Web 2.0 Blog – Discovering Innovation Opportunities using Social Media

Archive for November 2008

Remember your first virtual conversation? It was longer ago than you think.

It seems the world is divided into 2 groups, the offliners and onliners. An onliner is someone who is mystified by the online social activity of what we will call the “onliners” and just so we don’t get into too much trouble, we’ll call the rest, the offliners. The onliners, well, you know who you are.

Almost every time I have talked to a group of decisions who are not yet involved in social media, the same sentiment is raised. “I just don’t get why these kids talk about stuff on facebook and are on it so much.”
But you do, don’t you? My parents and their parents grew up engaging their friends through technologically mediated virtual conversations sharing facets of their lives. Yes, they talked on the phone. The facebook wall, flickr page and twitter are augmenting the more traditional virtual phone chats.

So if this is not new, why is it so hard to understand? There must be something different than just a phone cord. I found 7 gaps to getting it.

1. Comfort and acquisition of technology. The multimedia online applications which hop between pic, vid, sms, and walls require time to learn and an initial comfort level with interactive computer applications. We have a world divided between those who can sit down and explore the functions of an application in 15-30 min and those who are still reading the last page of the terms of service and deciding which was their favorite pet.

2. One to many vs One to one. It takes a different way to think about messaging many in a group. The traditional phone conversations usually worked by a grapevine strategy. One person would tell 2, 2 would tell 4 etc and news would get around. Now 1 can tell 2, 20, or 2000 without additional effort. The online tools allow greater amplification of the message, so it can move through a large group more quickly. This seems to have a great effect on how to think about composing the message and its content.

3. Multitasking. I am told by JessieX that this is a generational difference. It seems this can account for younger people feeling perfectly comfortable keeping an eye on the friends, watching for twitter SMSs while chatting on the cell with a very close friend. The still disjointed nature of a lot of the online social scene can be pretty intimidating to those would prefer it just be one site and one device.

4. Virtual vs In person Group Dynamics.
Even when we would talk to a small group in school or other places, it was a different mental process to track these group conversations than it is to think about online conversations. Now who you tell is based on which network they are part of, rather than which physical clique they are a part of. It seems a little different to keep track of a group you see together in person versus a collection of screen names, groups etc. The openness of online conversations seems related to be comfortable or have the confidence to let go of message control.

5. Emotional Involvement through Icons. The excitement we see in onliners from events involving online people though online relationships seems odd. But you did this too.. just through different media. The older generations were taught that TV and radio characters events equaled reality and would get emotionally involved in their fictions. So its not too hard to understand getting emotionally attached to the multimedia though often low-res or iconized internet media.

6. Value of online communities. Onliners value their online reputation and position more offliners and sometimes more than their own offline reputation and position. Achieving a reputation or leadership position or even relationship with many people has become more doable online than offline for many.

7. Living it. A lot of these values or differences seem to only form by living the online social experience. No one is born to live online or for that matter, watch TV. But its something you acquire and learn to equate things you value offline with their online equivalents. So don’t get frustrate if you an offliner and curious, give it a chance. Go step by step, learn a little and live a little online.

I have been struggling on how to think about the Web 2.0 or social media phenomenon. It seems to have taken on its own language now. And I made the mistake in 2007 of trying to explain Web 2.0 using those infectious terms of blog, tweet, follow, friending etc. This tool centered explanation by example, I found, does not work too well among the uninitiated. Besides that, today’s tools will not be tomorrow’s tools but I think there are underlying communication principles which drive the sucess of the current Web 2.0 experience and can be used a guide for future innovations. I also think these guiding elements can help discuss new pure Web 2.0 innovations, but also reveal opportunities to improve more familiar processes in business, government, and non-profits.

In this blog, I want to start a conversation about what is in the audience experience of Web 2.0 solutions have made them so successful among the much sought after consumer audience. I have noticed 5 reoccurring core themes which underlie the recent successful web 2.0 applications and companies.

First let’s talk about the difference between web 2.0 and web 1.0. The use of the internet in the web 1.0 era (which of course was a continuum to 2.0) was to convey information through web sites. The use of Web 2.0 is instead to evoke a response from the audience and turn that initial response into an ongoing engagement or conversation.

The Web 1.0 sites hoped to have the audience do something in response but it turns out evoking a response through simply conveying information on how they should respond is not very effective. Yet that was the hope all along for businesses, government, and nonprofits that by conveying information passively, they would get the audience to behave actively in some way. Even when a response was achieved it did not have a high probability of getting future responses from that same individual.

Web 2.0 has been much more successful at evoking responses and turning initial responses into a longer back and forth or engagement with and among audience members and this is why the tools which use these response-oriented techniques and technologies have become the focus of so much attention.

A good place to start finding opportunities for brick and mortars or more traditional organizations to better evoke a response from and create engagement with their audiences and in general to improve traditional processes is to identify what seem to be the underlying communication principles which drive the success of Web 2.0:

1. Interactivity
Use methods which make it clear and easy how an audience can interact or respond online and give multiple pathways to respond without violating element #4 (revelance). The interactivity must be highly accessible and match the information habits, styles and preferences of the users

2. Connections
Make connections and relationships with real people whether the connections are with people inside an organization or with others in the audience.

3. Outreach and listen to communities.
Think of your audience in terms of communities not demographics and actively outreach to the targeted communities. Communities are interconnected so they are pre-organized for communication to flow them and therefore provide more potential avenues to communicate with people in the community.

4. Relevance.
Provide highly relevant content to the audience. Content should be individualized to the individual’s interests when possible. This should not be confused with providing everything under the sun. Making content overwhelming makes is less relevant not more. Quality not Quantity.

5. Empowerment
Empower the audience whenever possible. People want to be heard and feel heard and wherever possible make a difference.

I know what you are going to say. I missed a lot things which also underlie some if not all sucessful Web 2.0 solutions. Such as the authenticity, social content, a human voice, crowdsourcing, interoperability, the networked audience effect, etc. But for now I want try to dissect what it is in the audience experience which makes social media so compelling. As with all web 2.0, this is up for discussion though. Hope to hear you opinions on this. In future posts, I will attempt to expand on this and discuss how these 5 themes can guide us to create better process in business, government and the non profit spaces.