Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Owned Social Media, Defined

At work we've started classifying our marketing communication media into three categories: Paid, Owned and Earned.  I believe one of our agencies coined these category names, I've definitely seen them outside of my own company as well, but lately they are terms that it behooves a person to whack on the first slide of any PowerPoint presentation.

The classic example of Paid Media would be a television spot, or a page in a print magazine.  Earned is classically used for PR impressions, in other words when what we do garners enough attention that it gets mentioned by the news media, when we didn't pay for the placement.  Owned, especially in the digital realm, is used for a brand's own website.

Trying to apply these terms to Social Media, I got into a number of interesting arguments with other classification-minded analytical types at work, and we especially got stuck on Facebook.  We don't own Facebook, Facebook owns Facebook, so it seemed weird to call our brand's Facebook pages examples of "owned media".  But it's also kind of our space that we control, so it's more than just "earned", it's not like the front page of the New York Times or some blogger's blog.  But the comments that people leave on the page seem like "earned" impressions, we didn't pay for them or sponsor them, but the people cared enough to come and post.  So which one is it?

Back when I was teaching Intro Philosophy, I worked up a patter about analytical definitions, because it was such an important part of the philosophical tradition in which I was trained and also because it was most of what we did for the whole first year of the major.  I explained it in terms of a lasso - you have a word in a language, and you have some intuitions about what it applies to, but there are borderline cases and the edges are fuzzy, so philosophers come along and try to provide a definition, another set of words, that more clearly draws the line about what's in and what's out.  If your definition applies to more things that you intuitively would use the word for, then your proposed definition is too broad.  If it excludes things to which you would intuitively apply the word, then it's too narrow.  At any point, of course, you can just decide to take your definition as prescriptive, and change your behavior so it matches the definition rather than your intuitions.  But in general you want to match it as much as possible, because you're trying to provide clarity, not necessarily stage a revolution.

So, applying this technique to "Owned Social Media", I came up with a definition, perhaps more of a criterion, that seemed to work really well.  Social Media is Owned if we, our company, are able to delete user's posts.  Not owned, if not.

Being an example of Owned Media, then, really comes down to whether or not someone inside the company has the Admin password.  So that's pretty operational, but I think it really draws a nice distinct line - we can delete things on our own Facebook page, but we can't delete things on someone's personal Facebook page. 

So I give you that definition for free, to use if it's helpful in your own organization.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fire Drills

We've been talking about how human beings behave in groups, and as I continue to think about it I'm coming to the hypothesis that for human communities to be ruly, as opposed to unruly, they need rules, but I'm not sure if they also need rulers. In the last post I talked about an artificial example where groups (i.e. rows of people in a meeting room) self-organized around a common goal and set of constraints. I wasn't in the room so I don't know if there emerged in each row a natural leader, but it was definitely the case that apart from setting the initial goals and constraints, the fact that the task was not micromanaged from the stage at the front of the room added speed and efficiency.

I often think of the way Western people respond to disasters in buildings as maybe another example. Crowds around the world frequently get out of control and stampede or kill people in crushing injuries, and I'm not saying the US hasn't had its share of examples (the concert by The Who in Cincinnati, the Black Friday incident at Walmart).

But when you hear those examples of disasters where everyone kept cool and behaved in an orderly way, like the evacuation of that plane that Sully Sullenburger landed in the Hudson River and the passengers proceeded onto the wings to patiently wait for rescue, it makes me think of how we were all raised on school fire drills and their rules - don't run, walk in a single line, don't use elevators but use the stairs, help each other but fit your own mask first.  It makes me think that if we all hadn't grown up with all these rules, and with the practice of them that drilled them in, would we behave as well in groups in crisis? Or would we be more likely to devolve into stampedes that cause crushing injuries, or at least to do so more often?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

To what extent can groups of people self-organize?

Continuing on with the themes from last week, I continue to think about how people behave in groups, because what else is social media management but the attempt to get them to behave well, and toward some mutual benefit?

I think it is probably true that in pure anarchy, human behavior tends to the lowest denominator.  But what is the minimum required to get people to behave well?

I saw an experiment conducted at a SXSW keynote address that gave me some ideas.  The talk was by Seth Priebatsch, an internet super-genius with a gaming background (there's a video version of the same presentation as a TED talk).  The key factor of his genius, to me, was an understanding of human motivation, and a strategic ability to set up situations and reward structures to elicit the behavior you want.

He had the audience play a group game, toward the end of his presentation.  I didn't participate directly because I was watching a simulcast in another ballroom, but I keep thinking back to it and what it demonstrated.  In the ballroom where he was speaking, he had distributed paper cards in four different colors among all the seats.  For this game, the rules were that no one could leave their seat and there would be no talking.  The objective of the game was for each row of seats to get all the same color of cards.  The game started with them scrambled, so to get each row with only blue, or only green, or etc. would require some trading.  When a row was finished, they were to hold up their cards.  He gave the group three minutes to complete the game.

But they needed far less than three minutes.  The first group held up their cards after about 30 seconds, and row by row they followed quickly after.  We weren't playing, but we could watch footage of what was happening.  Rows decided really quickly what color they would be.  I didn't directly see but I imagine the people sitting in a row all looked side to side to each other, and one person kind of emerged as a natural leader, held up a card and waggled it, and everyone else nodded their heads.  You've been in team situations yourself where this happens, I'm sure.  Someone just steps up and makes a proposal, and if everyone else follows you quickly become a team with a common purpose.

What happened next I did see - row members who had the card of the right color would hold it up and waggle it to people around in other rows.  "I need blue", this meant.  Blue was sent that way.  People couldn't walk around (some did, but they weren't supposed to), so the blue cards had to make their way to the rows where they were needed through a series of small, local interactions.  As he pointed out in the wrap-up after the game concluded, since people couldn't move around, all the interactions were restricted to about eight people sitting right around each person, in a room with something like 2000 people in it.

The cards got sorted in an amazingly short amount of time, I think it was just over two minutes.  Seth himself looked amazed - he said he'd never tried the game before, and had tested it only with about 25 people.  But it demonstrated the point he was trying to make - he could have given elaborate instructions from the stage, saying, "Okay, Row 1, you're blue, and Row 2, you're going to be orange," and so on.  But by not doing that, by letting the room organize themselves, the whole thing got done many, many times quicker.

So what makes me continue to think of this experiment is the question, what does it take for groups to cooperate and self-organize like this, to act in harmony and also to achieve this kind of efficiency?  They needed an overall group objective, which he supplied.  They needed some rules - some of the rules were constraints to make the game harder and show how cool it all was, but some were guidelines that helped constrain and guide group behavior. 

Did they need a ruler?  That's the question I'm left with.  They had one in Seth, because he laid out the rules of the game itself and gave them their common objective.  They didn't have any preordained within the rows.  But probably some leaders naturally emerged, as in picking colors that their rows would be.  They didn't have anyone pre-mapping out the process how they were to get to the goal, they were free to improvise and sort of figure out the trading process as they went along.  Since it was a big crowd of people who had all probably had many years of schooling and all naturally fell into the pattern of obedience from an educator figure speaking from the front of the room, they didn't need enforcers to bring people who were breaking the rules back into line, or a system of punishments or banishment.  So is this all you need?  Or were the experiment and the crowd it was done in so artificial that you can't draw general conclusions?  Did the crowd bring in with them all the obedience and cooperation strategies and social hierarchies and etc. that made it work?

I'm almost worried that I'm thinking about these questions, because I know I'm right away going to get into some arguments with Political Science majors and macro-economists and other people I know, and my ignorance of the literature and major schools of thought in this area are going to be a problem very quickly.  But I'm thinking that social media management is management of big groups of people just like people have been trying to do throughout history, so it's worth it to see what smart people have had to say about it before.

Many more examples to consider, as well - Egypt, Madison, Japan, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911.  Stay tuned, I'm sure I will have more to say soon.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Derelict Buildings and Benevolent Dictatorship

I was talking about the previous post to my guitar teacher, and we got into a conversation that ultimately was about whether people, when left to their own devices, are fundamentally good or fundamentally bad.  It was a revival of a theme I first ran across in Intro to Western Civilization the first year of college, basically Rousseau vs. Hobbes.

I was talking about dealing with troublemakers in online communities, and my guitar teacher knows a bit about this because he was manager of the forum for his band on their website for some years.  I contended that it was possible that troublemakers could be reformed, from the equivalent of office hours where they could talk and be listened to.  He contended that any online community would always have a destructive element, that any group left alone will deteriorate and start to post angry, stupid hateful posts.  His examples were some of the things that have popped up since the earthquake in Japan, which I won't quote here because the points of view are so abominable but harked back to WW2 and various old grudges.  I mentioned 4chan (content warning, caution before you click through) as an example, which does, yes, have some abominable content, but it hasn't been destroyed, and in fact has produced some valuable memes and content, at least for comedic value.  Would it be because it's so big, because it doesn't have an archive?  He still wasn't having it.  Groups of people, when left by themselves in anarchy, end up being destructive haters.

Well, yes, actually I agreed with that.  Which is why you need a manager of an online community, to set the tone and model the desired behavior and enforce guidelines.  Aha!  He thought he had me.  So people can be made to behave online when there's someone in charge, when there is someone there to enforce rules.  But that's not anarchy.  No, I agreed, that's a benevolent dictatorship.  I have always found myself in this kind of conversation defending paternalistic systems of rules.  I guess I have an overall schoolmarmish perspective on controlling and leading groups of people.  But if that person can take charge, then people can display their best selves, and the community won't necessarily succumb to haters and be destroyed.

Somewhere in there I made an analogy to derelict buildings.  Sure, they get their windows broken and graffiti if no one is looking after them, but if someone is looking after them and goes and fixes the window and removes the graffiti, then the vandalism stops.  Aha, he said again.  So, that's not anarchy.  No.  But I glanced out the window at the main street of the town where I live, with some of the lowest crime rates in the entire country.  No, it's not anarchy, but it works.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are Internet Relationships Real?

Doing what I do for a living, I frequently get into that argument about whether Facebook is good for you, or if it's destroying society and ruining our youth.

A few weeks ago at a work lunch, when I was seated beside a co-worker I hadn't met before, I found myself in the argument once again, and this time I decided to deploy a trick I learned when I was a young philosopher of saying straight out, "I disagree with you."  But in hearing her side of the argument I realized that she was coming to it with a completely different set of priorities from mine.  In talking to her, I realized that for her, for something to be real it had to be physical.  She was worried about her kids spending too much time online because things didn't count as real for her unless they involved moving one's body around outside.  Sports, active pursuits like biking or going on long hikes, those counted as real, and those were what she wished her children were spending more time doing.

I argued the other side at that lunch, that internet relationships are perfectly real and not isolating at all, because you are conversing and forming relationships with actual human beings.  Once I realized her privileging of the physical, though, I realized how strange this must sound to her, since I have an equally biased privileging of the verbal.  I think it's true of me that for me, the only relationships that count as real are those where thoughts and ideas are exchanged in words.  (Hello there, by the way.)  Social media is built almost entirely on verbal interations, so for me its as real as real can get.  Whereas for her, because it doesn't involve bodies moving around, that claim sounds preposterous.

A few weeks after the lunch debate I attended a big social media conference, and found my bias at play again.  For one of the first times, I decided to install Tweet Deck on my phone, follow the hash tags for sessions I attended while they were going on, and tweet out my own summaries and perspectives on the meeting.  In addition to sessions with speakers and panel discussions, this conference also had lots of industry parties, paid for by different companies and usually held in some bar with some loud band.  Although I probably should have taken advantage of the networking opportunity, and although I'm sure I ended up missing some pretty good bands, I decided not to go to any parties, but just go home and catch up on the online discussions that continued each night.  The one party I looked into, I didn't stay long, it was just a bunch of people with matching lanyards standing around in an upstairs bar, and I couldn't work out what one was supposed to do there - there was no host apparent, no one making introductions or helping establish connections, nothing in particular to spark conversation.  So I went home and hung out with the people inside my phone.  For me, since I don't privilege the physical, just standing in the same building with a bunch of people didn't count as being together with them at all, if we weren't exchanging any words.  I wonder what my work colleague would have thought about it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dealing With Troublemakers

Last week when I was at South by Southwest Interactive, one morning I had got up late and only just made it to the first session of the day, so I hadn't had any breakfast.  I was waiting in a longish line at the coffee shop at the Hyatt for a proper coffee and a bran muffin, so I took the opportunity to check my work email on my work iPhone, and since it took a while to load because the tens and thousands of internet hipsters were all flogging the SXSW wireless so heavily, I checked my home email in the iPhone in my other hand.

"Two phones!" I heard from behind me.  I gestured with my left hand, "work", and right hand "home", and muttered a promise to converge them one day, but actually I think the person behind me had just used the observation to start a conversation.  Turns out he was a journalist, scheduled for a panel the next day on something about mobile, I didn't actually catch what it was and didn't end up going.  But like any talented journalist, by the time I was at the end of the line and paying the cashier, he had asked me enough through-provoking questions that we were having a really interesting conversation about the industry.

He got to it by asking what I did, what that entailed, what I did every day, and I mentioned our new social media policy which had only just launched earlier that week.  He asked about the type of posts that we had to include in our moderation guidelines, which got us onto the topic of trolls and haters.

He then asked a really interesting question I'd never thought about before:  Of the people who cause trouble in online communities, what percentage of them will come around and rein in their behavior if the community starts to react to them, and what percentage don't respond and you just have to ban them?

I hadn't ever thought about before, but thought back to incidents on forums that I've managed and participated in over the years, and "Actually, more of them don't change, and you just have to ban them."  He was surprised at this, but I followed up and had one of those experiences where you find yourself having an insight just fall out of your mouth while you're speaking: "It's just like troublemakers in class when I was teaching.  If shame was going to work on them, it already would have."

Again like a good journalist, he expressed amazement at this insight and said that all community managers should spend some time as teachers.  We were all paid up at this point so we went our separate ways, but I kept thinking about the exchange.  Because one difference between teaching and online community management is that for the troublemakers in class, the best way to manage them was something I learned from Professor Emeritus Hazel Barnes, who was still teaching at U. of Colorado - Boulder when I went there.  I remember a departmental gathering where she was holding forth, dressed in her signature one-piece purple jumpsuit with stitched-on metal belt detail (she was well into her 70's at this point and clearly hadn't bought any new clothes in 20 years, because maybe when you hit a certain age, you think, why bother?), and she was sharing wisdom gained over a lifetime of teaching mouthy and opinionated Philosophy students.  The best defense, she said, was to invite disruptive students in to office hours and just let them talk, until they were done.  It might take hours, but they always had things to say and wanted to get them out.  And once they did, she found they didn't take up class time in the same way.  I did use this same technique to good effect during my lecturing days.

So reflecting on it made me think, we really don't do this with haters in online communities.  We just ban them.  And the social media best practices literature is full of examples when banned people just go off and start their own blog, and sometimes the problem escalates into a PR crisis (I went to several sessions on just this topic later in the conference).

But what if that's the wrong approach?  What if the better way to deal with online haters is to invite them to some virtual version of office hours, and let them blather on and say what they have to say?  Would that actually contain problem conversations more effectively?  Would that opportunity to speak and be listened to neutralize online community troublemakers, in a way that banning does not?  Who will be the community manager to test this, and get back to us?  Because I'd love it if it were true, that haters could actually be reformed through openness and listening and generosity.  Some won't ever reform, it's true, and that's why you have Campus Security.  But I wonder if this technique that works with university teachers would work online as well?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

At South By Southwest Interactive. This morning I tried to attend a session on measuring the ROI of social media programs, which would be very relevant to one of my big objectives at the moment at work, but I got there eight minutes late and it was in a one-out-one-in situation, so I stepped next door and ended up in a session called "Does The Internet Make You Happy?", which was all about forming communities and genuine human connections and sharing love, and was great. Next I took the shuttle to catch another session, also about social media measurement and ROI, and found out I was at the wrong building and that talk was completely across town, like 45 minutes away, so I wound up in a session called "Dreams Into Action". I can only conclude that the universe is trying to tell me something.