I am in Cambridge attending the Social Architecture event sponsored by Corante . Last night we all trooped off to the Degas exhibit at the Sackler and then consumed heroic amounts of alcohol at the Harvard Faculty Club. I had the chance to talk with the man who founded Corante in 2000, Hylton Jolliffe. It’s eerie to talk to about something that is emerging as you speak about it, to know that this conversation next year will be very different from the one you are having this year, not least because of the people in this room.
Now I am in the Ames Courtroom of Austin hall at the Harvard Law School. (The event is co-sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society here.)
David Weinberger is talking about "social software." He asks that we accept for the purposes of argument that blogging, tagging, wikis, IM, chat, are all types of social software.
Now, he askes, "What do they have in common?"
They are, relatively
low tech (unexpected)
full of individual voices (quite unexpected)
participatory: more memos, more emails
speaking in our own voices
driven by and driving of a new set of values and inclinations::
empowers local knowledge
allows small contacts
encourages symmetrical connections
discourages hierarchical command and control
things David worries about:
(I missed a couple of things here)
will this create a new elite
what I was thinking while listening:
that marketing using social software to listen and perhaps help form the consumer taste and preference to which it must respond will end up making multiple and perhaps messier messages with a faster roll out and take up. It will have to be an interative process, as we work and rework the message, experimented "en pleine air" as it were. (Sorry, that’s the Degas exhibit talking. Degas was worked outside the pleine air tradition. His paintings of relatives examining cotton in an office in New Orleans. Sensational.)
But the problem here is that lots of marketers are white knuckling at the present moment, terrified of anything that is even fractionally off target or noise producing. This is an inclination driven by things in the world of culture that can be changed. But it is also I think probably driven by the street and its demand that we meet our numbers every quarter. There is no leveling in this world, No one says, well, you missed your numbers last quarter but you appear to be making it up for it this quarter.
This external constraint will make it more difficult for marketers to make us of, and enter in to the spirit of, social software.
Thoughts only. Comments please.
I’m afraid I have more questions than answers, but perhaps that is a good thing to have…
I’ve been involved the last few years in exploring the capabilities of emergent systems and in particular their relation to aesthetics, both in the practical sense (beauty vs. ugly) and in the theoretical realm (good vs. bad). I think that the latter will have the most effect on the acceptance of emergent systems, especially by traditional establishments like media, business, government, etc. and this is why:
In an emergent environment like social software, is there a need for aesthetic judgement and, if there is (I personally think so) how are the values of good and bad created and exercised? Are they determined by the number of connections you have in a community (as in Friendster), or by the quality or diversity of those connections? If it is quality or diversity, then how are those measured and compared so that someone can arrive at an aesthetic judgement? Do they need to be measured or compared at all?
I firmly believe that we are witnessing the emergence of emergent systems such as social software, which you mentioned in the post. I also firmly believe that it is in the questions – the unknown, or “unknowledge” as the EAD06 conference put it – that real power and opportunity reside. In terms of marketing, this is completely opposite to the current model. Perhaps for marketers to change, they must learn how to manage their company’s reputation, rather than image. Perhaps in the near future the phrase “meeting our numbers” will mean achieving positive rankings across most social software programs.
It is interesting to note that a corporation by law and definition is seen as a singular entity, as an individual person. Would it be crazy to posit, then, that this person could be an entry in Friendster, or other such network? This reminds me of Kevin Roberts Love Marks website, where people submit and rate brands. There is a wealth of opportunity in this arena, and marketers need to be bold and go in that direction, or else you are going to see a lot more art directors and graphic designers fill the vacancy.
At this point, I don’t think most social software is very accommodating to paid marketing. It’s okay if users argue about what’s good for what, but if people sense that someone is a shill, the reaction is likely to be extremely negative. There is a presumption of sincerity in these discussions, where people take on board others’ experiences assuming that those experiences are authentic. Messing around with that trust strikes me as a very bad idea.
On the other hand, if a firm’s representative–preferably someone who was involved in development or otherwise had personal ownership of the product–explicitly entered such a forum, under her own name and affiliation, and engaged users with some degree of apparent sincerity, that might work.
I saw one incident where a political blogger went off on an unrelated rant about a bad experience he’d had in his software job trying to tell Microsoft about a flaw in one of their products. A middle-manager type at Microsoft happened to read the blog or got referred to it, and was able to explain why things happened the way they did and how the company rectified the situation. It dramatically changed the emotional resonance of the story from “clueless bureaucratic monolith screws up” to “savvy and dedicated techies clean up a mess.”
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When you say these things were “unexpected”, I have to ask “unexpected by WHOM?”. They seem like obvious consequences to me. (And no, I’m not just talking about in retrospect. I was saying the same thing before the results were apparent, and I can prove it.)
As for the reactions of marketers…well, it’s a very different world from the one they’re used to. And thank God for that! Either marketing as a discipline will adapt, or else the things it teaches us that remain relevant to the world will be absorbed into other disciplines.
Brand meaning isn’t as important as it used to be…it’s MORE important than it used to be. But marketing can no longer get by just by _pushing_ the brand. They have to _live_ the brand. And everyone in the company has to do likewise, or else it’s going to fail. If they’re lucky, the marketing folks can _define_ the message, but the mainstreaming of social software means that they can no longer _control_ it.
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