the stake holders of Social Media – into the web of relations

Conversations on Conversations

The last post opened up the discussion of how Social Media marketing itself perhaps needs a new language, a language of respect and honoring, if it is to take advantage of the full transparency opportunities that social media is offering. If we are going to attempt to have a “conversation” about the very nature of strategies of conversations, and also keep our eye on specific social media efforts, our vocabulary (and thus likely our concepts) have to change.

The response to this opening of the question was surprising and invigorating. Thoughtful comment after comment came, and the question itself seemed to have given rise to a stream of thought. I encourage you all to look at it. To give a role call: @ricdragon, @67tallchris, @pegfitzpatrick, @brainmaker, @GoSocialSA, @pamelamaeross, @Ken_Rosen, @coolaquarius, @lisat2, @JuanFlx, @trishabeloff, @SMSJOE, @MikeLehrOZA, @dabarlow and @Karen_sharp all came in with powerful thoughts and sentiments (hope I didn’t miss anyone, follow them all.). It was not the usual blog comment string, it seemed, but rather a building consensus around a very large idea, each person adding a substantive dimension.

I wanted to grab hold of one of the comments later in the thread, and only part of it. I have only now just met Karen – introduced by the inimitable @picsiechick – but her contribution, especial the aspect I’m focusing on, really seemed to take this question to a deeper place:

Karen Sharp @karen_sharp wrote:

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. read the rest here

What comes to my mind when Karen talks about the web of relations from which we are all un-free is the Archimedean point of objective power, when the Greek philosopher said that all he needed was a place to stand (external to it) to move the world. Perhaps that is the interesting thing about the question of a more transparent social media marketing approach. If we open ourselves up to the advantages of a public dialogue that honors the customer/user in order to tap into the great reserves of social media discussion, we surrender the seduction of this anonymous and “outside” place where want to stand in order to predict and control events. What Karen is pointing to (and do read her whole comment, as well some fine thoughts that followed it) is how social media resources are returning us to the awareness that we are all connected, and likely that at the most fundamental level it is our values (as persons and as companies/brands) that provides both the glue and the grease for all our transactions.

I love how Karen speaks about the pre-existing relations of a customer, and how social media is bringing forward the sense that when we engage a new consumer we are stepping right into the middle of a living investment web. We are entering into dialogues that have already begun, and in many ways have been going on without us. Taking stock of our own values as companies, brands or persons is definitely one of the hidden effects of social media, and why I have been arguing that social media has actually lead to much more ethical business practices where profits and right-doing and transparency come together.

The attempt to abstract the whole thing into data sets – and believe me I understand and actually appreciate this – to cut ourselves free from the web of relations is in a certain sense to lose out on the perspective of social powers that are at our disposal. As we move away from the personal understanding, towards the Archimedean one, our design and solution-seeking instincts change as well. Our literal powers of invention alter.

I’m not really arguing against the Archimedean pov. But right now there appears a divorce in the two ends. Abstract planning control, social swimming. If we are to really be amphibious I believe that we need a much more dextrous language, a way of moving cleanly between these two, and to do so more transparently with social “honoring” values. This concept base  is new. A different way of crowd-sourcing and crowd-connecting. But in a certain sense we have always had it. It is just talking honestly about our aims in a shared world, and finding the best point of co-investment and satisfaction. When we find that sweet spot, the place where values and conversation meets, the situation suddenly becomes creative and unexpected.

Let’s find a way to talk about the conversations and actions we hope to inspire that at the very least includes the values of those talked about.


16 thoughts on “the stake holders of Social Media – into the web of relations

  1. Mmmm I love this conversation and that it is a continuation of your last conversation that began with a Twitter chat. A never ending, continuous dialogue.

    This in particular speaks to me: “If we are to really be amphibious I believe that we need a much more dextrous language, a way of moving cleanly between these two, and to do so more transparently with social “honoring” values.” I find is fascinating that our language has already been adapting to Social Media both in written and spoken forms.I feel that the social “honoring” values are put to the true test in Social Media. With the ease of a Google search, Facebook peek or look at Linked In, it is very easy to verify is someone is being transparent on concrete items and over time when you tweet with someone you get a very strong sense of who they are by their language choice, topics covered etc. Although the opportunity exists to present a false image or impression, I think it would be difficult to maintain over a long period of time. I am sure it happens though.

    Looking forward to others thoughts on this too!

    • I agree Peggy. This is how the frog jumps the river. From platform to platform. We move from all the modes of conversation, each one favoring some aspect of our communication.

      A really interesting subject, the idea of honor and transparency when it comes to social media. One of the most fascinating things is how Twitter is so much a sedimentary process. Almost no “tweet” is of any value. They are ephemeral driftings lost in the stream. But they begin to accrete until they become a “thing” a rock, a quality of a person or a brand. There are so many of them that they have a kind of truth-telling quality. Values and focus begins to come forward.

  2. It’s a really interesting conversation and I have just happily spent 30 or so minutes reading and re-reading both posts. I particularly like what Karen says about how classical economics views purchasing decisions in isolation from the web of relationships the buyer is invested in, and this is one of the most significant changes that social media can bring about – truly knowing your customer for who they are, and not simply via regular demographics. Beyond knowing their age, gender and zip code, but truly understanding who they are – as Karen mentions – joining their pre-existing relationship.
    While social media has certainly taken us to a new level in terms of knowing your customer, I believe that there is still so much further to go. Particularly for advertising – if I purchase a product and so does (my hypothetical) twin brother – according to the business we are the same (same age, gender, location) – and they will advertise to us in the future as such. But we’re not. We have different personalities, values, beliefs…and when advertising progresses to reaching this level of truly understanding each and every customer as an individual, then in my opinion this will open up a whole new world for both consumers and businesses.

    • What is interesting about what you suggest, in terms of the future of social media marketing, is that things like Facebook facial rec analysis, or breaking down your web search likes, your comment practices, are going to be the things that tell us differences between you and your twin brother. Once this kind of data reaches thresholds, it will become insightful, predictive of behavior.

      But the “conversation” mode of social media, the part where community managers come to understand their maven fans, where companies start to learn about the needs, wants, fears of segments of customers, just from listening and engaging, that is a different sort of thing. Businesses have, as I have argued elsewhere ( ) a different set of perception tools, new skills have to be learned in how to hear, and how to see through these organs.

      What is interesting to me is that as data becomes more sophisticated (the first option) social media marketing practices have the challenge to keep up with these new toys, to grow into our new powers of customer and market understanding. If our tech and accounting outstrips us, we will just become locked into Procrustean metrics whose numbers we stop looking beyond, and genuinely stop thinking and creating.

      my thoughts.

  3. Wind is a new Canadian cell phone carrier. What I love about them so much, beyond their awesome plans, is how they got to where they are. If you enter their website, it says “Welcome to the conversation.” They talked to a number of Canadians who were tired of the current business practices of the other cell phone carriers and asked them what they would want in a cell phone provider. And, to the best of their abilities, they came up with a structure that was both feasible and competitive. I absolutely love them and swear by them.

    I used to be a Nokia fanboy. I loved them and defended them to death. Their products were good and I stuck with them. However, I now have denounced my love for them (which is huge for me). Why? I saw iPhone go from iPhone to iPhone 4, Blackberry go to OS6, Android with Gingerbread… and what innovations did Nokia come up with during the times that these other companies were busy trying to surpass themselves and others in coming up with the best product they can produce. Nothing. In fact, one of the things that I have always said is that I left them because I felt betrayed. I constantly push myself to excel in everything I do, and if I don’t see that same desire for excellence (especially in the company that I have decided to follow) then I can’t support them (as a matter of conscience!)

    In both scenarios, social media played a huge role in my decision. Wind was constantly doing their best to show me that they acknowledge me as a customer and they value my business. They wanted to constantly better themselves. Nokia had a lot of contests to win their phones but I don’t think they have a clue that these contests are meaningless if the only reason why people use Nokia is because they got the phone for free. In a very convoluted way, this thought was sparked by Karen’s comment about shared purpose. I’m a consumer who is easily swayed by an image that the company projects and how other consumers interact with that company. Seriously, the only reason why I tried Tweetdeck (even though I have sworn against it before) was because two people whose opinions I valued recommended it (you and @PegFitzpatrick). Even with some crashing going on, I still stuck to it based on the strength of my trust in those who recommended it. So I completely congree that we do enter into a web of relationship where in many ways, transparency becomes Social Media’s greatest form of currency.

    • Sid, I really love your examples as I let you know on Twitter. I experienced extreme loyalty to Tweetdeck it its bad weeks, I think principally because of what you say, a kind of social effect. It isn’t so much as social recommendations for me – yes, that too – as the social experience that comes through an interface. The “social” when positive suddenly imbues everything of the UI with a kind of aura. All of it contributes to the sheen of affirmation. It is a really interesting effect, and possibly something that people do not quite track when they are thinking of the effects of social media. Great comment!

  4. Kevin, thanks for your invitation to continue following this very insightful conversation. I get the impression that the core is more coming to the surface. My take from it all up to now is this: relationship marketers have a future. If more and more companies maintain building relationships with their outside world via social media, authentic relationship builders will be increasingly valuable to the success of any organization.

    • I can feel that too Juan. Something is coming to the surface here, while at the same time it is getting deeper. 🙂 I see what you are seeing I think.

  5. This thread is so deep and rich and fertile that I cannot respond to all of it. I am noticing a couple of seeds that I think are important, but can only give them each a glimpse. These seeds are by no means exhaustive of the richness here.

    First of all, I want to say thank you to Kevin and the other commenters, for honoring me so strongly in how you have received my words. Your authentic responsiveness is a shining example of what we are talking about here.

    The first seed I want to notice is the idea of transparent and redundant relationships
    which we’ve been discussing throughout, but which I particularly liked when Sid said “transparency becomes Social Media’s greatest form of currency”. I quite agree, and I think noticing the currencies and current-cies of how the energy of communities flow, as well as how money flows, is important. Currency is an importantly mixed concept, and transparency I think is an essential and life-giving part of this, particularly today, where the opacity and non-resiliency of the world’s financial structure is one of the world’s greatest vulnerabilities. The need for resiliency and systemic redundancy is a part of this, too.

    A second seed is the idea of accumulative value over time
    Kevin says “A really interesting subject, the idea of honor and transparency when it comes to social media. One of the most fascinating things is how Twitter is so much a sedimentary process. Almost no “tweet” is of any value. They are ephemeral driftings lost in the stream. But they begin to accrete until they become a “thing” a rock, a quality of a person or a brand. There are so many of them that they have a kind of truth-telling quality. Values and focus begins to come forward.” This seems akin, not just in highlighting transparency, but also in what is effectively a kind of currency. I am struck (and agree) with the way any individual tweet has almost no value but together they accrete into something substantial — and of course that substantial thing is, itself, a (transparent, resilient) relationship. There is a current-cy process here, too, both as an energy-process and a money-process. Klout is one attempt to quantify that, of course, but I think there are other ways we could think about that, especially in the context of shared purpose.

    A third seed is the idea of aggregate vs individual
    that Chris put forth and Kevin picked up on, above. This is the same problem which is also encountered by ethnographers. where the terminology (from Clifford Geertz) is “experience-near” and “experience-distant”. Experience-near concepts are those as understood by people in their own terms, experience-distant concepts are the same things as understood by the ethnographer / marketer. Ethnographers recognize there is necessarily a reciprocal flow (a currency?) back and forth between the near and the distant, in coming to understand (and engage with) a culture, and that both are essential. It seems to me there are some fruitful ideas there, for our purposes here.

    A fourth seed is the idea of the applicability of power
    which can be used for both good or ill. The unspoken delicacy of the aggregate-vs-individual problem (which is recognized by the ethnographers as well) comes from a recognition that the power to shape the branding and produce the product doesn’t mean it will be equitably applied to all stakeholders. Some people live upstream but others live downstream of the factories. Some people cannot afford life-saving medications. The marketplace is not utopia. This recognition is inescapable in a transparent world. The Hirschman concepts of exit-loyalty-voice also recognize that the applicability of power is not always just. Otherwise there would be no need to respond with anything but the unresistant “lubricated” purchase, and there’d be no need for market research. In fact, given the way we are always in the web of relationship, and the inescapable reality of always responding in that web to relational missteps and dissonance, we’re always living downstream of something. The perfect purchase is always an attempted repair.

    Lastly, on Twitter yesterday, Kevin referenced Deleuze, who I must admit I have never actually gotten through reading, but whose idea of the rhizome I think is appropriate here (ah, and my organic “seed” metaphor fits too, although that was not intentional) (wikipedia: ). Sid’s description of social media being a liminal space is also akin. And, like Kevin, I also have a concern for a genuinely respectful and genuinely appropriate way of quantifying and measuring our work in this domain. I took enough statistics in grad school to know that we can actually be a lot more creative with our numbers than many people think, but also enough statistics to know that constructing the mathematical base is more complex than many people think (and I don’t have enough statistics under my belt to do that!). But I think that there is a place and a need for rethinking our metrics, that can be fully nuanced in respect of the different (rhizomatic) structures we are working with here.

    There is much more that can be discussed, which I look forward to participating in, but I’ll click Post Comment here.

    • wow Karen, pretty much speechless here. So thorough and complete are your seeds, I would have to plant them and over time grow them to immense size to adequately respond. I can only say, thank you for bringing Deleuze’s rhizome to the table. It is more than a metaphor of course. It is how things like this grow, beneath the soil, richly, suddenly there.

    • Whoa! That was one great analysis and synthesis of this conversation. Your description is both astute and insightful. Thanks!

  6. At some level relationship is involved in this new language. Since information is power and power is no longer the advantage of the broadcaster we can borrow heavily from relational and conversational frameworks. Things like trust, us, mutual, serving, start to change the way we perceive each other. One of the many things i love about social media is the emphasis on giving and serving. Sure this can be abused, but as a fundamental value i believe it supports the pursuit of the new conversation.
    i like it.

  7. Pingback: » the beginnings of a conversation the threshold place

  8. I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments, Kevin. Took me a while to catch up. I do want to support Joseph’s emphasis of relationships.

    In terms of stakeholders, social media allows a vastly improved form of organizing common interests. Rather, than having groups limited by physical location as in the past, they can now organize globally and much quicker. Moreover, rather than have two or three common threads connecting the group, there could be many more. While the groups might be larger, they don’t necessarily need to be because they might have more intensity of purpose because of the multitude of commonalities on different levels.

    In terms of translating these relationships into a marketing strategy, companies might be more inclined to organize along the collective personality lines of these stakeholders rather than along geographical lines or demographic ones as they’ve done in the past. For example, let’s consider all the commenters on this blog as being one stakeholder grouping. How would a company’s marketing strategy to us differ from it’s overall one or from one utilized to appeal to another group of stakeholders organized around another blog? Why couldn’t each blog such as this be considered a “community” or a “market”?

    In terms of transparency, I do believe this is a plus and is enhanced by social media, but I’m not convinced transparency is easily accessible or determinable. For example, water is transparent, but I still can’t see the bottom of the ocean. Moreover, water can distort things and their locations. I believe the internet and social media can do the same thing. Perhaps this is where Karen’s cautions about the applicability of power come into play. There is so much out there and so much misinformation and misleading that we can’t assume that transparency automatically translates into truth, honesty and helpfulness. It requires work, and thus what appears to be transparent might just be an illusion that we didn’t explore well enough or that we just really want to believe is true.

    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed this conversation. It has got me pondering. Thank you.

    • Wow Mike, I love your analogy of transparent water and the depth of the ocean. Great self-check on the very notion of transparency. Just because are are “being transparent” doesn’t mean that the effect is transparency. Some of this,or a great deal of it, might be resolved by just keeping a healthy respect for the customer in mind, and the idea that how we see and talk about consumer goals may need to change.

      I think you are right on about this notion of “market” segmentation, ultimately probably something both FB and G+ are steering towards with social marketing and social search. This is precisely where social media seems the most adept, being able to pinpoint exact interests, concerns or passions. Learning how to read, interact and listen to these market groups seems a vital and growing art. To do so humanly is perhaps an even greater challenge.

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