Monday, March 30, 2009

measuring socially

On Wednesday (4.01.09), Marc Smith and I are talking about social science in social media and the enterprise at the Web 2.0 Expo in SF. Drop by - we have an exciting story to tell. Beyond Buzz: On measuring a Conversation, 10:50am. 

People often confuse social psychology (my background) and sociology (Marc's) but we both approach the study of people quite differently. Whereas I'm interested in an individual's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how they are affected by the presence (or implied presence) of others, Marc is interested in people's behaviors, en masse - groups within the context of even larger groups and social structures. We do, however, have a strong common thread of "things social" and above all, an intense focus on what to measure and how.

Social media are overflowing with opportunities for each of our goals and methods. Our talk proposes going beyond buzz-- getting people away from the flat and limited paradigms paradoxically used today in the rich, interactive context social technology affords. 

We'll be focusing on:
  • Honing the signal amidst all the noise
  • Knowing more about the individuals producing the signal
  • Identifying the roles individuals play in communities
  • Exploring the aggregated relationships that create a conversation ecosystem

Marc also is the pioneer of NodeXL, a free social network analysis tool, so you can leave our session empowered to proceed immediately.

We'll be showing some interesting data tying our perspectives together and, we think, pointing toward the future of measurement in the enterprise.

Let me know if there's a certain angle you're eager for us to pursue.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Twitter: help or hinder, our fleeting memories

I can't help but take the contrarian POV.

Twittering during SXSWi is the norm. In fact, for 2 years now, people have claimed the backchannel is where the action really is-- and I’m not making a snarky reference to the Lacy-Zuckerberg fiasco of ’08. Search #SXSW and you’ll find a pretty robust meta-conference-- quotes, comments, critiques, questions on all sessions.

But, in response to Peter Kim’s summary of SXSWi ’09, consensus is that the Twittering was "out of control."

Howlvenice comments:
“I found that the tweeting was voracious. i intentionally did not twitter and took notes instead at each of the important panels. i chose to absorb the information rather than react to it in real time. now some of the tweeters are asking for my notes.”
Is absorbing really at odds with reacting; listening vs. Tweeting? Why do people assume we can't seamlessly Tweet and take-in?

I’m the first to acknowledge multi-tasking is a competition of limited cognitive resources, but there are 3 things we know from the basic study of memory that lead me to believe that Twitter could actually help us better encode our experiences.

We’re more likely to remember things when:
  1. we expend more cognitive effort (think: writing vs. reading)
  2. information is self-relevant (think: adding your own 2 cents)
  3. we doodle! (think: translating into something visual)
I used to lecture about memory tips in Intro Psych and went through numerous studies showing that depth of processing leads to better memory. Is Twittering not a means of deeper processing?

I’m not assuming that all Tweets were on-topic, or that Twitterers' motivations were committing content to memory. However, the process of documenting while listening and the personalized digital breadcrumbs left behind are, arguably, advantageous.

My issue was efficiency-- the signal in the noise more than the noise per se. To be most effective, I think the solution to 'out of control tweeting' is a system that tags not just the particular panel within the conference, but whether the tweet, for example, is a question (#q), rebroadcast (#rb), or relevant thought (#t). Because I was on-site, I was only interested in original thinking and builds, not redundent content. It would be great to see an empirical breakdown of the types of tweets that exist so we could create a useful taxonomy for future conferences.

In hopes of making presenters feel more comfortable with a Twittering audience, Olivia Mitchell (on Laura Pistachio's blog), does a nice job aggregating additional benefits to the audience, as well as tips for the presenters to cope!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

measuring the immeasurable: cues from basketball

I've been keeping a running list of things that have been traditionally hard to measure that have witnessed recent breakthroughs. Some of my favorites include:

- Valuing intangible assets
- Assessing the merit of scholarships
- Measuring love
- Quantifying a restaurant's success

I added basketball a few weeks ago, after reading Michael Lewis' article about Shane Battier, the new age of statistical analysis in the NBA and the challenge to "measure the right things."
For most of its history basketball has measured not so much what is important as what is easy to measure - points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots-- and these measurements have warped perceptions of the game.
Sound familiar? Reminds me of the warped perception of the value of visitors and page views; Influence via followers.

This 'new age of statistical analysis', which, in the article, you see has transformed all major sports, foreshadows social business: everything that can be measured will be.

Thus begins the quest for true indicators of success. More than ever, we have the opportunity to move beyond the black box or to use a sports analogy, box score, to measure the right things- that really lead to coordination and success.

One critical difference is a shift from individual influencers (superstars) to team efficacy, as Mark Cuban points out,
...these numbers don’t reflect necessarily the best players in the league, but what they do reflect is the players that are being best put in a position to succeed and are delivering.
It's funny the extent to which this mirrors the Gladwell vs. Watts meme. I couldn't be more ready for the Influence influenza to be over.

So how do we move beyond points, rebounds, and assists?

Peter Kim talked about the 4 parts of social business transformation:
  • Systems thinking and design
  • Human Resource management
  • Process re-engineering
  • Technology infrastructure
This offers a nice framework from which to begin measuring the enterprise; one that's consistent with the basketball analogy:
  • System - Business goals. In business as in basketball, the score of the game will never cease to be important.
  • People - Participation and social awareness. In a team sport, your awareness of the additional players on the field/court is vital. The best team players are praised for their court vision.
  • Process- Dynamic, ongoing communication. Sean Bottier is said to talk to his teammates a lot more than anyone else on the court. Constant communication helps teammates anticipate plays and mutually benefit from each individual's work.
  • Technology - Connections. Reciprocal, one-way, maintained communication... In basketball, this would have to be the medium itself: the court. An invisible, but critical conduit.
Social constructs have been hard to both articulate and measure in the enterprise, but this framework should offer some help figuring out what to measure and how.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Twitter tea leaves

People are like liquid, always yearning for containers. I'm not saying we want to be pigeonholed, but it's validating to be neatly placed into fitting containers. It's why people love horoscopes. It makes the world make a little more sense.

So before we all follow Samantha Bee over to Gruntr, here are a few shortcuts to help you contain yourself - and others-- analyzing the language in Tweets, blogs, and status updates.

Do you tweet like a man or woman?
  • Men are more concrete than process-oriented: they use a lot of articles (a, the) and few verbs. Women are just the opposite, and use more social words (talk, share, friends, family). In other words, it would be far less likely for a female to try to reduce the world into two types of people; we're too busy talking about all people (women love pronouns).

Are you a social butterfly?
  • You'd expect people who are socially oriented to talk about socializing, but it's actually introverts who use social words like party, socialize, talk! Introverts talk about whether or not they interact with others, while extroverts focus on different ways of relating (independent, selfish, loving). Extroverts subtly show their social orientation by using a whole array of pronouns - I, you, he, she, we, they: constantly taking different perspectives on the same story.

Are you working through some issues?
  • People who are depressed focus inward and use a lot of "I," "me," and "my" along with negative emotion words (upset, angry); as expected, not so many positive emotions (happy, laugh). When you're working through things in your head, you tend to use more causal (because, effect) and insight words (think, realize) in addition to words like should, would, could.

Are you power-hungry?
  • High status people tend to use more "we," less "I" and often command that "you" do something. Ever heard of the "royal we"? Interestingly, if you're trying to suppress your need for power, like others who inhibit their behaviors, you probably use a lot of negations (not, never). "It's not that I want to tell you what to do..."
Let me know if it fits.

Note: all research stems from findings in James Pennebaker's lab.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

control, participation, transparency

On a tangent, while speaking at AWT's Austin Women's Business conference on Friday, I mentioned that the female hormone oxytocin leads women to "tend and befriend" under stress more than the well-known "fight or flight." This was clear at the conference-- lots of friendly support, even without stress to trigger said response. I've never presented to an all-female audience; it was tangibly different.

I talked about the changing nature of work with Jenn Deering-Davis, a doctoral student at UT Austin and also co-founder of Appozite. Jenn has a unique data set of interviews exploring the impact of continuous connectivity through "information and communication technologies" (e.g. iPhone, Blackberry, email, Twitter, etc.). Jenn talked about changes with respect to 'the individual'; I addressed 'the collective' (workplace) and provided a social psychological framework to unify our ideas.

Our gist was: technology--and our philosophy of using technology-- has reshaped how, when, and where we work, altering our notions of:

  1. Control
  2. Participation; and
  3. Transparency

Specifically, control -- in terms of our fundamental need to predict and control in order to make sense of the world and our relationships; participation - in terms of belongingness and our need to be connected, whether through active or passive involvement; and, transparency, our desire to be seen as we see ourselves-- or rather to figure out how we see ourselves, through the blurring lines of time and self (work vs. personal).

I know this framework holds, given its empircal roots in social psychology. However, I proposed that while these needs and desires endure, they will - and are already starting to- take on new meaning; ironically, more social meaning.

For example, as we leave behind static repositories to manage information (e.g. email), we see ourselves managing information in dynamic streams that we selectively engage in, telling us who's doing what (e.g. Facebook). We engage in belongingness as business, strengthening relationships with co-workers, competitors, brands, and anonymous others with whom we share interests in various memes. Regarding transparency, we're constantly blurring previously concrete boundaries around ourselves-- for example, shifting from an individual to a relational self (see diagram below from Aaron, Aaron, Smollan, 1992). We see a lot of this on Twitter right now, as individuals identify the balance between their professional and personal lives (e.g. JetBlue vs. LionelatDell vs. Jeremiah Owyang).

It was a fun talk - Jenn's data is rich and her evolving interpretation, insightful. Let me know if you're interested in hearing more about our talk.