Behavior Modification and Google’s Pursuit of the Star Trek Computer

Star Trek Kirk Communicator

You can comment on this post’s Google Plus thread here.

I haven’t blogged in some time, but this has been a growing theme for me, and it seems worth posing here as a benchmark, as these are deep, cultural and technology shifts worth talking about, especially in terms of human expectations of knowledge, and the promise of the internet. These are mostly thoughts posted at length, with some modification, on a Google Plus share of Mark Traphegan’s excellent blog post on Google Plus’s new Reach Numbers. One of the most interesting things he talks about is User Behavior Modification.  Mark argues that Google must provide quality results otherwise people will stop using its product.

Google needs that content; helping the world to find information is Google’s stated mission. And users, to varying extent, need Google to help their content to be found or made visible.

So users have a high incentive to do whatever it takes to make their content more visible to other Google users. But Google has a counterbalancing incentive to filter that content, and try to maintain high quality levels. Why? Because if they don’t, people will stop using Google.

Over the years, Google has experimented with various ways of gently–and sometimes not so gently–pushing its users toward practices that help Google to more consistently deliver better content. This is what I call Google user behavior modification (UBM).

read the rest

But, there is an alternate solution for Google to providing “quality” results.


Changing Expectations
What interests me is the most potent user modification that I’m seeing, which is the modification of expectation itself. Instead of Google having to do the heavily computational lifting of providing high quality content to everyone (the Star Trek computer, which knows all things), it actually makes much more economic sense if they can change the expectation and satisfaction level of users. This way Google can robustly provide a kind of McDonalds of products in the cuisine of knowledge and Internet consumption. We just need people getting hungry for McDonalds search and social.

How Search Has Changed

We’ve already seen it – dramatically I think – in Google SERPs. It is very odd to me that almost nobody is talking about the significant shift in search results quality over the last two years. Previously people would search, get a hodgepodge of results and then refine their search, and repeat. Google saw this process of search refinement as a kind of “failure” of the product, losing users in the process, when in fact it was producing a large group of users who became really adept at Googing, figuring out how to use keyword combinations and other cheats to wormhole through results and get fantastic, knowledge-rich pages. There were the Googlers, and then there were the not-so-Googlers. But what Google really needed was the not-so-Googlers, because Google primarily is a ad-selling company (somewhere around 60 Billion dollars a year, I believe). What was a rich and varied strength of the search product which produced an autonomy of users had to be changed.

The “Improvement” of the Algorithm – Reading Your Mind

The answer of course was an improved algorithm. We need an algorithm that can not only filter out spammy results, more importantly it had to read your mind and figure out what you really mean. David Amberland writes enthusiastically about this, and it is much celebrated. But there is another vector of solution that Google as been pursuing aimed to make the distance that Google’s IA dreams have to travel. What if Google was able to answer your question before it is completely formed or focused, in a sense nipping the flower of it in the bud? What if it gave you the experience of an answer, and experience that was “good enough” to stop you from re-querying?

Shortening Your Questioning

This is where the auto-complete started successfully steering you away from more complex query entries. You might have a pretty complicated, but still somewhat unfocused idea of what you are are looking for when you start typing, but as you start typing a much more simplified version of your question pops into view. This is great for Google because they don’t have to crunch such varied and lengthy queries, straining their computational and software limits. If we can get people asking the same, fairly simplified queries, then our job is easier.

Providing Satisfying Answers

Once you get people asking simpler questions you have to keep them from requery by giving them a satisfying end. A part of this is being able to “read minds” in the celebrated Semantic Search way, but an even bigger part of this is in providing “official” looking, pleasingly represented answers. This is where the Knowledge Graph comes in. The purpose of the Knowledge Graph, aside from moving towards the One Screen mobile need, is to just end querying. It is a counterpart of the simplification of queries themselves.

Playing With the Form of Results

If I’m not mistaken: You can see an even more aggressive version of these behavior modifying strategies in the way that Google is providing very different results in quoted phrasing. There was a time not long ago when you could very effectively requery by grouping words together in a phrase, and forcing the engine to push deep into its repository of pages. Now, instead, Google produces page results that simply do not contain all the words in your phrase…they show that one is missing by crossing it out. They are saying: I know you think you want pages with that phrasing, but these pages are much more popular even though they don’t contain the complete phrase…maybe you were mistaken in your query. Or even more forcefully, in cases of 3 word phrases they simply refuse to do the search itself, and remove the quotations.

I don’t know about you but I have experienced a dramatic restriction in results framed by date of publication. This was a very powerful research tool, and was invaluable when Google started pushing fresher and fresher content forward. If you wanted to know about a subject prior to the coloring events of 2013 you could just search pre-date. This option has been significantly curtailed. It’s as of the library of holdings, the history of the Internet itself has shrunk from view. In time the expectation of the fruitfulness of such a search will wither.

The Celebration of the Algorithm – a New Captain Kirk

There is in the Google Conversation community a kind of celebration of the Google Algorithm, a kind of Sci-Fi love of the kinds of things that Google is pushing for in terms of capacity. I’m a big fan of Sci-Fi and I could be capativated by the Star Trek computer as much as the next guy, or gal. But we are – I believe – turning a blind eye to how much Google (and Facebook to a lesser degree) is cleverly moving the goal posts, in a very subtle way. It would be as if Captain Kirk grew into the habit of only asking the computer how many people lived on the Cairn homeworld, or what time his Hangout with Federation Command was scheduled for. This dimension of behavior modification is immense, and even profound, given the promise of what the Internet hoped to be, a vast library of human knowledge, an infinite sedimented record of facts, activity and thought. What made Google Google was that it was a tool that we could use to navigate a very large, incredible and sometimes stormy sea. Part of what Google has been doing though, is shrinking that sea, and also encouraging us to maybe sail much closer to our harbor where waters are much more manageable and pacific.

How Google Plus Also Modifies Our Behavior

So this long digression into Google’s main property and service has to have something to do with Google Plus, right? From my view Google faced many of the same problems on Google Plus that it did in Search, and it has intelligently worked to solve them in a similar way. Initially it created a remarkable environment of thought and discussion, drawing powerful minds that just were not satisfied with Facebook social, wanted more depth than Twitter offered, and more speed and intimacy than blogging did. There was something Eden-like in how varied Google Plus was two years ago. Okay, everything changes right? But let’s think about these changes.

Much as Google Search had power re-Googlers and non-reGooglers, and the majority of users were not using Google creatively, they had autonomous power users on Google Plus, but also many more people were just putting their toe in the water; they needed to pull more and more people, and more and more content into the platform. They had to simplify it. Google had to produce a much more satisfying experience of it to a new user, especially if they were going to cut into Facebook. The marvelous eco-diversity of initial Google Plus was just too complicated, too varied, too dependent on the pre-existing relationships that power users brought into the platform fully formed (for me this was from Twitter). Add in that mobile use (which itself is a very simplified content use context) was becoming a dominant influence in Social, and you have extreme demands that Google Plus change dramatically.

The Algorithm Solution Again

Aside from very aggressive auto recommendation strategies for circling (which, parenthetically, were also amplified by its biggest proselytizing users in their circle shares), what really had to change was its streams. Popular content organized around simplified wants had to be pushed forward, otherwise Google Plus would just be populated by Social Media Pros and nerdists repeating how wonderful it is to each other. People need to see something engaging quickly when they come to G+, and in parallel they need simplify their expectations. When in the past inquiring users may have been in search of conversations or new ideas, but now one’s eye should search for a clever photo, an inspiring quote, a quirky headline. For the engineers at Google, if we can get people looking for the right kind of content on Google Plus we can get really good at delivering it.

Google Plus Has Improved

Google Plus has improved in some ways. Now older posts with some interesting conversation might be found by someone who hasn’t been on the platform in a while, for instance. But I don’t know about others, largely the substantive content I looked forward to in the past is simply buried in an avalanche of popular items and feeds. And even posters themselves have been slowly curved towards a different kind of content and expression. More than this, and with disappointment, the best Google Plus minds have focused their eye on the praises of the algorithm itself, instead of as members of the community and environment equally concerning themselves with the culture of Google Plus, what Google is creating by algorithm, through behavior modification of even its brightest members.


These are tectonic shifts in the very form of knowledge as it interfaces with technology, as important as changes in the form of the book.

Social Media Fatigue – Techniques and the Crush of Posting

Interest in Others - Keys to Social Media Fatigue

The Relationship Between Techniques and SMM Fatigue

Sometimes I back away from all the interesting developments and conversations happening in Social Media Marketing conversations and get an instinct to pull back from it all to re-distill what it is all about, some golden truth that drives the whole process. This instinct is pretty strong when it happens and I just know that I’m hitting on something important for myself and possibly others. Some might find the observation of this post trivial, but it hit me in a special way. When I got this truth, unfortunately, the expressed result was just one of those uber positive advice tweets that litter the Twitter conversation field, seemingly begging for a RT. It is painful to see the impulse to communicate come out so differently than my intent:

I, as many Social Media professionals do – perhaps especially those who work for multiple clients, alternating through diverse subjects and audiences – have struggled through Social Media Fatigue quiet often (let’s call it SMF). Sometimes SMF is in regards to a small task, sometimes it is with a process that has to be repeated over and over or even an audience or lack of audience. It just is the nature of the beast. Social Media demands the best of ourselves, an energy and positivity that when it gets externalized not only stimulates others, it also can awaken the best in us. But the most sensitive of us – and really all people – have serious need for downtime, for contemplation or silence, times when nothing happens. We require reservoirs to draw from. That is the usual model. We in Social Media are sacrificing our internal time for the good of a public outlay. And it is fatiguing.

Commerce, Tech/nique and Soul

Let me take a different tack onto this fatigue. I was busy commenting in a fairly abstract way on some concerns about Google’s increasingly intelligent algorithms presenting content that we may want on Google Plus. You can see the process of my thoughts in the comments on David Amerland’s post on Complexity. What it seems I was working toward was an idea that I pursued a few years ago, that Social Media was driven by a Gift Economy. Gift Economies have a logic that is contrary to Market Economies and there is a fundamental tension, if not conflict, between them, I believe. What struck me was that Social Media Fatigue is a product of this tension between the two. What do I mean by that, in what way?

For Social Media Pros, but also for anyone vested in their social media there is always the question of intention when posting. Where is the soul leaning when completing what is sometimes a very complex task requiring many dimensions of your person (analytical, aesthetic, custom-following, know-how, etc.)? We have been gifted with increasingly adroit tools that enable us to inhabit not only multiple platforms – each with their own sub-culture of behaviors and aesthetic – but also multiple facets of ourselves. Where is our soul when pushing through these advanced techniques, all woven together quite productively though our various devices? It seems to me that fatigue starts to set in most for me when my attention is mostly on the technique itself, just getting or doing it right…(and right includes innumerable of aspects of me expressing values that are important to me and brand). The advance toward techniques are a kind of human/cyber interface, a technique of being-human that marries actual technical devices, user UI designs and techniques of ourselves. The tech/niques come right out of the commerce frameworks of the platforms we are negotiating and the designs that support them. We are using tools that we have purchased or downloaded and increased our speed and thresholds of interfaces to thrive on platforms that themselves are driving a competition to spread as fast (and as deep) as they can. It is a heavy sea. We ride and push through these waves and frankly it requires a great deal of concentration and harvested authenticity.

As we face the fatigue though I think many of us counter this tech/nique fatigue by finding within ourselves a genuine (or authentically discovered) enthusiasm for what it is we are posting. And if not enthusiasm, interest. We oscillate between a thorough engagement with the technology and techniques and our soul reaching out to the content in a kind of (perhaps only momentary) embrace.

We try to fight fatigue this way.

SMF - Social Media Fatigue

In this model the interest in content can be fairly rich. It is a personal reaction or investment in what is being shared, or what is being said, a connection that is being made, a feeling to what the topic is. We respond authentically, if not creatively to what Facebook calls analytically “stories” and to commentary, and we move between that spike in enthusiasm back into techniques, marking and positioning our way as we go. Sometimes techniques themselves even become the content and we get a kind of meta-pleasure of teching the tech, techniquing the technique.

But I think that we’ve got it all wrong. There is to Social Media a core dimension that honestly gets lost as we bounce between content enthusiasm spikes and the labor of tech/technique. Those two poles are really what the Social companies are all about. They are busy pushing our “stories” and their supporting techniques because these are what is measureable, and these are what they have designed for their own success. If our souls try to fight SMF by this dichotomy we will only be eventually be drained. What is missing is the thing that gave birth to social in the first place…genuine interest in others.

Think about this the next time you post something. Think about this when you exercise a technique that dovetails audiences or streams. Who or what are you caring for? Where is the focus of your soul? If you are feeling tired, if SMF is getting to you it is very likely that you have lost your interest in others and have been caught in a binary.

Each and every person we connect to is not simply a node, they are a fathomless beacon –  a beacon of something we can be. Be interested.


epilogue thought:

I think key to this is something I learned from my wife who struggles with mental training stuff all the time. She is a pro Muay Thai fighter here in Thailand, having fought over 50 fights she inspires me. Expectation is 80% of motivation is one of the mental training adages she thinks about. When we think to do something what we expect plays a large part in our disposition to do it. When we do things through our interest in others our expectations are quite different, much more potent and liberating than those that come from acting out of content interest or the pleasure and accomplishment of know-how.

Vine is not Video – The Real Challenge of Instagram

I really don’t want to write this in a high-minded way, with references to Friedrich Nietzsche and the film making of Tarkovsky, but I’m afraid that is the way it is going to come out. What I really want to write about is how Instagram (nearly) ruined Twitter’s new “video app” Vine for me. But also I want to brush up against just what it is that Vine is, to think about it in a much larger context than the Facebook vs. Twitter platform user war that conditions most of the conversation. I want to think about what Vine could be, what it was that Twitter stumbled into, and maybe get a view toward a future for Vine that probably will never be.

Why Vine is not Video

Look at the Vine at the top of the page and I think right away you’ll grasp why Vine is not video…if this were a video (a still image with an arrow that you clicked on to to play, or worse, a video that started playing automatically), this would be a very bad video. In fact I’m not even sure that it is a very good Vine. But what it is is something different. It is an aesthetically new class of thing, because of its edits, its compression, but mostly because of its closure upon itself. Our e-eyes have been conditioned to be able to read these kinds of images easily due to the endless gifs that have populated forums, websites and social platforms for years, but this isn’t even really a gif, I’d argue, largely because it is shot as an mise-en-scene expression, a communication. Vines force a kind of dense rendering of a 6 second moment, short edit decisions (that can be exhilarating), a grasping of a scene in a kind of purity…because it is fated to loop endlessly ad infinitum. Of course Vinists don’t have to use them that way, but the form of the Vine invites it.

This is where we get the Nietzsche reference. Nietzsche had an idea he liked to think about called the Eternal Return, the notion that each and every moment of one’s life – given the infinity of Time – is bound to be repeated again…and again, and again, and again. He drew a kind of moral lesson from this, that one had to live one’s life with the bold affirmation that each of your life’s moments, even your weakest ones, were WORTH being lived eternally…

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’ [The Gay Science, §341]

This, at least for me, is what is so beautiful about Vine. It asks you to select 6 seconds that will be replayed like a prayer wheel in a kind of aesthetic eternity. Just as a photography magically seemed to capture the soul of a person, a moment…in a layer of frozen silver, Vines cup together seconds and circles them, creating an odd sort of energy that seems remarkably consonant with Twitter’s very abbreviated blogging itself. Twitter found something. If you make and experiment with Vines I think you’ll see it. In Vine you are clustering together motion, moments, compression and release, a constellation, and if you are doing it with Vine in mind you are doing with an eye towards eternity, how they fold back on themselves. You are not creating a linear exposition.

Edits in Vine

I mentioned it in passing, but there is also something going on in edit choices in Vine, the (also) compressed way in which edit choices have to be made with the live and lived subject right there with you. You have to feel its “time”, and dialogue with it in a way. What does that mean? This is where Tarkovsky, one of my favorite film directors comes in. I’m pasting this from their Sculpting in Time source, so I lowered the font color to ease the eye on the caps:



Tarkovsky is talking about editing with real pieces of film laying on a table. He sees pipes filled with water under pressure (a remarkable analogy) when he thinks about joining them. The cuts in a Vine are experienced slices in an expressed scene or moment that one feels would give it enough life to live in a 6 second loop. The cuts are accomplished by feel. You have to create the time pressures, the hydraulics as the river of it is rushing past. A beautiful thing.

Hulk Vine

How Instagram (almost) Ruined Vine for Me

Back to the more personal story. I began experimenting with Vine partly because that is just what I do. I want to have first hand experience of new tools and feel their potential and limitations before making recommendations. I really don’t want to critique the app though, plenty to critique. Mostly I just wanted to play and discover, and what intrigued me the most at first for business was its embed feature. For those that don’t know, I live in Thailand and my wife Sylvie is a professional Muay Thai fighter here. So I get to experiment a lot with her social media in test runs before I bring stuff to clients. So I messed around with the app for about 2 weeks, and we put up a blog post that was just a variety of Vines, using different subject matter and techniques. I think it gives a kind of montage effect of what she does during the week: My Muay Thai Week: Experiments in Social Media and speaks to some of the blog embed potential for the app, though the post is a little extreme. The Vine at the top of this post is from a few days ago. For a little context it’s of Sylvie just after getting out of the ring after 10 rounds of serious work. It was meant to produce a kind of fragmented expression of her strength (she’s very small, but very strong), and some of her fans know about her Hulk and Wolverine Marvel character shirts as a point of reference. It was tweeted out mostly as test, without text. She only recently began her twitter account as Facebook, blogging and YouTube have demanded a lot of her non-training time, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to invest in another platform.

But the Vines were fun. They were easy to produce. They made novel content…and most importantly – as you can tell from the length of this post – they were aesthetically interesting. So what happen? Instagram. When Instagram swooped in with their video challenge the Social Media consultant in me had to use it. It had the well-known “improvements” to Vine (re-edit, longer play, etc). So we played with it. It was okay. The upload was murder on the 3G we have here in Thailand, it was something of a pain. But the biggest thing that happened was that Instagram made me lose interest in Vine. In fact it made me lose interest in both, which really surprised me. Part of it was that I really didn’t want to be part of an app war, even at the level of a user. I just don’t enjoy that aspect of tech and I read so much of it in the blogs I follow. But it was deeper than that, I think. Instagram video did something else. It convinced me that Vine was merely video…that when I was deciding to shoot a message that we might send to Sylvie’s fans I was choosing between two different video platforms. Do I want 15 seconds, and Facebook integration or do I want embeddable video and looping? Instagram made it a choice of video options, and for whatever reason the whole thing went yuck for me.

I’m not really sure what is going to happen. We’ve moved the Vine app on our phone over to Sylvie’s Twitter account instead of mine, so we can make use of it better. I’m still deeply intrigued by Vine’s aesthetic choices and project, but remain affected by the Instagram move. I suspect that Vine too will be fooled into thinking that Vine is video and we’ll be heading towards the video app wars (sigh). What I hope and think is that Vine should realize that its Twitter DNA is where it is at, compressed, shareable, consciousness-altering communications and processes. They had and have a chance to change thins. Move AWAY from video (linear, length), and towards the cycle.

This is what is wrong with Triberr

What Could be Wrong with Binding Together?

It has been heralded as the great equalizer. Suddenly people with only modestly very high Klout can compete with the Big Dogs of social media by banding together in a tight circle of pre-approved curated blogging. Which is to say, we will all auto-tweet each other’s blog posts to our own followers. Suddenly, not only is my “check my post out” reach isn’t constrained by what meager following I might have, but amplified by to all those follower numbers in my circle. Banded together, we become a composite “impression” force.

This is what is wrong with Triberr. In a social realm, all we have is our reputation. But there are two kinds of reputations at play. There is a kind of “authenticity” reputation which is the real response I produce when my avi pic and tweets appear in the stream. It is the impression of my brand, so to speak. We want a high authenticity mark each and every time our profile floats by in the stream. This could be based in anything from our profile picture that has an immediate emotive effect, to the history of our past interactions, or the quality of our tweets. But there is a second, often competing reputation, and that is the reputation we have with other tweeters like us. There is tendency to need “status” and to mix with people of a perceived high class. This second kind of reputation can color the first, our group status can influence how people perceive our flash appearance, but the two are very different. The problem with Triberr is that it can significantly reduces the first kind of reputation (the reputation of authenticity) for the sake of the second.

This is my visceral experience when I see Triberr auto-tweet recommendations of others in their circle. These are often people that actually have a very high personal reputation with me. Lots of my best Twitter friends are in Triberr circles, in fact this post came from seriously considering the generous offer from someone I value. Through personal interaction I have come to both like and respect my friends in Triberr. But, and this is a big but, when that friendly face appears there, and I am draw to it for a micro-second, awash with a warm instinctive response of nonjudgmental embrace, I am suddenly dashed by the realization that this person is not there tweeting this. In fact, there is strong suspicion that this person has not even read the blog post being tweeted to her or his waiting followers. There is, and I can feel it, a devaluation of that person’s brand. Not because I don’t like them, or even respect them. It is because they are offering me under the guise of a social moment, a canned, impersonal communication about something that should otherwise be valued – a blog post. Over time I start to grow insensitive to this person’s tweets. I become conditioned to expect the commercial. The value this person worked hard, or even not so hard, to achieve with me such that in the stream I pick them out with confidence, is eroding tweet by tweet.

“Like tears…in rain”

Twitter is like this. No tweet generally matters. They are light. They nothing. Except in cases of close social interaction they just seem to vanish. But they add up. Over time the direction of their effect begins to accumulate. Either you are building value micro-tweet-moment by micro-tweet-moment, or you are eroding it. The problem with Triberr is that it is a systematic erosion of social value, quietly over time, traded for a status achieved within a tribe whose doors are closed. Everyone in the tribe cannot feel this because they have already established their affinity and respect for each other. The tribe contact just builds as everyone exports each other’s blog post titles to higher impression numbers. But Twitter is not insular. The reputation gained between us is at the expense of the value of your tweet themselves.

The hope of course is that in trade-off of the gradual devaluation of tweet recommendations among those that already follow you, and respect you, you instead are reaching people you could never have reached before. Triberr proudly calls itself “The Reach Multipler” as if it is some kind of reach machine. Suddenly your follower numbers are climbing. Your mentions are rising as is your Klout (!). These new people hopefully at some reasonable conversion percentage, will supplement the value you have lost elsewhere, but invisibly.

What is wrong with Triberr is that the important reputation, the reputation for genuine thought and engagement, is being traded in for the illusion of engagement. If six people tweet out my blog title I must REALLY be engaged, right!? Not at all. And over time people can tell. As I said I have people I really like in Triberr. But when I see their titles mutually flowing across my screen in auto-fashion, I have absolutely zero impulse to actually click on a blog title link. Zero impulse to read, or comment on what lay behind the systematic trolling for new followers.

I also have close people who I would in advance pretty much say that I would recommend their blog posts. @67tallchris, @ricdragon, @pegfitzpatrick are some. I stand by my friends, so I can see exactly what such an agreement seems perfectly reasonable to do. I would be just automatically doing what I would likely want to do anyways. But there is a huge difference. The value of my tweets to the people that follow me is – hopefully – that I have however fleetingly engaged with the material. My curation is a expression of the social capital I have established in piece by piece interactions. It is hand built. If I start systematically placing low-value, socially imitative tweets in my stream, I am working against myself. I am exchanging the coin that you and I have earned together for the chance to begin new connections with those I have not yet met. I am lowering the overall substance of my exchange, for numbers.

I have news, you already have enough followers! Do more with what you have, don’t trade “up” fast using the social currency of authenticity for the “stamp” of authenticity and lose something genuine. I know this won’t stop. The status gain and the number love is big in social media marketing circles. But at least it is worth saying.

Yesterday’s post likely contains some of the deeper reasoning against Impression-driven “reach” social media thinking.

Immunity and the ROI of impression chasing – social media small group thinking

How Social Media Might be “done” Differently

There have been growing string of posts and conversations in the last week. To catch people up and give context: here was my post on Sunday attempting to open up a conversation about how social media marketing talks about social media communities – in terms of language, vocabulary, concept – exploring how we might conduct social media planning in a new way a different kind of Social Media – finding a language. If you haven’t read it it is more about the comments which are a rich realization that there is a building consensus that this is a topic that deserves attention. Then there was Ric Dragon’s The Power of Small Groups in Online Marketing which raised the same question again, in the context of impression thinking – something that marks the advertising culture from which many of social media marketing concepts have come. And lastly there was my post largely devoted to a single comment from my first post by @Karen_sharp the stake holders of Social Media – into the web of relations. There the question grew more abstract, but perhaps also more concrete, as we tried to think about the real processes of speaking from “within”  social media that make it a potentially powerful tool.

The selection below is the bend in my thoughts that reflects more how Ric Dragon was thinking about things. They are from the Afterward of Malcolm Gladwell‘s classic The Tipping Point. I post at length here for those who have not read it, or haven’t read it in a long while. My wife who has been hearing me talk about all the exciting things we might be able to do over at Tonner Doll, who just read the book, insisted that I look at the passage and in fact read it aloud while we were driving to the store today, giving birth to this post.

The Immunity of ROI Impression Thinking

One cannot help but think about how right Gladwell is on email (though written in 2002). Email may have gone through something of a remaking since then – post Facebook, Private Messaging and Twitter developments – but the same challenge of immunity faces email marketers. A medium develops an insensitivity to messaging, such that only mass mailings or highly specialized targeting and sensitively crafted messaging succeed in reaching an interested party. As Gladwell points out, the ease of the connection, its expense, tends to dull the efficacy of tries.

In the new media basic metrics such as “followers” or “fans” and “RTs” I believe can become deeply misread when the medium itself is heading towards immunity insensitivity. The very “reach” without expense is the thing that actually should be telling us that these numbers are quickly becoming devalued at a rapid rate, especially within hyper-evolving platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Yes there are metric attempts to revalue basic numbers, to in an arms-race kind of way find the “social” part buried deep within quantities – Klout being an obvious example – but the truth is that with the entire insensitivity process the whole social media world is quickly becoming immunized. Case in point and a small divergence, we in #usguys just had what we call a #flashchat on WordPress. A #flashchat is a pseudo-impromptu wranglingly together of folks on Twitter about a topic for discussion. Afterwards we found out that this little chat reached over 1,000,000 “people” (so to speak). I’m sure not that the case at all because this is just a big impression stack. But I could not help but think in hearing this: these numbers are near meaningless. They have meaning (narrow use), but the effect of them us is way out of proportion. We had a very successful chat, fully of energy, information, sharing, but then the 1,000,000 number completely shaded the sense of the true impact of the event, even in my mind. It moved the gaze. Over all, stats are getting the people who should know better drunk.

What occurs to me is that even though social media platforms are becoming saturated. Even though RTs are now being automated into Triberr pods of mutual dissemination without “personal” recommendation. Even though the “social” part of real conversation is starting to be gamed into imitation by pros, the blog world over populated with shallow re-tread advice repacked into catchy blog titles over and over and over – this very building up of an immunity is the thing that is giving social media even more emphasis on real conversation. As “thinking” and “talking” are being harvested by bright ROI-hungry minds often far too enamored with Impression adoration, finding ways of bulk “talking” and bulk “curating”, when actual conversations are found, the more and more rare of real thinking and discussion, the face-to-face like intimacy of sharing and personal investment, this becomes the gold of social media, rising by the ounce.

Social Media Message Inflation

This is what the New Age Impressionists are missing. As you seek to engineer a systematic imitation of social, you are losing all your skills of having or discovering in a market real social production. Counting RTs and Impressions is like counting Papiermarks. The very ease of their production and reproduction creates “message inflation”. And your substantive conversations – either the ones you are having, or looking for – the real gold of social media networks, are being lost in the currency.

Beneath the Klout hikes and the so-called “reach” numbers, there is only one thing of value: What conversations are you having? What conversations are you finding? What conversations can you have? (okay, three modes of the same thing.) And if you are only having conversations with the same limited number of people, you have simply built a castle in which to could can count the currency you have printed amongst yourselves.

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.

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
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.