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Is your Community Contaminated?

21 07 2010

[tweetmeme]This morning I found myself at the W Hotel in Hoboken, accidentally (no really!) listening to an interesting story on one of the many breakfast shows on at that time. On that show, author James Fowler was describing research he had done that showed how social networks surrounding us can impact each of our lives in a much deeper way than most people realize. To make his point, (and the news presumably) he used as an example that divorce can be “contagious” amongst friends – mentioning that having a close friend experience divorce, increases the chance of your own divorce by 147%. Needless to say shock and horror ensued from the hosts and other assorted pundits on the show who naturally dislike the idea of someone asserting such high correlation to such a dreadful outcome.

Yet when I thought about it, I don’t think I was really surprised. After all, it kind of makes sense. Your social circle represents more than just a group of people you like to get together with for a beer. Your social circle represents the segment of society (or community) with whom you most closely identify and associate.

As with any society, the activities of one affect the activities of the many – word of mouth campaigns are one of many business efforts to capitalize on this effect.  Communities and Societies have social norms and unspoken rules that govern membership – and it’s only natural when an outlier emerges (say, the first of your group goes bungee jumping on holiday, learns how to scuba dive, or, god forbid, gets divorced) that the community takes a moment to reflect on whether that new behavior or activity is a true outlier or simply a leading indicator of something they too should be trying/considering/experimenting.

The elements of peer pressure and groupthink are not new either – it’s well known that many people get into/stay in gangs, or conform group actions against their natural wills because of the innate fear of rejection/fear of social stigmata/fear of ridicule/fear of the unknown that we all suffer from. Humans are inherently social creatures, so why would we be surprised that the social actions of someone we know, like and respect would also impact our own decisions?

Take the divorce case – the first person to get divorced in a social group of couples challenges the group norms. All of a sudden the group has to decide whether or not they approve – whether or not to maintain the two separates in the combined. Once that norm has been broken, it’s only normal for the rest of the group to question their own commitment to what they had considered a societal norm of marriage.  I daresay that if the author had dug further (and he may well have by the way, I haven’t had a chance to read his book yet, and it was a short segment on the program), he would’ve actually gone on to find that whether or not other couples in the group started to consider divorce would also have been impacted by the relative happiness exhibited by the two singles that initiated the first divorce. Did the initial sadness give way to euphoria commensurate with a perpetual trip to Hedonism III? Did the two newly single people now face a miserable existence akin to that of a lonely penguin in the Sahara?

Our understanding of alternative realities in the communities to which we belong influence our own decisions by opening up an understanding of what those alternatives actually look and feel like in real life. If we find our close friends being happier single than married, then it’s only natural for us to consider a similar move.

There are implications of course, for the Social Business World in all this of course (I bet you were wondering when I’d get to the point of all this, eh?).

Social communities maintained (or not) by businesses are fickle things – more akin to organic creatures than to mathematical formulas (which adds to my confusion as to why so many companies seem to be lumping in the Social Media functions with their SEO functions internally – but that’s a different discussion) – and the analogy of new societal norms spreading through a community like a virus is just as accurate, if not more so, in the social world.

Engender a strong goodwill and feeling within your community, and you’ll find that it’ll be resistant to negative vibes. Take the iPhone 4 – despite all its difficulties and problems, people are still buying it – not because it’s that much of a better phone than anything else on the market (nor even its previous version the 3GS) – but rather because Apple’s conditioned its community to be resistant to negative viruses by ensuring that they not only respond, but also try to over-satisfy the customer whenever possible. As a result, the community of Apple buyers continues strong, and continues to grow in number.

Cross your community though, and that bad feeling will spread far and wide like wildfire. You only have to look at the many Facebook faux pas of the likes of Nestle and others to see that at work.

It strikes me then, that we might well start seeing a new type of competitive behavior showing up in the future – that of setting up deliberate social viruses to attack and/or convert the social networks of competitors.  I can certainly envision ways in which companies could manipulate a few key individuals to enable them to corrupt a competitor’s user community for example – sowing seeds of discontent, and setting up the consumers to be virally vulnerable to the possibility of alternative realities.  Could we then be on the verge of a new weapon in the Corporate Strategic Arsenal?

In many ways we need to nurture a new skillset in corporations – that of the Social Doctor – Able to diagnose potential viruses prior to them taking effect and injecting the corporate social world with the virtual equivalent of vitamins to re-enforce it.

Part strategists, and part social scientists, this new breed of business executive will need to show a sensitivity and concern for customer communities that is currently alien to the majority of companies who still treat their social networks as a sales and marketing tool rather than a living, breathing symbiotic organism.

Mix that social awareness and responsiveness with corporate strategic ability though – and you get the ability to build and maintain a Social World that will drive unrivalled competitive advantage in your direction. What do you think?

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Defining the “Social Team”

9 02 2010

[tweetmeme]If you’ve been following me online on Twitter or elsewhere, you’ve probably heard me mention the concept of “Social Teams” more than a few times recently.

It is, in my mind, a powerful idea that has the ability to change the way companies and individuals view online collaboration efforts – with the potential to achieve dramatic results.

I’ve always believed that people want to interact online in a similar structure to their interactions in the offline world. The fact that we’re not usually able to doesn’t mean that we don’t want to.

In the real world, we associate ourselves with communities to find people of similar interests with whom to interact. These communities are important to define the overall population of socially connected people; but they’re useless as a way to actually get anything done.  When we set out to actually achieve something, we abandon the broader “community” concept in favor of focused subgroups of active individuals that are more motivated and able to get things done.

For example, in my sport of choice, rugby, we talk about a wider “rugby community” around the world. When we go out, we socialize, drink, and have fun as a community – it’s a bond that ties rugby players around the world. But we don’t compete as a community, we compete as individual teams. We don’t govern the sport as a community, but rather using an elected “team” of individuals picked from the community.

In other words we “exist” as a community, but we “achieve” as a team.

The same concept is true in the online world. Technology has given us the methods by which to define and connect to, our own communities.  Each of us “exists” within a multitude of communities with which we  associate – with differing levels of interest. However, to actually achieve a specific aim/goal, we need to tap into a subset of that group to create a “team” to help us achieve that.

It’s important to understand that whilst I use the term “team”, these sub-groups of people don’t exactly conform to the standard idea of what a “team” looks like or acts like – we’re no longer looking at working groups of enlisted employees in a corporate environment, nor the familiar images of a band of 10-15 athletes playing a game “on any given Sunday”.

These “Social Teams”, can be massive groups of hundreds, or even thousands of people in an online setting. They are teams on a scale never seen before, and on a playing field of incomprehensible proportions.  Team members may never have met each other, but nevertheless choose to work with each other to achieve a mutually desirable goal or function.

Social Teams are not top-down, nor bottom-up; they can be purposely set-up, or self-formed by team members; they can exist in purely social settings or as corporate sponsored groups.

They are a collection of individuals who have a common understanding of the “game they’re playing” (ie the team’s purpose); know in which goal they’re trying to score in (ie have a shared understanding of what ‘a win’ looks like); and are collaborating together to achieve that aim.

They incorporate the structure of a traditional team, with the social contract of a community.

Although Social Teams differ from the physical world in terms of the actual method and depth of their social interaction – many of the same rules for success in the offline world, hold true in the online world.

For example, if we use a typical amateur sports team as an analogy; we can define roles that need to be fulfilled by in order for the group to be successful:

1) A good Captain – someone to lead, motivate, organize and drive participation and effort from the team.  The best Captains are charismatic leaders who drive from the front; which entails being seen as a valuable contributor to the group; garnishing respect from other team members, and being effective networkers who are able to gel and glue the team together.

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2) An astute Manager/Coach – someone to define and drive what is success for the team. To co-ordinate the team’s efforts, to let them know what game they’re playing when they get to the field, and in what direction they need to advance. To provide them with a strategy, a formation, and to provide the team with the tools required to succeed – whether it be drafting in new players to bolster the squad, or providing appropriate training aids to keep players sharp.

3) Superstar Goal Scorers – people who might not always be the most active or hardworking on the field – but nonetheless are able to provide that spark of brilliance that will provide you with a large percentage of the goals, (or commercialized value) produced by your team.

4) A group of Creative Midfielders –ball/information distributors who make connections, provide links, and drive the conditions that create opportunities for goals to be scored.

5) A Solid Defense – the building blocks and foundation of the group – providing a core level of input, and information that gives the team a platform from which to build an attack.

Unlike the real world, in a Social Team, it’s important to point out that most of these positions are not usually assigned by anyone to anyone, but rather assumed with group permission by team members on their own.

This is not about imposing a hierarchical structure on a group of people, but rather about providing the team with the basis needed to work efficiently together towards a common goal.

Using this model, you can see how so many companies fail in their collaboration efforts. By relying, as so many companies do, on simply “enabling a community” to exist, they’re essentially doing the equivalent of sitting on the sidelines of a soccer field waiting for 11 random people to find the field, collectively decide that they want to play the same game, and then set out to beat Arsenal Football Club with no organization at all.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s folly – it’s time to let go of that folly and get a good game going!

So how do you use all this information to drive results within your collaboration efforts? I’ll discuss that in my next post – in the meantime, as always, your comments and thoughts are gratefully received!





What in the Wide World is Web 3.0? – Let’s find out….

22 09 2009

Global NetworkSo it all started with a bit of a joke – I was chatting to moderator-extraordinaire @sourcePOV (Chris Jones’ alias on Twitter to the rest of you) at the end of a particularly well attended #smchat session to brainstorm some ideas for future chat topics (click here to find out more about #smchat).  “Hey”, I said with tongue firmly in cheek, “we’ve been talking about social media and web 2.0 for some time now… aren’t we due another point release soon?”…. Chris, with what I’m now realizing is a rather impressive ability to spot an opportunity, quickly managed to convert my offhand quip into a somewhat tenuous agreement to take over from him as moderator for next week’s #smchat gathering, with rather daunting task of leading the 50+ participants through “Qu.20” – figuring out what Web 3.0 is, might be, or would be, if it is anything at all – and then trying to understand the impact on business and beyond.

I found myself wondering if this was how Justin Timberlake found himself not only guest hosting Saturday Night Life, but then also in tights and high heels for a parody of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”… At some point he must’ve found himself thinking “How the heck….?”…  I guess in retrospect I should thank my lucky stars that I get to keep my trousers on to host #smchat…large_snl-jtrudd

Taking a closer look at the topic though, led me to some very interesting search into a future that really isn’t that far away – (many experts seem to suggest that Web 3.0 will be a real entity as close as 2010) – but one that is still unclear and the center of some debate as to what it really is, will be, and what it will mean.

Let’s take a quick look down the “point release” history of the Web:

Web 0.0 was the first interactions between computers – the beginning of a networked world as it evolved. Crude, and of limited use (by today’s standards), but a huge step change on what was possible with individual computers.

Web 1.0 took the next step and evolved protocols and common language to begin making sense and use the growing “web” of interconnected computers in both the private and public sectors. Data was primarily pushed at you with little intelligence about how and why; and content creation and distribution was the sole domain of the website owner. However it spawned a wealth of business models that managed to take advantage of a new, non-physical channel by which to sell and promote goods and services.

Web 2.0 introduced the concept of a two way web – with users not only reading information, but also writing, contributing, and creating content.

It’s given birth to the business models of co-creation, open innovation networks, crowd sourcing, wisdom of crowd approaches, and enough buzzwords to run a truly interesting and diverse game of “buzzword bingo” at the office.  It’s also introduced the concept of data and application mobility and a whole new level of interconnectedness with open standards beginning to evolve and standardize how machines, even from competing brands, talk to each other.

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It’s a social, collaborative, and altogether more responsive and interactive web that is no longer just a tool, but a part of us and how we interact with the wider world around us.

So bearing in mind that marketing guys can be as unoriginal as a mullet at a Lynard Skynard concert when it comes to naming new concepts – we know a Web 3.0 is on its way – but what, if anything, will it be?

Here’s a nice little short movie from Dutch think tank EPN which does a nice job of introducing the Web 3.0 concept in relation to what’s gone before:

I don’t know about you, but I’m quite excited to see what the #smchat participants will come up with (Bet you’re jealous now Chris! :p ) – and to better prepare you all to discuss the topic, here’s some background reading on what some people think the Web 3.0, along with a list of some of the questions we’ll try to tackle on Wednesday:

Q20a) What is Web 3.0?

So what will Web3.0 bring us? Will it simply be a natural extension of Web 2.0? Will it just be a marketing gimmick devised by bored marketers looking to revitalize and differentiate a market where almost everything has been branded with a “2.0” by now? Or something totally different?

Alan Cho wrote a pretty nice article on the subject last year that does a good job of amalgamating some of the current arguments out there into a comprehensive prediction of what Web 3.0 might be characterized by, including:

–       The advent of a truly intelligent web – the development of contextual searches will finally make sense of the plethora of online information and will eventually spawn intelligent web applications able fully understand what you’re really looking for in natural English.

–       New levels of Openness and Increased levels of Interoperability – with users being able to skip from device to device and application to application using one single ID to seamlessly manage their online world – with the web being seen as essentially one really huge database.  A worldwide cloud without edges if you will.

–       A 3 dimensional web – not only in terms of Second Life type Avatars, but also crossing into the real world and integrating into everything you own. The web becomes an additional layer of information overlaying all aspects of your life, enriching the information flow your eyes process.

Q20b) What will be the hallmarks of a Web 3.0 world and how will it revolutionize the world?

Here’s a more academic view of Web 3.0 by a UCal professor:

Q20c) When will Web 3.0 be officially here?

The phrase “Web 2.0” was apparently coined in 2003 by Dale Dougherty, a vice-president at O’Reilly Media, and the phrase became popular in 2004. Some experts are saying that if the next fundamental change happened in roughly the same time span, Web 3.0 will be knocking on our doors sometime around 2015. Others seem to think that it could be upon us as soon as 2010! Time for all you Nostradamus wannabe’s to get your diving rods out on this one!

Q20d) What are the barriers to W3.0 ?

What’s stopping us from getting there? What are the major barriers that companies and consumers need to overcome? And what are the enabling features?

And finally, what I think is the most important question:

Q20e) What does Web 3.0 mean for businesses?

In this amusing interchange with a journalist, Eric Schmidt of Google gives a brief insight into what he thinks are some of the implications of web 3.0 including an interesting prediction that “Applications will be distributed in a viral manner” in the future.

Want more? Some further suggested reading:

http://www.labnol.org/internet/web-3-concepts-explained/8908/ – has a bunch of presentations from various peoples on what web3.0 might end up being.

http://computer.howstuffworks.com/web-30.htm – a good comprehensive look at all elements of Web 3.0

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2102865,00.asp – A nearby vision of how web 3.0 is evolving (hopefully not with all the annoying ads their site seems to be overridden with though…)

This #SMCHAT will be held on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009 at 1PM EST on Twitter. If you’ve never participated in a Twitter chat before – here’s a useful post by Jeff Hurt that can help you get started!

And if you want to suggest some more questions for us to tackle (time permitting) feel free to post your suggestions in the comments below or via twitter on @bpluskowski  – See you on Wednesday!








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