Tuesday, September 30, 2008

you unfriended ME?

I made an interesting discovery last night... I realized I had been unfriended by an old friend on FB, for no apparent reason. 

I'm a big fan of social network maintenance-- I advocate being judicious in accepting requests and periodically weeding. Why? Mainly because it keeps things clean: loud signal, low background noise. 

But in the process of deeply analyzing why this 'friend' decided to cease our relationship, I've been forced to inventory all the reasons others might engage in weeding, or pruning, as Peter Kim calls it.

1. Informational/ Strength of bond - Weeding friends is a method of filtering the potentially massive amounts of information coming in. It allows you to maintain manageable amounts of meaningful chunks of information. To be clear, as a measurement scientist, if I've unfriended you, this is why, with perhaps one exception. 
2. Permissive/ Visibility - Cleansing connections allows you to control who has access to information about you (depending on both privacy settings and platform construction). Was there something about what she's doing now she didn't want me to see? 
3. Identity Claim/ Reputation management - Who you're associated with says a lot about what kind of person you are: your career interests, opinions, beliefs, attitudes, etc. There are a few additional dimensions here too: the quantity of connections might indicate how popular and/or discerning you are, and the 'quality' of the relationships offers clues as to how influential or well-connected you are (and of course the inverse).

What else?

Others, like Clive Thompson, most recently have questioned the meaning of having hundreds of friends on FB, suggesting the technology and low barriers to online 'friendship' challenge Robin Dunbar's original work on network size. Perhaps this article in and of itself was what prompted her to remove her weakest ties (me?)...

But what's most bizarre is my lingering reaction... now 12 hours later, I'm still analyzing a list of potential reasons for being denied access to her doings. It kind of motivates me to want to re-connect. Is unfriending an effective strategy to elicit others to reaffirm the meaningfulness of your relationships? Ahhh reactance...

Monday, September 29, 2008

multi-centered networks

Duncan Watts is critical about centrality. He cleverly ponders the 'weight' of peripheral players and information brokers not stereotypically believed to wield the most influence. In his mind, it's the interactions of equals more than a predetermined 'hub' that create the innovative and emergent outcomes we all attempt to chase down.

"What if small events percolate through obscure places by happenstance and random encounters, triggering a multitude of individual decisions, each made in the absence of any grand plan, yet aggregating somehow into a momentous event unanticipated by anyone, including the actors themselves?"

This has so many implications for those interested in divining an algorithm for said emergent outcomes. And of course, so many social psychological ideas embedded within... The gist is, be wary of the structure within which you're working before you go imposing or assuming a given structure. In other words, study the group dynamics and realize there may be unique circumstances to account for: particularly strong or weak ties across people and groups, peculiar politics, lack of policies, implicit morays... and furthermore active flux. Networks are rarely static.

Groups are complex beasts. When improperly nurtured, we see things like groupthink, social loafing, deindividuation, conformity, diffusion of responsibility, polarization... Groups gone wild... But groups are important and replete with latent assets; Durkheim, for one, emphasized the importance of such social integration. Much research points to the health benefits of social connections in groups, not to mention the wisdom of crowds.

I'm a big advocate of the proper understanding and mapping of existing groups and networks. Prevent anomie! Figure out a way to take advantage of the rich peripheral activity that Watts rightfully calls our attention to. There are a lot of important voices out there that aren't in the spotlight. Any Gladwellists care to challenge me?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

the perfect dialogue

Early on, Descartes thought about things like the "perfected language." The rhetoric was about efficiency in communication, at large. This is a scholarly philosophy about signs, symbols, and other things linguistic that are far too logical for my fuzzy thinking. What I think is interesting though, is its extension to the perfect conversation or perfect dialogue. 

Can we come up with rules for a good dialogue? Rules may be a bit restrictive... how about governing principles to frae your conversational strategies? And, importantly, let's focus on The Enterprise DIalogue. 

Grice had something to say about this. A linguist, of course, he derived 4 conversational maxims, under the assumption that conversation is rooted in cooperation. Quality, Quantity, Relation, and Manner. In laymen's terms: you should always talk about true things you can support, keeping your objectives in mind, not giving too much information; and, you should be relevant, clear, and organized. 

These are helpful and clearly could make for an efficient exchange. But efficiency may not be what people (i.e. consumers) are looking for in the context of engagement with an enterprise (i.e. brand, lifestyle, etc.). What do they want? Involvement? Information? Inspiration? Maybe a good conversation is a goal per se? Do people simply want to be engaged in a rewarding conversation?

How could we evolve these maxims?

I might expand Quality to Authenticity. Quantity may not be as much of a priority, although frequency of participation (persistence) is key. Relation might be more about customization-- being relevant today means coming across as attentive and responsive to the idiosyncratic needs of your constituent base. Lastly, manner is huge-- transparency is critical. Be open and transparent with respect to what you know and don't know-- and importantly, what you know thus far about what you don't know. This latter component is really the hallmark of transparency in my mind. 

Now, how do we weave in the role of a compelling story?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

change management through language?

What would it look like if you encouraged all constituents to "story" their relationship to an enterprise? If the words we use are 'literal' reflections of our social orientation, illustrating how we relate to ourselves, others, situations, objects, etc., then what types of words-- and variations--- would we see in the conversations of an organizations' constituents? Furthermore, would we see blatant transformations, for example, from first person singular to plural as the enterprise embraces social connections? 
Moving from "I" to "We" is no simple, linear task. It's going from a monologue to a dialogue. It requires a new level of transparency. It's a very postmodern transformation-- nay mutation: removing the Grand Narrative in favor of many narratives, or going from disorder to greater disorder, as my friend Ryan says. I think there are a lot of learnings in the postmodern movement for today's enterprise. Collaborative technology is begging online architectural metamorphoses akin to our offline architectural evolution from functionalism. Does this framework offer any useful guidance?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

we know we want to connect, but why?

Transforming an organization to be social requires a comprehensive understanding of why we are social animals in the first place. What motivates social interactions? Social psychologists rarely question WHY we have the fundamental need to connect, but readily acknowledge the desire for interpersonal attachments is indeed a powerful driving force in human behavior, on which many psychological processes are built (e.g. emotions, cognitive processes, etc.). 

Modern enterprises are like this too-- rarely questioning WHY its constituents want to connect, but increasingly providing outlets to do so.  As social beings, our quest for belongingness is irrefutable, even after our base needs for survival and reproduction are fulfilled-- look at our exponentially increasing adoption of social media like Facebook and MySpace.

I wholeheartedly believe a company should facilitate and nourish our need to belong and commend the initiatives already in place (whether they receive awards or not); however, before forming and maintaining strong, stable relationships, think about what your constituents desire: how do they want to connect? why? where? 

In my opinion, this will make it magnitudes easier to measure your ROI. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

can you measure a conversation?

Engagement in social media boasts a panoply of social psychological learnings, and yet takes classic social psychology and redefines the experimental boundaries. On one level, there are myriad new, online behavioral residues with which you can operationalize constructs of interest (e.g. Influence); on another level, social media, per se (as a medium/ channel of communication), forces us to question what it means to have meaningful interactions and  recontextualizes everything we know about group dynamics. 
But the essence of social media, as so many people are proselytizing, is about having a conversation (c.f. Jaffe, Shirky).
This is good news; conversations offer a vast array of measurement possibilities; furthermore, measuring a conversation, although unconventional, taps into meaningful psychological constructs that can tell you something important. While it may not directly align with your previous method of calculating ROI, I would argue, conversation affords more productive understanding of your efforts. Is your conversational style authentic? Is it perceived as genuine? Is your conversation in synch with your audience?
As enterprises rapidly adopt social media, we have a viable opportunity to measure, monitor, and eventually use these learnings to transform the way business works. What do you think? Do you think existing measurement models will endure? Do you think social psychology can help make make enterprises more authentically social?