Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's social media. Measure something social.

I'm doing a webinar with Aaron Strout of Powered today, also featuring Bill Johnston (Chief Community Officer, Forum One) and Rob Harles (SVP, Sears Holding Company; creator of sk-YOU). The title is Building a Business Case for Social Marketing-- I'm talking about the importance of measurement in online communities. Please join us, it's free.

As I've said several times here, there is no gold standard for measuring success in a community. In my opinion, the trick is to embrace the ambiguity and remember to tie metrics directly to your business goals. As creatures of parsimony, we're compelled to want a simple formula for "healthy" communities. Most likely your answer will not be in page views. Likewise, it's not embedded in the illusory grail of "engagement."

I'll go into more detail on the webinar; for now, a few things to keep in mind as you seek to quantify your efforts online:

1. All social media create rich social networks; don't ignore social constructs. Think connectedness, reciprocated communication, resonance...

2. Adding things together may seem fancy, but really it's Noisy and messy. You've heard it before: don't measure something simply because it's there to be measured.

3. The metrics that tap into the depth of members' immersion in a community are not ROI per se. First measure something social; then use it to predict your business goal (e.g. Retention, Satisfaction). Then, calculate your ROI ratio.

Remember, having a measurement strategy is not about having a belt of metrics, but a framework within which you can measure your success toward a specific business goal.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Business design for social animals

Some interesting themes have emerged from Peter Kim's Proclamation of Transformation and the lively, ensuing conversation over the past 2 weeks.

Critics might find it ironic that I - Pete's colleague - would echo the meme, part of which shudders at the reverb... My goal is to add some depth by offering my social psychological perspective. Hopefully, some fresh, authentic thinking.

It's funny that people point out the divide between people who talk about “social media” and those that engage in Web/Enterprise 2.0 (or social software to transform the enterprise). The biggest chasm, more surprising to me, is between social psychologists and this broader, living and breathing conversation.

Hopefully, over time, my blog will pull other social psychologists out of the woodwork to contribute to our collective discussion about designing businesses on fundamentally social principles: connecting with people, interdependent cultures, purposeful collaboration, and effective communication, to name a few.

I’m not suggesting the chasm doesn’t make sense. Social psychologists don't necessarily know about the bottom line. Few have the privilege of using "real world" data to see what increases profits, enhances workplace productivity and mitigates risk. But they know a heck of a lot about the paths towards those goals. In the most postmodern sense, a collaboration would be ideal…

So here are a few things I believe in, along with some misconceptions that have jumped out at me as we’ve introduced our ideas on transforming business:

1. Socializing the enterprise is a fluid articulation of how we work, as social animals.
Misconception: We're making assumptions about what people want. Not everyone wants to actively share, be part of a community, or be informed about others’ every move.

2. The future of the enterprise is not a battle of Technology vs. Culture. Both are integral, and interdependent.

Misconception: Pick your poison, it’s one vs. the other. Either technology is an agent of change, or the organizational culture relinquishes its hierarchical control and walks the walk.

3. Everyone is ready; anyone can be receptive – whether you Twitter or grew up in a Stone Age society, see my first point. Designing a social business is the Gestalt. New social technologies are the parts, not independent precursors.

Misconception: Wait! There are early adopters who blog and Tweet and then the naïve masses who need to set up at least 15 accounts before joining the movement and really 'getting it'.

Look, it is early. I’m not denying that. I’m proposing that we are social animals and can organically embrace these ideas with some hard work to free ourselves from path dependence. Balance will be key across each point: We need to find the nuanced sweet spots between public and private; technology and culture; old and new. And that's what we're working on.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Measuring Communities: Protocols, not Algorithms

With the recent release of The Forrester Wave on Community Platforms, there's a lot of discussion about communities from a Product angle. But technology alone does not create value. Nor do traffic, buzz levels, or Authority scores demonstrate it.

I keep coming back to a line in Steven Pinker's piece on consumer genetics this past weekend in the NY Times.
To study something scientifically, you first have to measure it, and psychologists have developed tests for many mental traits. And contrary to popular opinion, the tests work pretty well: they give a similar measurement of a person every time they are administered, and they statistically predict life outcomes like school and job performance, psychiatric diagnoses and marital stability.
It was reaffirming to read this statement... not that I'm in the business of measuring mental traits (anymore), but the process of test construction and validation is a well-worn path. It's one that lends several hints toward creating frameworks to measure meaningful dimensions of social interactions, the currency of communities and collaboration.

The late Peter Kollock was a pioneer of social relationships. He studied, from a sociological perspective, which features contribute to the success and failure of online communities: cooperation and conflict. He wrote about things like the importance of "identity persistence," internal economies, and archives of information as design principles for online communities. But importantly, he concluded, "there is no algorithm for community."

Tying these two ideas together offers an important lesson in measuring value in communities. There are sophisticated methods and approaches to measurement, but no golden rules about what your scores should be. We can readily capture value in communities - with reliability and validity, but it's not going to look the same for everyone.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

re-tweeting altruism: also altruistic?

Twitter changed last night.

If you briefly scan through the minutia discussed in the past 24 hours, some of it now appears particularly minutia-like, with the exception of one particularly profound meme: #daniela.

For those of you out-of-network, David Armano has (at the time of posting) raised over 12k for a friend in need of an apartment. In particular, the friend is a victim of domestic violence and has 3 children to support, one with Down's Syndrome, on the money made cleaning houses.

Laura "Pistachio" Fitton also demonstrated the prosocial behavior unleashed in the Twitter community through what the Huffington Post referred to as frictionless online giving for charity: water (#wellwishes).

Examples like these seem to negate the old Bystander Effect, where people are less likely to provide help in groups than alone. Is there something about the link trail that decreases the diffusion of responsibility previously held accountable? Clearly, transparent, traceable involvement increases the likelihood to engage in socially desirable behavior.

Psychologists continue to debate whether altruism exists-- pure unselfish behavior without self-benefit. Examples are rare. Armano's actions are emblematic.

What about the others who have become part of this movement-- RT-ing, Re-blogging, digging, commenting? Equally altruistic?

It's important to recognize that propagating the original request is often a diluted act of altruism. There could be an additional selfish motivation: strengthening your connection to a rising star. In my opinion, the ripple surrounding the altruism also involves a cry for Authority.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Twitter's Group Mind - echo chamber or gestalt?

I really liked Daniel Tunkelang's summation of excessive Twitter following as the attention economy's equivalent of a Ponzi Scheme.

Being efficient in Twitter is really a study in transactive memory-- figuring out who knows what and making the connections we can depend on to complement our own knowledge. In other words, it's about identifying who knows certain information, not necessarily investing in learning/encoding the information itself. Of course that assumes your goal is using Twitter as a means of information-seeking...

Regardless, a transactive memory system is an interesting framework to understand our interconnections (why we follow and are followed). Dan Wegner is the brilliant psychologist who devoted much of his time in the mid-80's to crack the code on transactive memory -- transforming people's perception of a "group mind" from a term associated with blind herd mentality to one that takes into account the complex gestalt of a group.

Another way of thinking about this is whether the group mind of Twitter is an echo chamber of bandwagoning or a rich social network that, in Wegner's words "transcends [such] uniform agreement."

The question goes back to your motivation for following. Do you depend on communication with the people you follow to gain access to information, or store expertise you lack? For presumed reciprocity in order to broadcast your message further, yield more 'influence'? To validate our own opinions and beliefs? How similar vs. diverse are the individuals that make up our networks?

Friday, January 2, 2009

The end of restraint: addiction to feedback

Rypple makes a ton of sense and I couldn't be more supportive of the idea. Everyone wants to give and get good, honest feedback. Right? It's anonymous, you can track progress over time (read: puts metrics in our own hands) - it satisfies needs to express ourselves, better ourselves, and potentially help out others. 

The Economist introduces Rypple in it's Jan 1 issue like this: 

"One defining characteristic of the Net Generation is that it thrives on feedback."

It made me think about the role of feedback in social media at large... Does self-verification drive engagement in social media, or is it simply condoned narcissism, as someone challenged me yesterday? 

I think there is a fundamental need for validation that's satisfied in blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, etc. as well as in the consumption of metadata (e.g. blog traffic, # following, # friends, # friend requests). Sure, there's some narcissism (read: ego traps), but there are more diluted goals related to being verified in your social network. You want your network to know you and understand you for who you think you are (your beliefs, actions, and feelings). You want to know your impact on them as well - think footprint, perception, not Authority. 

Or maybe that's just genuine participation

The problem that I foresee is that we're becoming addicted to feedback and resisting introspection. Sorry, Socrates. 

Is this conditioned narcissism?