Monday, July 14, 2008

Social Networking, Social Fragmenting, Or Social Hand-wringing

My post on Ten Reasons John Mariotti Won't Use Social Media Sites received a comment from Michael S. Copeland who said...

I agree with John's thoughts somewhat. Yes it's good to do things in your local physical market. However, what if I wanted to get in contact with ALL the left handed trout flyfishing anglers? I would get online on places like Facebook or left handed fishermen dot com and find others. The Social Media Landscape isn't a scary place. It's a world of wonder. It should be explored, and used. As far as marketing, it's great to get to know your customers/users on a more personal level.

Truth is that I do as well, at least that component that Michael focuses on, Yes it's good to do things in your local physical market. A post by another social media maven Brand Autopsy does a good job of making the point. Blogger johnmoore from Brand Autopsy on 6/8/08 wrote about a recent editorial in Ad Age regarding JetBlue's current advertising campaign in which Advertising Age recommends NOT ADVERTISING.

JetBlue is missing the point with its recent ad push. What it needs is to get back to what made it a media and consumer darling: customer service and good internal and external communication."
>"Priority No. 1 should be getting back to a place where consumers want to share good stories.
From John: Let's take this a step further. BEFORE any company spends gobs of money on an advertising campaign, it should first spend money on improving the performance of a product/service and on ratcheting up the customer experience.

The questions being raised lately though go beyond just bottom line and cash flow concerns. The larger question being asked is whether social media is an effective tool for change. The Other Side of the Pillow - Official Blog asked Social Networking, or Social Fragmenting? back in February. Sam Davidson brings up a number of issues but I am skipping to the conclusion of his article.

As someone who runs a digital property, I'm constantly looking for what all this means for CoolPeopleCare and our mission to enable people to change the world. Yeah – we've got the Facebook fan page, we've got the MySpace profile, we Twitter and we blog. But why do we do all this, especially when we believe in the power of the offline community so much and that change happens best face to face?
Because we have to be where people are. And people now gather online. Even if the ultimate action we're soliciting is one of offline, real world, or analog behavior, the doorway into people's minds is a digital one.So by all means use social media and use it well – but don't expect it to save the world in an instant. Countless individuals are finding that social networks could lead to social fragmenting. Rebecca's found that social networks don't create new leaders. Even if there is a digital doorway, the pathway to change has to still be traversed with two very real feet.
The Rebecca he is referring to is Rebecca Thorman, who's blog post about how social media doesn't create a new generation of leaders was for Sam a prophetic beacon of how all of this online networking may not be getting us as far along as we'd like.

Rebecca's found that social networks don't create new leaders. Sorry, but I don't find this that insightful. We should know this already. Ecological niches do not create new species, but they do create the environment in which they can arise.

Another source of evidence, I would argue against proof, is Wired Magazine, in which Tim Harford explains why new technological tools, which intend to eliminate the importance of geography when it comes to collaboration, actually do just the opposite.

Business is more innovative, and its processes more complex. That demands tacit knowledge, collaboration, and trust – all things that seem to follow best from person-to-person meetings.

While fully agreeing that we are still most comfortable in establishing a relationship on trust if we can meet people in person, this does not really speak in oppostion to social media. There are a number of psychological and cognitive-neurological reasons for this bias, which have been touched on before and will be again. But, just as E-bay established greater online trust for the web transaction, so will greater degrees of trust occur through Social Media sites (and degrees of wisdom from too much trust).

I have a more basic philosophical beef with Hardford's approach, which is more to do with his often quoted argument that if you (I am paraphrasing here) have a choice whether to study the issues of an election or a new stereo then read up on woofers because your making a difference is so slight in the election. Actually my argument is more with the traditional Homo economicus argument. Not only in that there is a non-rational component to what we do as individuals, but when we interact as a collective or group it changes the paradigms. There is a Malcolm Gladwell-like Tipping Point, where if enough people follow Mr. Hardford's advice the system breaks down.

Yes, this is unlikely to happen, but the same principles that prevent this also serve the integrity of the social media systems. This raises questions on the "Popular" Theory Of Group and Individual Interaction. Social Media allows Howard Rheingold to speak on Collaboration Moving Masses Through Compassion and provide an avenue for Kevin Kelly's endeavors - The Universe Is Conspiring to Help Us Or At Least Kevin Kelly Is. I am suspicious of using old paradigms to judge new paradigms.

There are a number of other points that Sam makes that should be addressed, but I am going to leave those for another time. I will also admit taking advantage by changing the order of Sam's argument, but one of the best arguments against the hand-wringing regarding social media sites is Sam's own CoolPeopleCare.

So perhaps all of this worrying about technological innovation not taking us as far as we think or as fast as we would like is not all that useful. Maybe it's just a better way to play Scrabble or better yet the Free Rice Game. Not as social, but at least you will be doing some good while improving your vocabulary and you will get better at Scrabble.

I will finish off by fully agreeing that Even if there is a digital doorway, the pathway to change has to still be traversed with two very real feet.

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