The Medium Isn’t Built for It – Google Plus Blogging Failure

Blogs are islands

Blogging and Not Blogging

It has been just about a year and a half since I began my blogging-on-Google-Plus experiment in outright earnest, leaving behind the sketch pad that is this blog and throwing myself into a Social Media future. As you might be able to tell from this blog I was never after “traffic” in the first place, or even “follows”, I just wanted a place where ideas could be ferreted out, and then hopefully discussed in the comments below. I’m very interested in pushing the envelop of what is conceptually possible in social media, and new tools are definitely part of the equation. I thought that the clever amalgam of Twitter, blogging and Facebook features that are somewhat absurdly (at least over-positively) expressed by Mike Elgan in the image below…

Image

…would somehow carry blogging to a new place. The truth of the matter is that Google Plus is none of those things that Mike Elgan says it is the equivalent of. It’s a completely different platform with its unique strengths and perhaps even more importantly, weaknesses. But most particularly right now, it is not a blog.

I’ve had a great many idea exchanges on Google Plus in my more than a year and a half there, and I’ll definitely remain there. But there is something to the Google Plus interface – perhaps it is its reliance on and an architecture built around a “stream”, perhaps it is because no comment has a permalink, and cannot be easily shared so there is no silent “listening in” by interested others, perhaps it is because posts themselves just wash away and very smart people just end up reiterating themselves instead of building on what they wrote previously, like a vast prayer wheel – there is something about Google Plus that is just not additive. Blocks (ideas, concepts, dialogues) just do not “stack” there, and as far as I can tell they don’t work deeply into concrete details, or propagate in rich variations. None of the things that I love about thinking and investigating happens there. Links aren’t really read, buzzwords buzz more like flies than like bees, and images saturate in a bombardment. The new layout didn’t help matters – I know why they did it – but it has been the case nearly from the start. This is not even to go into the inability for Google Plus to address all the other reasons a person might want to blog like SEO, brand discovery, domain authority, things I’m not interested in for my person. I should have much more to write about the Google Plus design weaknesses in the near future, I’ve thought a lot about why it just isn’t cutting the right swathe of cloth. But for now…

Blogs are digital islands, like coral atolls built up over 1,000s of years (words, titles, comments), they are archipelagos of digital life.

When I stopped blogging I also stopped most of my Twitter visits as well. I had a very nice community of thinkers and conversations going on in Twitter which I deeply enjoyed, and initially my hope was that the speed of Twitter and the richness dynamism of Google Plus would make a perfect pairing. But cross-posting was a pain, unwanted by many, and while in the first months I was able to transfer some of my Twitter community over to Google Plus and get more lengthy commentaries going, in the end it proved a drain. Twitter at the time was also under the assail of Triberr and other link spamming reach techniques as the Age of social media top 10 advice had come, it just seemed better to dive into Google Plus. Now that I have returned to Twitter I find it a link Land, perhaps the link Land I feared it would be, though already I’ve found some fast, informative conversations (one leading to the writers’s software Srivener that may just change my and my wife’s life – ty Brian Meeks & Rabab Khan) that simply could not happen on any other platform on the planet.

So this post is just to re-announce the opening up this concept space again. I just need it. I’m reading a fascinating book “Reading in the Brain” which I believe gives key insights on how the visual brain digests written material which may prove important for digital designs. That should be something worth sketching out. It may well be that I should take this blogging seriously enough so as to get my own domain, it always before seemed like just a private investigative thought corner, but perhaps things have changed.

I still direct social media for Tonner Doll though I am doing so from Thailand having moved here so my wife Sylvie could pursue her art to the nth degree. It is a superlative perspective on social media, as I am strategically engaged, though often I am operating at “off” hours from the west. It has given me a unique perch.

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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.

blogging is voice gifting

social media as gift giving, potlash

The Gifts of Voice-giving

I’m working on how to present to a new client crew the “how” of blogging. All of social media involves something that in the past I’ve suspected is best described as a Gift Economy “social media is like buying beers: the gift economy in social media” – (as opposed to a strict quid pro quo equality market economy). In Gift Economies the donor achieves status by sharing her or his status, i.e. wealth. This can be money, food, knowledge, symbolic powers of any kind. And the recipient takes on a mysteriously strong, never exactly repayable, bond of obligation through the receipt of this donation.

This is how social media works, to a rather pronounced degree I believe. And there are two things that are donated. At one level the donation is one’s – or a company’s – resources to the site as a contribution (be it Twitter, or blogging, or Facebook) making those resources available to others as readers. This is the aspect that most explicitly is thought of as “sharing”. These can be anything from points of view, to inside information, to the power to entertain. But additionally, in a second turn, one donates the platform of the site itself.  That is you donate the authority of your voice, your brand name, to whomever you quote, or highlight, or forward. And as such you donate your audience as well.

And so blogging is like this. It is about establishing these two levels of donation. The first is a vertical donation to the readers, however modest the wealth is in the content, and here the truism “content is King” works. The second is a more horizontal donation in the sense that a space, an authorized space, is offered up to others who inhabit it, conferring importance to every comment and hosted piece of content derived from somewhere else. This double sense of donation is what grounds blogging. The one that is often systematically less thought about is the second one, the way in which a generated space is offered to others, encouraging them to contribute to it as well. In this respect your site lifts up and propels others through its donation, and this is reciprocated in turn, through a sense of mutual investment.

When you comment on someone else’s blog post, you donate your little bit of status to their site.

When you quote a blog post in your own content, sharing it with your readers, you do the same.

When you host comments, and interact with them, your site offers itself to a sociability, a place for something to happen.