasp at once. You change the words, and you change the concepts, slowly. I began discussing this with my friend Chris Porter @67tallchris. I was thinking about how to blog real time social media strategy as it is being planned and executed. The benefits of this is that my collection of conversation peers all can talk about principles and best practices in a way that actually are being done. A dialogue can develop between shared ideas, held-to principles and real social media actions. It was Chris that helped me realize that largely this is a question of language. In indeed we are to import the real values of social media building into the conversation about social media marketing, the way we talk about our aims and achievements needs to change and grow. If the benefits of social media transparency are going to accrue, gone must be the back-room talk of numbers and percentages alone. I understand vividly the desire to chase and numerify important things like ROI and conversion rates, but I am talking about another thing here. I am talking about crowdsourcing the conversation in two ways. And for that a language and set of concepts is needed.

Building A New Discourse

From my Skype conversation with Chris I moved to an informal Twitter chat on #usguys. Jacqui Kimmel @GoSocialSA and Trish Ableoff @trishabeloff both helped begin thinking about what these words or concepts might be. Where is it that community values and business aims touch, conceptually? What terms that are meaningful and respectful in a community translate well to the kinds of things we are seeking to achieve in social media building – notice, I am moving away from the term social media “marketing” here, already. A few words/concepts came to me on that Twitter discussion. “Satisfaction” is a word that seems to swim in both worlds. Customer satisfaction is a now well established concept – a concept, the Wanamaker origins of which Ric Dragon @RicDragon educated me on in a recent and very satisfying Skype brainstorm. And “satisfaction” seems to map fairly well onto at least the landscape of aims social media experience. It is not quite right, and we still feel that we are on the old marketing side because people generally are not looking for satisfaction per se when the participate in social media. There is something else.

Another term that appeals to me, and I have already been using it for a few months unconsciously, is investment. Investment obviously has its business meaning, but it also has strong sociological and personal meanings. We invest in each other. We invest time in things we care about. Investment seems to be a word that carries its meaning across both worlds. I think it is safe to say, for instance, that in social media management and strategy we want to inspire others to invest in our media, our offers, our services. But even more so, to invest in our community.

So what I’m seeking here is perhaps the concept of co-investment. We in business invest in others. Our customers. Our fans. And they in turn invest in us. Our community. Our offerings. Perhaps if we can talk about social media building as our co-investment, achieving co-investment, we are getting somewhere.

But this is just the beginning of the conversation. If we are going to be able to invent and evolve a different kind of social media, if we are going to create a new language and tool set for thinking out the problems and challenges that are unique to social media building, this is going to take a conversation. In fact several cross-channeled, cross-purposed but still dovetailing conversations.

For the pleasure of it, the etymology of the word investment:

investmentLook up investment at Dictionary.com
1590s, “act of putting on vestments” (a sense now found in investiture); later “act of being invested with an office, right, endowment, etc” (1640s); and “surrounding and besieging of a military target” (1811); commercial sense is from 1610s, originally of the finances of the East India Company; general use is from 1740 in the general sense of “conversion of money to property in hopes of profit,” and by 1837 in the sense “amount of money so invested; property viewed as a vehicle for profit.” For commercial senses, see invest + -ment.
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61 thoughts on “a different kind of Social Media – finding a language

  1. This terrific post brings a few different things to mind for me. The first is the idea of “voice” – and that in our marketing we can speak with very different types of voice. The one that we know doesn’t work in social media is the “promotional” voice. Although even there, that isn’t always true. There are certain businesses where customers don’t mind it – businesses such as stores that offer super discounts.

    Another voice is what I’ve called the “passion voice” – my favorite example being Nike (at least on their Facebook page). I’ve yet to find a single promotional piece of communication from Nike on their FB page – instead, everything is about celebrating the passion points behind the brand. Phenomenal.

    Other voices include that of the maven and the community advocate. Along with the passion voice, these personae work wonderfully in social media in creating social capital. And by having a clear understanding of their brand’s values, marketers can identify the position from which to speak. (Values, by the way, were the cornerstone of John Wanamaker’s business philosophy!)

    And social capital is what we’re talking about when we talk about investing in one another in social media. It is comprised of the countless nods of appreciation and recognition, of the underlying reciprocity in gifting. It would be great to think that contemporary marketers could help restore what Robert Putnam describes as social capital in “Bowling Alone”.

    So, to your point – yes, marketing needs to grow into this new space, where instead of selling hairbrushes to bald men, we’re celebrating with one another the joy of feeling the sun on the tops of our heads. We need to work through these different brand positions that have the potential to create more value for consumers (audience, users, customers… take your pick).

    • Ric, I love your thoughts here. What I’m really after is the apogee point, the furthest distance to which the social orbit can go. I want to know if social media marketers can talk openly and analytically about social media projects, in real time, such that the participates (the co-investors) in those communities can still be respected, and even raised up. So to use your excellent analogy of “voice” – a cousin to my “language” – is there a voice in which social media marketing can meta-discuss and stategize social media itself such that community values can still be respected?

      A sense that a lot of this is terminology that simply has to change. We like our acronyms that indicate (symbolize) an inside club of knowledge and practices, a status. But these acronyms also communicate values (ROI, CTR, CTR, IS, etc), and in the end can dictate mindset and set limits. I am wondering what happens if social media building overcomes its insecurity of not sounding grounded enough in business accounting, not being bottom-dollar and number-crunching enough, and started talking its own game, to the effect that we in social media building could with dignity to the user, customer and fan, crowdsource between ourselves and create better practices and ideas.

      I look forward to our mutual ideas along these values. Already your thoughts have gotten us further.

  2. Excellent points Kevin, which is exactly why I like talking to you on Twitter everyday.

    My favorite aspect of this post is that it was inspired by communication that you had with Chris, Jacqui and Trish. I have found that the debates that we have with our Twitter friends can lead to many new ideas, blog posts and friendships. Taking the trite language of 140 characters to a deeper level of actual conversation has been a revelation for me. I love it.

    Also, the true engagement that occurs, the sharing of ideas, caring about each other’s day or just having someone to throw a question out there has been such a joy for me. I know that not everyone has the benefit of such a rich online community, but I truly feel blessed my mine.

    • This is what I am really after Peggy. The community and conversation that develops on Twitter in social media marketing circles, between the blogs is a itself a rich reservoir of creative solution making, and planning. What reasonably we should look to achieve is a way to bring these conversations into contact with the real life business actions that are organized around social media building. The two groups, the two resources can touch and dialogue perhaps, or at least better inform each other. If we find the right language, voice, conceptual tool box set, and if we take social media values seriously, these conversations should be able to intersect, at least in some brand circumstances. What is to be gain from this aim for transparency and respect is a new and different social media.

  3. Kevin,
    Rich development of the waters of changing language here in social media as well as the rest of the online landscape. Investment is a prize of a concept. It speaks to our priorities and our dreams. Thank you for all you contribute.
    Brainmaker/ Suzanna

    • Thanks Suzanna! Great to hear from you. I’m glad that you like the concept of “investment”. It is a strange word because it lives a double life that seems to map well on both of the two worlds we are trying to make touch here. It has such firm roots in business, but we all appreciate the business analogy of investing ourselves in things that we value. It also somehow seems to capture for me what I *feel* when I spend time on a project, or join a group. Saying that I invest myself in something in no way reduces the dignity of what I’ve done. In fact, the opposite is the case. For some reasons it raises it up.

  4. Kevin, I was excited about the direction you are heading (after our skype conversation), and I am now more excited about what is possible with this line of thought. Theory is great, it builds a foundation, but we are building a foundation to take action on, conceivably shortly thereafter laying the foundation.

    I think some of our other higher level conversations about #gifteco are excellent, and still need more work to hash out and understand ourselves, but building this language, possibly with the people it will affect participating and helping to shape it, excites me more. I think it will tap into the heart of what community is about, bring two communities together ( the mavens and the SoMe/Marketing people), and create… synergy (I dislike catchy marketing speak, but this word works best in this case). We could all end up richer (in satisfaction, richer community), more fulfilled, and benefit more from this kind of interaction.

    I look forward to seeing where this leads, being a part of it, and helping to build community around this idea. Thanks for letting me be part of the conversation.

    • I agree Chris. I love the in the clouds thinking, cutting the abstract thought into grand schema, but things are only truly interesting if they can be done and built. The scope has to get down to practices, and as Ric Dragon likes to point out via Boyd we need to use our OODA loops. That really is what I’m looking at here in trying to bring social media meta-conversation in touch with on the ground practices.

      And love how you putting it plainly, the mavens and the SoMe marketers in synergy. As we’ve talked about, of course this is careful, virgin ground we tread, but if we can build the space and vocabulary the “synergy” – even if mediated – could be something truly new. At the very least SoMe would have learned something from this contact. What happens when social media values are taken seriously, and not merely a means to ends?

  5. Some pioneering thinking going on here Kevin. It is exciting and necessary, I believe, in order to enable a paradigm shift in the way social media is used and perceived at the moment. ‘Satisfaction’ as you say “seems to map fairly well onto at least the landscape of aims social media experience” for both marketers/businesses as well as consumers but I agree that it is perhaps too broad a term that leaves much to be desired. I like the concept you mention of ‘co-investment’ (in line with Ric’s mention of the more familiar term ‘social capital’) as I feel it’s a more specific, descriptive label for an aim/s shared by the business/marketer/customer triangle. As you say though, this is only the outset of thoughts and conversations along these lines.

    Something I wish to add, perhaps, is the idea that another common touch point may be ‘affirmation’ as in, ‘to validate’.
    Businesses (actively engaged in social media) and social media marketers seek response from their community campaigns, to affirm what they are doing right (which will almost always impact positively on profitability depending on a wide array of different factors); they want to know what their communities think: “What are we doing right?” “Where are we (potentially) going wrong?” They seek to be ‘affirmed’ in one form or another. As do their clients. The customer wants a brand/business to engage them, to respond to them (whether criticism or praise): “We hear you.” “We value you”

    Although by no means a new concept, but certainly poignant to me in this context, is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: the fourth need for Esteem.
    “Esteem presents the normal human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People need to engage themselves to gain recognition and have an activity or activities that give the person a sense of contribution, to feel self-valued, be it in a profession or hobby.” (Wikipedia) Our own #usguys community and the dialogues and rich interactions there bear testimony to this, as Peggy mentioned.

    I found it interesting to note, however that Maslow distinguished between two versions of esteem needs, a lower one and a higher one. “The lower one is the need for the respect of others, the need for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention.” which to me dovetails well with the type of ‘affirmation’ brands/businesses seek. “The higher one is the need for self-respect, the need for strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence and freedom.” (Wikipedia) This is perhaps a simplistic explanation of the success of social media but one that I feel, we cannot afford to overlook. Thank you for challenging my thinking and for helping to generate quality discussion within our community. Looking forward to thinking along these lines with you and others!

    • Jacqui, I like Maslow, he has a lot of good sure-footed wisdom. What I’m drawn to most is your 2nd paragraph above. I think right there you mark out a very real triangle of affirmation that currently is already happening, but is not being reflected at the level of social media marketing discourse. The marketer (and the business) indeed needs to be affirmed – which in reductive cold-numbers speak is “see climbing CTRs and diving CPCs” – but really because these numbers are harder to find in SoMe and because also the affirmation social media marketers are after isn’t really reducible to them, there is a gap in the language itself. Social Media doesn’t even know how to talk about it’s own success (or failure), so it often uses borrowed and translated terms and standards.

      Of course I’m not saying that tracking and converting isn’t important, or even paramount (you know this). What I’m saying is that the way we talk about these things, strategize them, needs to come from a new place. And I think you are right on when you identify this triangle of real affirmation need. Is there a connect between “affirmation” and “information”? As we talk about the success (or failure) of a campaign, a qr code experiment, a Twitter strategy let us perhaps think more about what you are pointing to, the affirmation of the contact we are looking for, not just the hit or miss batting average. You’ll never been a great baseball player just thinking about the numbers.

      Your affirmation triangle brings to mind my lessons from PPC. In AdWords we are writing ad copy (straight up advertising) to get ppl to our site/landing page. But because everyone typing in queries is looking for something you never/seldom want to “trick” somebody into clicking on your ad because if they don’t find what they are looking for you’ve just wasted your $0.50. In ad copy you want to direct people to what they expect to find. I feel affirmed if my CTRs and CPCs are telling me that people are getting what they want. When I think of your affirmation triangle in SoMe the same thing comes to mind. What it can be is a win-win-win scenario, if we build the right kinds of communities (I like Ric’s notion of passion voice), and there seems to be no reason that we can’t find a business/marketing friendly language to talk about that win-win-win scenario in a way that is both factual and respectful to investments.

  6. Wow, Kevin, this is very interesting and inspiring! Although I’m not a marketer, I see how your concepts are relevant in all of business. I think consumers today are not looking for traditional “sell-to-me” marketing, but they are making decisions based on word of mouth, referrals, and opinions of people they trust, whether in real life or on social media or traditional media. People no longer trust ad campaigns. I can’t remember the last time I made a significant purchase without reading reviews and asking friends (or followers) about the product.
    I also love what Jacqui says about Maslow – I think that consumers are also looking for companies to “invest” in that are socially conscious, “real” and relevant to their lifestyle, as people look to fulfill their own esteem needs. Marketers need to use social media differently to relate to these consumers. I think we tweeted back and forth about this the other day – for example, I believe that corporate blogs should be about not just the product they are selling, but about other things that their target customer is interested in.
    The other thing that struck me is that social media is not just a marketer’s job. And in fact, I think everyone needs to become a marketer in a way. Corporations have to train all employees in their vision, mission, values, and in how they are using social media. Let’s face it, everyone is on FB/Twitter etc, and at times, they will be indirectly representing your company. I also see this need to share responsibility and knowledge in my own field of human resources. Every manager must have more understanding of HR in today’s world. Employees and customers are both more savvy, so if you’re in business, you need to be a marketer, an operator, an HR manager, and a worker.
    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!

    • I’m not even sure how to respond Pam, so many great points packed into your post. Each one deserves some thought and affirmation but I’ll hit a few. I particularly am interested in you own field of HR. If we are right, and this is a business paradigm shift, where do you see the biggest challenge in HR? Is there a language shift that has to happen there? Is the way that job roles are described and fulfilled sufficient when employees becomes “salesman” or representatives? If everyone including customers are brand advocates?

      And the lack of trust of ad campaigns is indeed what I’m thinking about now. This “deceive” in order to convert advertising assumption – both on the behalf of the people advertising and consumers as well – cuts across the grain of what social media building is about. Is it not really about remaking the entire concept of business, from HR to brand message to customer input?

      What we are talking about is values.

      • I agree! I believe companies need strong values related to their business but if they can have values that people relate to in their lives, that’s where the rubber really hits the road. Companies like Zappos, Virgin, Starbucks have built their organization on values that connect with their employees and customers.
        As for HR, I believe that the function of HR has to change. HR can’t be a service, but a partner in business, since business is about building trust with people. HR needs to help leaders influence their people to live company values so that they don’t have to micromanage social media, employee relations problems etc. If you hire the right people who believe in the vision, values, and mission and if you teach them what their role is in getting there, you can trust that people will do the right things. For many companies and many HR professionals, it is a paradigm shift and it will take a while to get there. But I think the companies that are able to strategically do this will be most successful.
        Pam (@pamelamaeross)

        • Very interesting Pam. So what we are attempting to think about at the language/concept level of social media marketing, HR has to achieve in a different way. I like the idea of partnership and not a service. Partnership means dialogue to me, the idea that we are in conversation over what we each see, and the aim we are trying to achieve.

          And that this may lead to less micro-management, less command-and-control of message concerns also is notable. I for one may not want everyone to be operating as if compliant cult-automatons who simply have bought-in, but most certainly a shared company vision, and the realization that brand is now permeation of values and commitments, seems where we want to go. if we are going to ask/hope our customers to be our advocates then everyone is advocating at some level. Perhaps leadership has a wider effect than before.

  7. Kevin,
    The more I read of this post and the comments, the more I got intrigued by your goal. I suggest a theme you may wish to explore is shared purpose (or perhaps mission). Co-creation needs to happen for a reason. Without that how does one decide with whom to invest the mental energy? If we as vendors can rise above our short-term needs and offer a reason to join us, we are respecting and engaging.

    It’s no coincidence that I think this is also a key step when I’m working with folks on conflict resolution. Defining a shared goal impotent enough to get both parties to see past short-term desires (and limitations) can be extremely powerful.

    Cheers, Ken

    • Interesting Ken. So how would you conceive of the shared purpose of let us say “happy customers or fans talking about a brand in a FB setting” and social media marketers talking about how to best bring about point of sale action from that same FB fan base? That seems to be when the meta-conversation is at it’s biggest challenge.

      • Kevin,
        To me, the shared purpose in the situation you describe comes in at two levels: first, serving the consumers deeper need to satisfy self AND second, serving the consumers need to be part of something greater. Both are easy to share goals that can clearly lead to both engagement…and revenue.

        • Then I completely see your point. It reminds me of what Jacqui was saying further up about the triangle of affirmation that all need:

          JK: “Something I wish to add, perhaps, is the idea that another common touch point may be ‘affirmation’ as in, ‘to validate’. Businesses (actively engaged in social media) and social media marketers seek response from their community campaigns, to affirm what they are doing right (which will almost always impact positively on profitability depending on a wide array of different factors); they want to know what their communities think: “What are we doing right?” “Where are we (potentially) going wrong?” They seek to be ‘affirmed’ in one form or another. As do their clients. The customer wants a brand/business to engage them, to respond to them (whether criticism or praise): “We hear you.” “We value you””

          There is a mutuality here, a shared purpose as you say. We just need to uncover it, map it out, and learn to discuss and analyze in that vein.

  8. Great article! I love your use of the word “investment”. In many ways, I have appropriated that terminology in my daily life. While I was reading your article, it reminded me something of how words can change the way you approach/deal with a situation. I was involved with a para-church organization and we had internships in various countries. Part of the internship involved support raising for it. Our organization decided to change the word “support raising” into “ministry partnership development.” Support raising is a term that is decidedly one-way. By deciding to change it into the word “partnership development,” the organization was trying to put forth the idea that this is a joint venture, a partnership between equals. That one isn’t better than the other. And in many ways, that was the word that I was thinking of in your desire to change the language in SoMe. In the same way that the word “investment” is able to straddle both personal and commercial worlds (without diluting the meaning, instead enhancing it), the word “partnership” can also be a term to describe the inherent value of each individual/client who participates in this field. Just a thought.

    • Good thoughts Sid. I agree, partnership is a good word. Pam up above used that word when describing how HR needs to move from being a service to a partnership, and it makes good sense. And for our purposes too, in that it has both significant social meanings as well as business meanings. I am intrigued by the idea that word changes also help change our solution seeking at well. I don’t favor changing terminology just to sound new or inventive, but older terminology, especially that borrowed from fields, bring with it all of the habits of mind that accompany its past uses. These are powerful and tested methodologies, to be sure. But they are also limiting to us when we seek to create new kinds of relationships between social use and company aims. Glad the post got you thinking too.

  9. Ah- another thought-provoking post from the Spinozist! I detect two threads in your line of thinking. The first is your pointing out the culture clash between the ROI-seekers of social media with those following the “What’s the ROI of your mother?” school of thought, best said/asked by Gary Vee. The most recent explosion of those diametrically opposed views was well laid out in Brogan’s post, http://www.chrisbrogan.com/the-passion-of-gary-vaynerchuk/ and the heated commentary that followed. (A kinder, gentler form of the clash between social media culture and traditional promotional marketing was laid out by Geoff Livingston recently http://geofflivingston.com/2011/06/16/books-brochures-business-cards/ in describing the seeming incongruity of marketers pimping their social media books..) In reality – I am not sure the disparate views can be reconciled: It’s like forest hippies sharing a martini lunch with a group of Goldman Sachs derivatives quants. Ain’t gonna happen. Livingston is certainly right in pointing out the incongruity of using traditional broadcasty marketing to promote a social media book.

    Your second thread, proposing a real-time dialog on the problem to demonstrate the intangible value uniquely associated with SM, intrigues me. Toward that, I think someone could take the discussion to a new level if they hosted a chat on “Why ‘What’s the ROI of your Mother?’ So Enrages Some of Us”. The core underlying issue I believe, raised by the GaryVee school of thought, is the idea that we have somehow, with social media, evolved beyond the need for quantifiable metrics in assessing business value of social media. Aka there’s a human component now necessary and more valid than CTR and CPCs. The traditional marketing measurement crowd are raising their pointy sticks in the air on this asking,” Have we really evolved beyond this, isn’t this devolution (focusing people off std business metrics) or, worse yet, is it, as one commenter in the Brogan post ventured, a ” lazy man’s intellectual cop-out” (aka a smokescreen distractor to the fact we can’t measure the ROI of social media)? Or maybe, as Gary Vee suggests, we should all wait to see if people like Avinash Kaushik and Olivier Blanchard can really make headway on social media ROI. The fact that we haven’t seen that yet is why the fur continues to fly. And that’s why – If I’ve interpreted your threads correctly – whoa – I encourage you to host such a chat!

    • Lisa, It is great to see my post put in the context of the larger debate. Once there we can see how wide these issues go. The effects of the clash of cultures here go very deep into the traditions of business and marketing, and only if we are made more aware of these can we perhaps bring the changes and possibilities that we are looking for. I do appreciate how you have separated out the two issues, but must tell you that I see them as more connected than you do.

      I don’t think that we have to or even should give up ROI-questions. In fact social media has in some degree been propelled by the search of the Holy Grail of this (though damaged by people that snake-oil it a bit).I agree with the @GaryVee school of thought that social media marketing is “doing something else” but it is not completely else either. For this reason I have sympathy for those who charge intellectual laziness against those that want to do away with numbers talk altogether. The truth is that social media marketing properly done needs a host of different skills and sensitivities, and many of these are drawn from these clashing cultures.

      My narrow point is that if we didn’t try to give up what we are after in ROI-CPC, but found a different vocabulary to talk about it, a different set of conceptual tools, with the ultimate aim of such talk being honoring to the customer, talk they would in fact be happy to overhear, a lot of both cultures would change. Of course there will always be entrenched loyalists. But if actual conversations are happening, synthesizing hardcore on-the-ground social media marketing aims and the real honor and investment that social media is about, something happens…our thoughts start changing. We begin to problem solve and design in a different way.

      I am at this point convinced that the challenge is at least in some part linguistic (which is to say, conceptual). Social media is a new “thing”, a new kind of “doing”. When things like this happen in history it is always the case that we take the current tools that seemed to work well in analogous circumstances and apply them. But soon enough we come to realize that while those tools were good for what we were doing, they are not best for this new “thing”. We modify them, or even invent new ones that get the job done better. Social media building has something of that going on. It isn’t “marketing” per se. It is something new. Let’s find a way to talk about it strategically, practically, and factually but holding to the strong social media values of transparency and customer respect that we also have discovered.

      • Kevin, yes, I attempted to put your perspective in the context of some recent high-visibility debates on SM culture vs. SM “Number Nazis”. It is important we connect into these discussions, right?

        But a few points of clarification:

        (1) I am a positivist that Social Media will ultimately show a predictable and positive ROI for companies when correctly deployed.

        (2) Still it is is interesting that Web 1.0 (1994) showed significant ROI for businesses by 1996 (eg. Netscape’s server customers), ONLY some 2 years post “introduction” (where we define intro as browser capability to fully leverage both the the internet http and tcp/ip protocols that had been around much earlier). And that’s why it’s dissonant that…

        (3) By many people’s reckonings, Web 2.0 and Social Media’s nascence began in the 2006-2007 period depending on whether you count 2.0 as starting with blogs, RSS or first micro-blogging network. Here we are at 2011, some 4-5 years later and we have Social Media ROI still a hot debate potato! This is why we have C-level eyebrows lifting to the ceiling. Demonstrable ROI for signficant tech cycles should be decreasing not increasing. No?

        Finally, I will admit to not really addressing your issue of searching for a new “language of social media”. I do think that you might find Maria Popova (@brainpicker) ‘s writings on this somewhat interesting, especially in the context of addressing Lisa Gerber of Neiman Lab’s discussion on whether Twitter is new literature, new verbal dialog or something “New New”. ( http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/06/maria-popova-in-a-new-world-of-informational-abundance-content-curation-is-a-new-kind-of-authorship/. It seems to me they have a good start on the question you raise.

        • Really nice finer points Lisa.

          I’m not sure that I would follow on the web 1.0 and 2.0 analogy. The big ROI problem is that of platform change. It is tracking ppl across platforms. That really was not a problem in web 1.0. If we could cookie and track actions to sale dependably, then there would be no ROI issue. The temporary solution of focused landing pages is just a stop-gap waiting for much better tech solutions.

          Thanks for the article! It does not specifically address our question, but it does open up some very good Twitter as aesthetic concepts that certainly could forward the investigation.

          My solution to the ROI question is really one of concept change, something that might be born out of conversations that have not yet happened yet in the world. It would be very interesting if social media itself was the tool that brought about the solution to the question “What is the value of social media?”

  10. Hello Kevin. Great article and very interesting conversation. Thanks for sharing this with me.

    I’m reading a great book by John Strelecky: The Big Five for Life. It’s a story about one man and leadership’s greatest secret.

    In the book, John uses the concept ”Purpose For Existing” (PFE). It’s our own answer for the reason why we’re here, why we were born, why we exist. Everybody has his or her own PFE.

    The book describes a great company where people work with a PFE which aligns with the company’s PFE. That’ s the secret of great leadership (based on the book).

    Back to social media and your post. I think social media are excellent tools to engage with people and businesses with similar PFE.

    Social media define a new context for all of us. It’s a social context of connecting with others worldwide, sharing our opinions, believes, values, likes. This way shaping our identity, as we perceive ourselves, and as others perceive us. Social media accelerate engagement and IMO can support our Purpose For Existing. Imagine if everybody is able to live by his / her PFE. For me, that would be the true value of “social” media.

    • Thanks Juan for your thoughts. What you say of PFE:

      “The book describes a great company where people work with a PFE which aligns with the company’s PFE. That’ s the secret of great leadership (based on the book)”

      …fits very well with what Pam (Hearts and Minds) said of HR above:

      “As for HR, I believe that the function of HR has to change. HR can’t be a service, but a partner in business, since business is about building trust with people. HR needs to help leaders influence their people to live company values so that they don’t have to micromanage social media, employee relations problems etc. If you hire the right people who believe in the vision, values, and mission and if you teach them what their role is in getting there, you can trust that people will do the right things.”

      Perhaps PFE is at a deeper, level but Pam also raises the highest level of esteem in Maslow, which seems very close. One would think that this alignment begins with HR, and also from leadership itself, as you suggest.

  11. First, let me say that my gift is not as a writer, but rather as an explorer, an empath, a catalyst. I am not afraid to fall down and let everyone witness my growth. That said- I’m absolutely not an expert in SoMe, as you know, but I always believe I am in the perfect place at the perfect time… in the process of becoming, and I’ve extensively explored technology, healthcare, marketing, sales, personal growth.

    So now… Amazing thoughts and amazing conversation. What I’m experiencing is that Social media creates such a phenomenal arena for cross-cultural conversations and understanding. When people from extremely different backgrounds and philosophies can come together with a common interest- people who otherwise would never have met- the possibilities for creating a new landscape of thought is absolutely amazing. Even those of us who are not social media experts, once we open to understanding the potential SoMe has for integrating, humanizing, identifying who we want to relate to or do business with… opening up new avenues for connecting… and we can all come together with mutual respect for our individual experiences… WOW – the potential to transform lives, business, families, individuals.

    The language piece: learning to use empathy and authenticity to find out what others want and assist them to get what they want from what we have to offer and the connections we can share with them- this is consent… Do you need what I have? Sort rather than convince.. it’s the power of such a large community. The thing that really leaves me breathless about whole opportunity really is just that… the reach and the impact. How else, in 2 weeks’ time, would I have met such amazing people from all over the world who have so many ideas and such vision. To be a disconnected Maven is to suffer in silence- then suddenly hearing the voices of people across the globe, voices of those who seek to transform… I’ll tell you it’s AMAZING.

    Fundamental principals that are responsible for building and maintaining relationships, whether they be family relationships or friendships or business are all the same. We want to understand who we are dealing with. Clearly, not everyone demonstrates the qualities of the people we want to engage with. Clearly, if we are desperate for business, and don’t feel we have the choice of who to work with, we are in a position of disability. We need to establish trust, integrity, honesty and if we could use SM to transparently identify the people who have what we want and want what we have… the people we resonate with, it would give us a chance to really have a lasting and meaningful impact. And I for one- as part of the human experience, recognize that my days are passing, and I’m all in.

    Disjoint- incomplete- but the best I have for now. Thank you for the embrace. Running on to keep living an imperfect life :)

    • wow. First let me say Trish that if you don’t have the gift of a writer, I don’t know who does. Dense, beautifully expressed high sentiments, and all of them ring true. Really glad that you are part of this conversation, and glad to have met you.

      “once we open to understanding the potential SoMe has for integrating, humanizing, identifying who we want to relate to or do business with… opening up new avenues for connecting… and we can all come together with mutual respect for our individual experiences… WOW – the potential to transform lives, business, families, individuals.”

      The above by you could be a brief Manifesto. Very well put. And it is precisely this “power” that I’m thinking about trying to harness for social media marketing conversation. But I still don’t quite understand your use of consent. You explained the idea quite well above, but what I’m not sure about is how it fits in which my ultimate question. The project of a new language is necessary because there is a triangle going on here. If two social media marketeers (each with “consent”) are talking about real marketing strategy, there is a third person (a maven) who is being “talked about” but may not have given “consent”. The idea is to find a way of analyzing and strategizing in a way that the “consent” of the non-included would be implied, encouraged. Do you see what mean about this triangle of consent?

      • Thank YOU, Kevin. SO grateful to be here. Perhaps my answer- even if it’s not the answer explicitly- may contain some spark of an idea that will be useful.

        In Corporate America, the term “Human” is often now being taken out of Human Resources, and people are just being called resources. Isn’t that sickening? Sickening and absolutely commonplace. People hunger for acknowledgment, meaning (It’s the Ultimate journey), yet they often feel powerless, controlled. We’re born with hope: in some it’s trampled and some it’s nurtured. As things like Twitter #hashtags evolve and people come together, we’re sorting ourselves into groups that mirror what we have DECIDED (and believe) are our “tribes.” There’s a very organic process that’s developing. Social Media by its nature seems to be very consent driven. People click around looking. Something causes them to pause. But people don’t remember what they want. They can’t decide. So what makes them stay? Is it sales? Is it conversion, or is it just exploring until they find their match- for now. So consent is really transparently in creating a value, stirring an emotion, creating a call to action. It seems like creating that space- if it’s a real space- if it’s not manipulation but rather based on the needs of the people who are seeking. They want to be comforted, included, encouraged, held in value as a collaborator.

        “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. “ Viktor E Frankl.

        Social media bridges that gap to business. If people can choose to partake, be collaborators, have value, contribute, AND receive benefit- what more would we want?

        The most basic right we have it the right to choose. Since the benefits of engagement in social media extend so far beyond a sale or a product, encouraging people to choose to engage- choose to become part of the ultimate “Match.com” being a part of a tribe that was lost- often at birth… knowing that they’ll find a match. There is an abundance of people looking for their match. We just want to attract the right ones. People hunger to be the right ones. Pick me. Attraction marketing, right?

        Does that make any sense at all? If not, that’s ok.

        • It does make sense. And I love Frankl. Definitely values of affirmation to be pursued. This affirmation has to find its way into the marketing analysis talk I sense. A hurdle ahead of us.

      • Hi Juan,
        Thank you! I told Kevin that I think you and I are very much on the same page. :) I think I should read the book you recommend above. Pleasure to meet you!
        What an amazing community.

    • I also want to add, your epigram “To be a disconnected Maven is to suffer in silence” is one of the most sure and beautiful things said about what makes social media (and social media marketing) what it is. A lot is said there. That alone deserves a conversation.

  12. Quite a conversation Kevin, thanks for making me aware of it. Language is important. I would add “perspective” and “customer experience” are an important aspect of the language because they are how we tend to filter the conversation.

    I find the experience can drive the conversation and the engagement. With the evolution of marketing from a broadcast medium to something much closer to a conversation new language and new perspective will be very important. Without a change in perspective new tools will simply be used to deploy the same old tired tactics.

    thanks for exploring new territory.
    Very thought provoking.
    Learning.
    Best
    Joe @SMSJOE

    • Thanks for your thoughts here Joe. That is what intrigues me. For a long time I was keeping my eye on how “the conversation” was changing our perspective on things like “talking about brands” or “what makes a good social media group”. It is a new way of people communicating and sympathizing in agreements. Perhaps the next step is to think about how our one “conversation” (in this case the social media marketing conversation in Twitter or blog) affects the those of conversations it is seeking to engineer, design or dream up. This added dimension of awareness may be the key the perspective and the tools you speak of. I’m thinking that as we reach for new words of customer honor that still have analytic on-the-ground punch, our perspective itself will be forced to change.
      .

  13. Agree Kevin, as with any meaningful change awareness is a necessary first step. I’ll be interested to see how our language evolves. No doubt it will be clunky – personally i think it will be fascinating.
    Thanks for being an instigator.

  14. Kevin, outstanding! We live in a fast changing world & can connect around the world….conversation, invest in each other or community, change can be good if it is embraced. Would be terrific to see what standard marketing positives can be merged with the social media…merge the best of both. Which will change the language… You have already started the change!

  15. This is a fascinating conversation. I’m not a “social media expert” but these ideas step very closely into alignment with some ideas I’ve been working with for a long time. There are two thoughts I’m going to contribute.

    One is from Alfred O. Hirschman, who wrote about exit, loyalty, and voice in the (traditional) marketplace, as being the three options consumers have in response to displeasing experiences from the companies they purchase from. They can leave the consumer-relationship and stop buying those goods (exit), they can put up with their increasing displeasure but keep purchasing (loyalty), or they can speak up about their displeasure and try to create a change (voice). One of the classic examples of voice in this regard, in the traditional marketplace, is the response a while back now (am I showing my age?) to New Coke. These three choices become a very powerful lens to look at any relationship. A populace under an oppressive regime can tolerate the oppression, they can emigrate, or they can rise up against the regime, as we’ve seen earlier this year in the Middle East and North Africa. Exit, loyalty and voice are also the three choices we have even in our most intimate relationships, where situations can range from domestic violence all the way to the small ways even the most conscientious and well-intentioned people will sometimes rub up against their loved ones with friction as a result, what do we do? How do we respond, and hopefully repair what goes wrong?

    Obviously, in the social media world, voice is what we’re talking about. The passionate and peaceful hope that we saw uprising and upwelling in Egypt and elsewhere that has so inspired millions, the way business is being absolutely transformed as a result of consumers participating — investing — in the process… social media has made this a profoundly different world. We no longer have to silently put up with what is wrong, or silently leave. We can speak up, we can open up the conversation, we can create genuinely new possibilities for change. These new possibilities are not just commercial, as people all over the world are using social media to step forward to repair what is wrong in our world politically, environmentally, ethically. For me, I am passionately grateful to be alive now, and participating in this transformation.

    In the specific case of re-languaging social media marketing, the difference is that we are inviting people into a new (business) relationship. It’s not a case of trying to repair a pre-existing relationship. But I think we can think fruitfully about the exit – loyalty – voice triad in the context of new relationships as well, and we can see different marketing strategies in these three ways. An oppositional strategy that says “that other guy’s stuff is bad, come buy my stuff” is an exit-based marketing strategy. A commoditizing strategy that says “my stuff is just like the other guy’s stuff, but I’m cheaper” is a loyalty-based marketing strategy. But social media marketing done right, ought to be a voice-based strategy of “come join into this relationship with me, because I’ll talk with you, because what I want, too, is a mutual relationship with you” and as long as that relationship is sincere and purpose-based, it does create a genuinely new possibility. Any of the genuinely-relationship-based marketing approaches, even before social media really took off (e.g., Dan Sullivan) are voice-based strategies.

    Which brings me to my second thought, which is to return again to shared purpose. I think when we ask, with sincerity, what are our customer’s (stakeholder’s, co-investor’s) purposes, we see that people buy because they are trying to care for something. We are all taker-carers-of, even when we are simply taking care of ourselves; and our marketplace decisions are all based on the mixture of exit-loyalty-voice realities of our relationships with who and what we care for, and how we enact that care. I am talking about what traditionally gets called a benefit, in sales. Classical economics tends to “black-box” the consumer’s purpose, and tends to view the purchase decision in isolation from the web of relationships the buyer is invested in. But when companies sincerely and proactively become co-investors in the life and purpose of our customer, then we are effectively joining into a pre-existing relationship, the relationship of the customer with what he or she loves and cares for. Then once we are standing in a pre-existing relationship (and in a fundamental sense, we are always-already in relationship, there is no place as humans where we can step outside the web of relationship) then we have a new set of already-invested-in exit-loyalty-voice possibilities to ally with, not just invite. And when those shared purposes are sincere and authentic, then it’s not a matter of needing to control the social media message companies put out. (This does mean that using social media to whitewash (or greenwash) unethical or exploitative companies will ultimately fail. There is no place, out here in this ether of the web, where we can hide.)

    If we are all on-purpose, then we’re all stakeholders. We are all taker-carers-of.

    • Really, a beautiful series of observations Karen. I tried to answer in kind in a blog post focused on the latter part of your comment here: http://bit.ly/k2ohbs

      I very much look forward to your thoughts. You have deepened the conversation.

  16. Karen, You have eloquently hit the nail on the head (in my opinion) what Kevin and I were talking about. My idea of what we were trying to do, is to develop a language for this voice, that is not patriarchal, is not demeaning, but that allows social media thinkers/marketers engage with those customers that want to exercise their “voice”.

    And I am not using the word engage well in this instance. It is really move from the interaction between the two groups, and to co-create together… possibly a new language, or at the very least, be transparent about the social media process that each are a part of, while it is taking place.

    So a social media marketer, discussing a new “initiative” with colleagues, could easily be stumbled upon by the very people it will affect (here is the transparency aspect), and give their opinion from their perspective, or even join in the discussion about what would motivate them in this particular “initiative”. The problem with the current language, and one that I think you comment helps me to use better language to frame, is that the customer exercising their voice does sound the same as the marketer trying to describe how to empower the customers voice.

    I am thinking now part of this may be due to a marketer speaking using “in aggregate” terms, and the customer is speaking from their solo voice? Hmm, may have to think about that more.

    You comment is too deep for me to process this quickly, but you have clearly understood on a very high level what Kevin is talking about. I think your description very clearly lays out why social media is so powerful, and by explaining that so well, starts helping us to move towards a shared language framework marketers and customers could share.

    To quote you
    “The passionate and peaceful hope that we saw uprising and upwelling in Egypt and elsewhere that has so inspired millions, the way business is being absolutely transformed as a result of consumers participating — investing — in the process… social media has made this a profoundly different world. We no longer have to silently put up with what is wrong, or silently leave. We can speak up, we can open up the conversation, we can create genuinely new possibilities for change.”

    This is what I am most excited about with Social Media. But I personally, and I think Kevin is right here with me on this, that I don’t want to sit in my Ivory tower, dictating social media strategy to be implemented devoid of the customers my strategy will impact getting to have a say in it. It is possibly a new level of transparency, and will have to be carefully thought out how to do this well, but I want to empower a customers voice, and co-create with them how to best empower their efforts to use their voice.

    Ok, back to “work” for me ;)

    • Chris, I really think that this is part of it:

      “I am thinking now part of this may be due to a marketer speaking using “in aggregate” terms, and the customer is speaking from their solo voice? Hmm, may have to think about that more.”

      This is a natural tension. It is reflected in the quote often attributed to Stalin: “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic” As we speak in numbers we become detached, and concepts of control readily take the place of empathy or even voice. As Social Media Marketing took up the “marketing” and “advertising” tools, this dehumanization came in natural cross-current to social media itself.

      I do though believe that there is a place between these two. A place where numbers reflect and express voice. And even in this discussion thread we are finding our ways towards it. Big word concepts like Voice, Co-investment, Satisfaction are coming out. Good stuff.

  17. I want to also reinforce Karen’s view of change, Social Media as a tool of change. The language doesn’t need to be political; it can be business, a change in the way we do business. For example, Trish mentioned the idea of “human” being something an offshoot of “Human Resources,” when in actuality, as she expressed, humans are more than just mere resources.

    For example, business prides itself on “objectivity.” Objectivity also means detached, unemotional (dispassionate), cool (cold), uncaring. Psychopaths love that type of environment where the emphasis is on no emotional involvement. In reality, objectivity is nothing more than a third-party subjective view. It’s no wonder, with pride in such a perspective, that business encourages the objectification of people as “resources.” Objectivity encourages objectification.True, some emotional involvement is harmful, but does that mean we eliminate it all in the workplace? Eliminate the emotions that allow us to treat each other as human rather than as a “politically correct” resource?

    Each of us has a unique voice, a unique perspective. That perspective might help the rest of us to see life in a different light. Yes, social media emphasizes “relationships.” But, what does that really mean? What does it mean to have a relationship? Does it mean just getting to “know” someone? Or, is it something richer and deeper such as “understanding someone” or “appreciating someone.” What language will we use to develop those relationships? To develop these voices?

    Relationships are so important that they can alter how people interpret a message without changing anything about the message. Relationships can change the world for the good. Study after study shows that people don’t steal from people who have been friendly to them; social media’s language is a positive one because as it builds relationships it increases the likelihood that we’ll work for good with another rather than for ill.

    • Wow Mike, I hadn’t read your comment yet before I responded to Karen in this post: http://bit.ly/k2ohbs – we are very much coming form the same place on this, especially in terms of objectivity and relationship building. What I can say, great thoughts and we agree.

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  19. Wow! This post, and the comments, are a wealth of knowledge.

    Building relationships and giving them the strength to last through all sorts of situations may not be new. However, no one has, until this post, thought about how they can be applied to the Social media and marketing scenarios. The age old idea of relationships, being kind, helping each other achieve satisfaction etc is present in the business world but as a rather selfish version of what it should have been. Perhaps, the new language is actually just a new realization of what we have been missing so far.

    I’m not as knowledgeable as all your other commentors, Kevin, so this was my two cents. :)

    • I love your 2 cents! (And I have had great discussions with you, you are very knowledgeable.) I like the way you put that, “but as a rather selfish version of what it should have been”. It is interesting that we to a certain degree have felt that we are allowed to talk about social media (campaigns, strategies, tactics, tech results, etc.) in ways that need to embrace the social reality itself. That is, there definitely exists a “social media” code of conduct at the level of the conversation, but not necessarily a transcending respect for those events and relationships we are talking about. We like to stand above our subject matter…whereas social media requires us to stand IN it.

      Of it isn’t as black and white as all that, but I do feel that like you do that we have been lacking an awareness of an in between place including both people and numbers.

  20. ” but I do feel that like you do that we have been lacking an awareness of an in between place including both people and numbers.”

    Could it possibly be that the reason why we have difficulty coming up with a language for Social Media is because Social Media is actually a liminal space? Could it be that SoMe is the bridge between people and numbers and the reason why it’s so difficult to explain it (or come up with a language to fully describe it) is due to the fact that it is not a monolithic structure but one that straddles both worlds, and in the process of doing so, belongs to both and none at the same time? Just a random musing.

    • I think that is a fair thing to say, and more than a random musing. It is a hybrid space. I think something about that is the alacrity of its connections, how people find group identifications in fast, meaningful ways. It really is a never-before-in-the-history-of-man kind of thing. The speed and numbers of interactions make us need quantification, the depth of connection made us need eyes and ears. At least that is what comes to me, when I consider your idea of limnality. Throw in the culture of business and advertising and you have a very curious space and meta-space indeed.

  21. I am by no means an expert in this subject. I also NEVER claim to be. I do think the opportunities to maximize content, engagement, and enrichment on Social platforms have been far from achieved.
    More than anything Kevin, what I appreciate it your commitment to your values, your engagement, and your friends. Keep fighting the good fight and articulating the value proposition of Social.
    Perhaps one day Social will represent what you see it as. And if not, your social at the very least can…..

    • Dan, you give me very kind words. I am moved. Thank you for your thoughtful friendship and we both navigate this interesting new world: social media.

  22. Backroom talk will never subside as the c-suite wants numbers. They key is to look beyond the numbers. I can see your mindset with regards to co-investment. Even if we don’t actually verbalize the investment every time we get on an SM channel we’re making an investment even if it’s on a not yet tangible return. Many organizations are using co-creation for product development so it follows that we have this mentality in social media. In truth the organizations that succeed in SoMe are the ones that are striving to create relationships and not number stacks. Organizations should always focus on developing customer advocates and not just shoppers – walking, talking, tweeting billboards. That voice then amplifies, that language then transcends dialects. Otherwise, without advocates, messages reverberate against hollow walls

    On its own SM is already evolving. I think it will continue to do so whether we have tool sets in place or not. The onus is on companies to shape their SM dial to listening instead of shouting.

    • I completely agree Natasha. I came out last night’s #bizforum chat with this phrase in my mind: “I want minds, not eyeballs”. We want minds because we realize that the machine-gun effect of impression simply are inefficient, social media teaches us that everyone’s interest is weighted, everyone comes with (good) strings attached. We want minds also because minds (and hearts) can tell us things about ourselves we don’t already know. I’m just restating what you are telling me above, but it is what you inspire me to think about.

  23. Kevin,

    Just from reading how people have responded and the kinds of perspectives being shared; This was a case i point about how our nuances in “culture” is really a “personal” thing shaped by our past experiences and beliefs. I think the challenge here is, because the language (definition in this case) is always evolving as our own thoughts evolve accordingly; it’s hard to find a coherent line of thinking as each comment; and each tweet; and each interaction defines us and challenges our opinion.

    Thinking back about how media controlled people in the past because they were viewed as an authority and a gatekeeper; social media has helped break that stranglehold. The challenge now is to get people who were exposed to limited media see with bigger eyes; and people of tomorrow to look at it from OUR point of view against 1000 others, as languages are now changing to LOLS and <3s and FTW!s. << Speaking of which, I'm waiting for the day (which I believe will be very soon) that there will be sites tailored specifically for that "cultural language".

    Great share :)

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