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 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.