Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Social should imply specificity

[This was originally posted on the Dachis Group Collaboratory]  

There’s an inherent problem with the word social. Not “social media” or “social business.” Just social. The problem is, it doesn’t incorporate any sense of specificity to it. People are left to think that all things social are massive connectivity festivals. Really, being social is about connecting with sensible, specific others, typically, for specific reasons.

It’s great to open things up and give people freedom, but specificity-- that is, some focus or structure- is what really unleashes talent. Specificity comes in many forms of social systems. As Tom Malone et al. point out, the “genome” of collective intelligence can be broken down into Who (staffing), What (goal), Why (incentives), and How (process). Each of these "genes" demand specificity.

Take the Netflix Challenge, for one: its success as a crowdsourced effort was attributed to connecting the right people only after some jockeying happened. It was not a result of all participants being connected, helter-skelter. Often throwing too many people into the mix leads to hasty and irrational outcomes due to groupthink or lazy free-loading, as a result of social loafing -- not to mention pluralistic ignorance where we incorrectly assume acceptance of a given norm.

A less oft-cited method of making a social system work has less to do with who is connected and more to do with what you ask of those connections. This is a critical focus as researchers migrate from surveys as our mainstay methodology. Good questions are the currency of social systems that flow between the focused connections discussed above.

The other day I noticed Rypple made an important change in this direction with its “Power of One” initiative. Rypple, as you might know, lets you give and receive feedback online (anonymously), to and from select others. All humans lack an inherent sense of psychometrics, so it’s hard to know precisely what to ask, especially when the stakes are high. That is, you’re asking *specific* trusted others for self-related feedback. The inclination is to ask open-ended questions. Logic being similar to the above: connect everyone // ask people to tell you anything and any number of things. Turns out, lack of specificity leads to confusion, and in most cases non-response. Rypple is alleviating this problem by encouraging users to ask “what’s *one thing* I can do to improve.”

It’s usually one question that makes or breaks a given finding. Gallup’s one question, “Do you have a best friend at work” is the biggest predictor of workplace engagement. Other research shows that one question self-assessments of health are better predictors of mortality than an extensive battery of objective health data. Reicheld told us six years ago that your Net Promoter score is “The One Number you Need to Grow.

My point is not about measurement error and response bias, it’s about specificity. Being direct in order to make social systems effective. Finding the signal amidst the noise.

We can't go on idly talking about "social" initiatives. We must be focused in order to make social systems effective. This pertains to who is in your ecosystem, how they are connected, why they are connected, and how you measure those connections.

Being social is not necessarily complex. If you apply a lens of specificity, you can systematically simplify the situation.

No comments: