So much of what drives social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook basically comes down to social gestures by people who want to connect with others, or add value to something bigger than themselves. From product reviews to wiki edits, millions of people are benefitting from this mass of small social gestures online.
It's interesting for businesses to note that massively complex systems and information empires can be driven by something other than money. Very few social media sites pay people to participate. People use online platforms to build relationships and contribute to communities. Essentially this is a new form of economic production beyond the two classic pillars of economics, the firm and the market. Yochai Benkler calls it "Peer Production".
I’ve noticed that my social gestures over the years - blogging, chatting, uploading, editing - have accumulated into a kind of Social Equity. The result is more exposure, higher trust, more business, and ultimately financial reward. Thus each social gesture becomes an investment.
Many businesses are already benefitting from the social equity of their employees. I think it’s important for businesses to recognize these people within their ranks and enable them to continue rather than shutting them down.
I thought of this concept when my friend Tim emailed me about nvohk (pronounced "envoke"), a crowdfunding and branding initiative applied to clothing.
In theory it's a great idea - 30 000 people each put forward $50 for a year's membership in nvohk inc. For their $50 they get a "founders t-shirt", get to vote on stuff like logo design and advertising decisions, get discounts on nvohk t-shirts, and split 35% of the profits between them. It works for the company because each t-shirt owner then has a vested interest in helping the brand succeed, and passing on work of its success.
Where I think the company could improve its offering is to start connecting members and create an online space, like a Ning social network, for them to discuss their investment in public with each other and the project founder, Brendan Lynch. This would increase trust and interest, and make it a bit more like the original concept, a proven success model, on which I believe it was based (probably unknowingly) - the South African Stokvel.
Stokvels, according to The Beehive, "...have been around in South Africa for many years. They are a good way for people to help motivate each other to save, and many stokvel or savings clubs are like social clubs where members also help each other in ways other than with money. Regular stokvel meetings have become a social highlight in many communities".
The internet can allow ad-hoc communities to form around virtually anything - the initial social object could be saving money, but then extend as people seek other ways to connect with and help each other. In the business case, such as with nvohk (or to quote a more familiar South African example, Verity), I believe that the investors want the project to succeed, and some of them would have at least enough interest in it to want to chat with other investors with the same interest via a convenient virtual platfrom like the official website of the project.
I think the concept of the digital stokvel has great potential to be applied to brand campaigns. Watch this space for more case studies to come.
I find that as I have less time to spend browing the web generally, that I tend to find my news more via social filters like Muti, communities like Twitter (where people in my network recommend links directly), or by directly searching for a news on a particular topic on Google.
I thought I'd check whether my peers, also media neophytes, are accessing their news in a similar way. So I asked this question on Twitter:
"Do you more often find your "news" via 1. Social-Media, or 2. Traditional News Sites?"
The term "Web 2.0" is derived from a naming convention in software, where upgrades that are released in the market get numbered (like Verstion 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 etc). This seems to suggest that the software of the internet has been upgraded, which isn't entirely correct. However, the term is still useful if you look at it as a massive shift in the way the web is being used. Essentially, "Web 2.0", refers to the functionality built into websites that allows people to more easily put their own information on them, to share it with others, and collaborate with them. These websites, then, shift from being simply "websites", to being tools or "applications".
The next "version" of the web (likely to be dubbed "Web 3.0) will allow these websites to integrate with each other even more effectively and naturally - so, for example, you will be able to incorporate many of the sites you regularly visit into one website, which also synchronizes your information, friends and updates so you don't have to repeat yourself all over the place!
Social Media, simply put, is a form of media created by people who post information (be that pictures, articles, videos, comments or votes) using Web 2.0 applications (such as blogs etc.). It is primarily driven by Amateurs, although big media companies have started integrating social media into their traditional offering too. This is part of what makes social-media special: it can incorporate other forms of media, increase it's reach into niche communities of interest that are inter-connected on social-media platforms, and enhance it's impact and effect by allowing interaction. So in social-media, the audience can become collaborators.
For this reason, the flow and process of creating Social-Media is often likened to a Conversation, which happens even if no-one actually speaks directly to any person in particular! Social Media depends on interactions between people as the discussion and integration of words, images, and sounds around a multitude of subjects and feelings builds shared-meaning around topics and experiences. For example, if a number of people who attend the same event post their own pictures, blog posts, and videos of it online, then by looking at the array of media around this event anyone will have a better understanding of it than if they just read one newspaper report on it.
A paper on Social Computing by market research company Forrester Research states:
Easy connections brought about by cheap devices, modular content, and shared computing resources are having a profound impact on our global economy and social structure. Individuals increasingly take cues from one another rather than from institutional sources like corporations, media outlets, religions, and political bodies. To thrive in an era of Social Computing, companies must abandon top-down management and communication tactics, weave communities into their products and services, use employees and partners as marketers, and become part of a living fabric of brand loyalists.
Although these applications are easy to engage with and use, they can be potentially destructive, and costly to organizations and individuals who don't have a strategy and an understanding about what they hope to achieve by engaging with other people on the web in this way.
The term "Social Computing" is often used interchangeably with the term "Web 2.0", although as the Forrester report points out:
Web 2.0 is about specific technologies (blogs, podcasts, wikis, etc) that are relatively easy to adopt and master. Social Computing is about the new relationships and power structures that will result. Think of it another way: Web 2.0 is the building of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s; Social Computing is everything that resulted next (for better or worse): suburban sprawl, energy dependency, efficient commerce, Americans’ lust for cheap and easy travel.
Today is my second day back in the lab after three weeks of back-to-back online marketing and strategy workshops, lectures and conferences. The recurrent theme in all of them was the idea of authentic co-creation. Quite obviously the most important shift that is happening in marketing and strategy is a move away from centralized control of communications to a more decentralized user-oriented approach.
At the iCommons Innovation Series last week in Joburg, Jimmy Wales stated that any business that was dependent on people not copying its products or services was doomed, whereas those that embrace the culture of sharing, and that build in systems to facilitate and benefit from sharing would thrive. This is most obvious in the music industry, where even Madonna has left her old record label which was dependent on DRM and record sales and moved to a label that prioritizes alternative revenue streams such as her brand, her live performance revenues, and merchandising.
In the Attention Economy, having the goodwill of a community can make you rich, and power comes as your ideas, products and services circulate through that community. In this new economy, participation is key, since it is the highest form of Attention that a person can give. It must be pointed out though, that simply creating a platform for participation (such as a Wiki or a video-channel) is not enough to get people involved. You need to help them connect with people that have shared interests.
How do you think Wikipedia maintains the level of quality participation it has? The answer is that behind each article there are little communities of people who are connecting with each other through a shared interest in the subject matter they are compiling - each contribution, discussion and edit is a form of social currency that can escalate their status in the community. People blog for much the same reason. So perhaps the human need for recognition and connection is really the driver of the new web economy.
My advice is to do whatever you can to help reduce people's sense of separation from each other and your brand. As a participant in one of last-week's workshops pointed out: A relationship is an ongoing conversation. So I leave you with a question to consider: How will you start facilitating ongoing conversations through your company, with your company, and through your products, services, portals and communications?
Vinny Lingham has just announced the first limited public offering of Synthasite - free web-based software that makes it easier and faster to create powerful websites.
The product isn't yet ready for full public lauch - so this release is aimed at the super-early adopters (i.e. geeks).
From a strategic marketing perspective, semi-public launches like this are an excellent way to crowdsource product testing to identify bugs and usability issues... Quoting from the launch email:
What's not here yet?
Lots... but specifically, we haven't focused too much on usability. We need you to break it, and also give us lots of feedback. It will only get better, but only through feedback. We need to know what you like, what you don't like and any bugs you find!
Of course, for South African's involved in the web-space, we'd love to see Vinny be another Mark Shuttleworth - and if the ideals of Synthasite are achieved then we're certain to have another e-rockafella in our midsts in the next couple of years.