‘Social Media’ IS NOT Media, ‘Social Media’ is Social.

Posted: February 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Social Media Wordcloud

Every time I read or hear someone use the term ‘Social Media’ I shudder. That’s because nine times out of ten the term is used for instructing how to Use social media, with little attention paid to what actually Is social media.

A Google search for the term ‘Social Media’ quickly provided a whole slew of article titles I abhor:

“Top 20 social media monitoring vendors for business”

“7 tools to monitor your competitors’ traffic”

“10 ways to measure social media for business”

“14 strategies to grow your blog’s audience”

“Losing Control and More: 5 Fears Of Social Media”

“Hidden Social Media ”Gems”: Three Useful Twitter Case Studies”

“Get to Know Your Customers Through Social Media—It’s as Simple as a Digital Handshake”

“Five Things Most Social Media Marketers Forget (and Shouldn’t!)”

“Top-Level Metrics Are Just Candy for the Boss”

“How Blogs Are More Useful Than Email Newsletters”

“15 Tips to Increase Twitter Followers for your Local Business”

“10 Reasons Your Facebook Page Is Not Taking Off”

I’m sure we have all either written, read, or re-tweeted an article like these at one time or another. My grievance isn’t that discussing how to use social media is wrong or somehow false, but the over abundance of these articles shows that the social media professional community assumes social media is static and just needs to be properly optimized. The misconception comes from an error in focus.

People approach Social Media as Media, instead approach it as a way to understand the nature of Social.

Social Media is an evolving, perpetually changing thing. Not simply because technology continues to get better and enables new capabilities, but because the way people interact and the meanings of each ritual & action continues to be interpreted and reinterpreted by different peoples, different groups, and different regions, creating new opportunities and insights about how digital technology can add value to their lives.

Social Media Cluttersource

Even if social media marketers and professionals don”t get this, social media developers certainly do. Take Facebook as case in point. Its rise to success wasn’t from any breakthrough technology. It was successful because it chose a highly influential and underserved market (Ivy-League students) and created a service based on deep understanding of the social dynamics, social needs, and social capital most prized by that target group. (It also didn’t hurt that the founders of Facebook were at the time Ivy League students themselves, so they were intimately immersed and versed in the micro-social nuances of that community.) You have all heard of Mark Zuckerberg, but how many of you have heard of Chris Hughes? Chris is one of the co-founders of Facebook. And do you know what his job was at Facebook? As described in a Fast Company cover story about Chris Hughes:

“…unlike Zuckerberg and dorm mate and cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, he didn”t write software code and didn”t want to. Instead, he tried to figure out ways that people would want to connect with one another and share stuff more easily. (His nickname among Facebook insiders is “the Empath.”) Hughes began to make product suggestions, “screwing around with the site,” as he puts it. When they decided to open Facebook to students outside of Harvard, he argued that different schools should have their own networks, to help maintain the site”s feeling of safety and intimacy. He became the official Facebook explainer: part anthropologist, part customer-service rep, part media spokesperson.”

The co-founders of Facebook are more anthropologists and sociologists than they are developers.

Twitter is another great example. The three co-founders, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams created Twitter in a matter of a couple weeks as a ‘side project’ while they were all working for a podcasting company back in 2006. The code I’m sure wasn’t rocket science. And yet some people call them ‘lucky’. It wasn’t luck. It was the fact that the founders were probing the nature of how people interact online, and saw an emerging social need that had to be filled. And they filled it.

Social Media Snoopysource

This brings us back to social media marketers and professionals. If they could just shift their focus from social media as media to social media as social, they’d be in a better position to create real value for clients. Today’s social media practitioner is occupied with learning these platforms to build clicks, impressions, likes, followers, re-tweets, comments, etc. The problem is 1) these easy-to-count, hard metrics have never fully answered the client’s deeper needs of branding and cultural relevance with the end user and 2) even before the practitioner has successfully learned how to utilize the platforms competently, newer social media platforms, based on new social interactions change the game yet again.

In this fashion, the social media practitioner is constantly playing catch-up, and never fully delivering on the client’s key needs.

Start with the end in mind. Seek to understand what is the user’s social need that is being met with this new social media platform. How does your company, brand, product, engagement, elevate this social nuance? Perhaps instead of thinking, “We need to have a presence in all social media platforms” you should instead ask, “Which kinds of social pain-points does my company, brand, product, engagement, alleviate?” then, “Which platforms have mechanisms that successfully treat that social pain-point?” and then, “How can my company, brand, product, engagement best work with that platform to provide a new value-added mechanism?”

Its even better if there is no current mechanism existing to solve the social pain-point you’ve discovered. That means you can create a whole new platform (or partner with an existing platform to develop) and offer totally new value, to the user and to your client.

Social media professionals need to be experts on social, not experts on media. They need to take the lead and understand why the user is really using that platform. They need to clearly understand why they’ve chosen to engage the user in that particular way. And then they need to elevate that engagement and show users that social media professionals can truly add value to the user’s experience. Marketers need to stop asking, “What kind of interaction is available?” and instead start asking, “What kind of interaction is sustainably beneficial?”

I truly hope one day soon when we use the term ‘social media’ we will be referring to the social meanings being created and enhanced by digital, instead of as a tool and channel to further our communications campaigns.


Microsoft, Google, Apple Part 2: The Question of Screensize.

Posted: January 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

In the last post, Part I, the idea of digital ecosystems was explored with a closing question about where we are headed with these three ever-growing empires.

I believe the answer lies in analyzing the issue of screensize.

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In the past year and particularly during the last few months, there has been great attention spent on Netbooks.  This new sub-category of computing devices fills the gap inbetween the cellular phone and the laptop.  Being larger than a cellphone with a fully functional keyboard, it allows a user experience much nearer to the laptop.  However being on average 50% – 75% smaller than a standard laptop means it offers even more mobility and is a better fit for those that demand constant computing capabilities that can keep up with their active lifestyles.

Indeed, some have begun to openly wonder whether the Netbook will eventually replace the Laptop.  The reason for the rise of the netbook now can be attributed to two primary developments: 1) Better microprocessors made specifically for mobile computing and 2) The coming of age for Solid State Memory.  With microprocessors such as Intel’s Atom, the priority is continued reduction in size, while maximizing energy efficiency while still offering a competent processing speed. The major reason for the viability of the Netbook is the rapid price reductions of Solid State Memory.  It has been falling in dollars/GB for several years now, but in the past 2 years has only just begun to break the thresholds of being affordable enough to be used in mass commercial products.  Apple’s MacBook Air was one of the first major mainstream computer products to set a vision for what SSDs can do, even if the price tag was (and still is) reserved for the rich and famous.  Netbooks are only the next iteration of SSD usage in mass computing.  While still more expensive than original Hard Disk Drives, SSD are far more durable to drops, extreme temperature, make no sound, and are more lightweight and compact.  A perfect combination for mobile computing.

The netbooks also have a much lower price tag than laptops and desktops too.  The reason is not because its significantly slower than the other two computing options, but because it has less memory capacity.  There are two drives for having less memory: 1) To lower price of the product to an attractive level that will make it a competing alternative to the laptop and 2) Because people are increasingly needing less and less memory on their computing devices.  Price is obvious, but people using less memory may be intriguing to some.

With Facebook, YouTube, Google Docs, iWork.com, Picasa, Flickr, LastFM and SalesForce.com to name a few, it is plain to see that storing things online is becoming the norm and not an anomaly.  When a person finds that their life is increasingly online and all their content is stored online, the computing device’s priorities shift to processing speed and connectivity.  In-device memory merely facilitates the uploading of information onto the net.

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With this in mind, and the commercial success of the netbook this year, it isn’t surprising to see Apple planning a large, 7 – 9 inch screen iPod touch.  And there you have it. The emergence of the mini tablet PC.  Each new generation of computer strives to be lighter, faster, more connectivity, thinner, convenient, and offers a superior user interface more efficiently translate your requests.

Essentially, the computer will evolve into a simple, light-weight access panel to the internet with primarily upload capabilities.

We’re already starting to see it happen with iPhone/iPod Touch, the mini tablet PC, the regular tablet PC, the new iMacs that have done away with computer towers, and large LCD and Plasma flat-screen TVs.

As more and more functionality and our lives moves online, the need for varied formats of the computer will decrease.  Eventually the only choice consumers will have to make is what size screen they’ll like.

It is a question of screensize.

Large screens for home, mid-sized screens for mobile work and when carrying a bag, small screens for ultra mobility when carrying a bag is not desired.

Going back to the three present digital ecosystems being offered by Microsoft, Google and Apple, which one will prevail if computers evolve the way its been described above? Microsoft’s present business model of selling installation-based software isn’t going to be compatible with an online, browser-based world that is more concerned with upload than download.  Google’s model of offering completely free access to its online products and charging advertisers for revenue seems to fit better with a world with thinner, lightweight computers.  We just witnessed an extraordinary event where two developers grafted Google’s Android platform onto one of the new Netbooks.  This could be the first steps of many Google may take in securing its leadership in the next generation of computers.  Apple’s closed-system software-hardware bundle still has a fair chance of succeeding if Apple can guarantee it continues to introduce the next must-have computing device that takes everyone one step closer to a thinner, more light-weight computing world.  I hear iWork.com, Apple’s answer to Google Docs will be subscription-based.  If Apple can keep its momentum it just might be able to lure enough people and lock them into Apple’s ecosystem to charge them all subscription fees.

It seems that if computers continue to get thinner and lighter, then for the longevity of this development (say the next 5-10 years), Google and Apple have very bright futures while Microsoft has a tough battle ahead.

But if we review the question of screensize again, an astute entrepreneur may take the idea of screensize one step further and ask: “why would we need to continue requiring consumers to carry a screen with them wherever they go? Why can’t we provide screens for them wherever they are. so they don’t have to carry screens anymore?”

Then the question no longer is about screensize, but about moving screens from 2D to 3D.  Enter surface computing.  All the surfaces, wherever you are, are screens for you to access your information, upload your information, and communicate.  The tables, walls, clothes, all surfaces will become computing access points for the digital ecosystem.

minority-reportIf thinner, more lightweight 2D computers/screens is the 5-10 year mid-term horizon, then surface computing is the 15-20 year long-term horizon.

And guess who’s been leading the way for surface computing?  Bill Gates and Microsoft.

See a video demo of Microsoft’s Surface Computing


Kev’s Thoughts On… Business Model Evolutions for the Ever-Changing Web Landscape

Posted: February 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

As I dwell more on Web 2.0 and the numerous ways companies like Facebook, Google and News Corp try to monetize users’ actions on the internet, a recurring analogy keeps coming to my mind, one that gives me a real-world perspective and helps me better understand what is going on in the online landscape.
The Internet, in essence, is another dimension of real estate and the international property market.
There are many others who have described the same similarity, so it is nothing original, but I find it important in helping me think about the next directions Web 2.0 is going. Please excuse the crude simplicity of the analogy and my layman’s knowledge of the industry as I try to make my points.

A quick recap of the Web 1.0 world finds that the era was littered with Portals, Store-fronts, Exchanges and Personal pages. Portals like ol’ AOL are like universities requiring tuition or special paid-admission malls. A one-stop-shop for information, purchases and even socializing. This is the classic fee-based or subscription-based business model.
Store-fronts like Amazon, and Victoria Secret are similar to the real-world Wal-Mart; massive business vendors that see millions of customers walk through its doors everyday. Exchanges like Ebay can easily be compared to the NYSE. Both of these kinds of properties are transaction-based, whether it is real goods and services or information. This business model subsequently is still successful today.
The personal pages or simple business marketing websites that exist on the Internet are like mom & pop stores, or residential homes. More often than not, they are built out of necessity or social fascination, often not having a business-model in mind and usually do not make enough income to even pay for itself. There is nothing wrong with not having a business model, as many people start pages for social reasons. I just had to include it as an observation of another type of online property.

So in the Web 1.0 world we see littered around a handful of paid-admission malls, universities, Wal-Mart-like vendors, NYSE-like exchanges, mom & pop stores and residential homes.

I should add that Search-Engines also emerged during this time, and with the help of its poster-child, Google, propelled the Ad-Supported business model to preeminence. However, Search-Engines are merely another type of property as well, more like a very important highway that is surrounded by billboards.

Ads have since moved from static banner ads to relevant text-based click ads, and now experimenting with contextualized interactive video ads.

Now that we are in the Web 2.0 world, where user-generated content is all the rage, how have online ‘properties’ transformed? The new web stars such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and LinkedIn are much more like cities. These are properties that are built on the social community, the collective power of the many, and develop their own unique character and charm depending on their constituents. This is a far cry from malls, vendors and exchanges of the last era. Unlike a Wal-Mart or NYSE where visitors are attracted by the architecture and goods offered by the creator of the property, the cities of Web 2.0 attract inhabitants because of the organic ability to develop niches and community ‘flavors’. Think New York City’s SOHO or Tokyo’s Harajuku.

These online cities have begun to build their business model around what has worked best in the past, namely the Search Engine’s success with Ad-Supported revenue. The online ‘NYC’ helps pay for itself by having billboards in Times Square and the online ‘Tokyo’ has expensive advertising properties in Shibuya. So now Web 2.0 cities like Facebook and MySpace can breathe easy because it can monetize itself by placing user-specific, targeted ads in and around its site for the numerous citizens inhabiting their property.

It seems quite fine and dandy. So isn’t it a smart move to invest in building a massive social community since you know with those numbers you’ll be able to profit off the advertising revenues?
It may be, but it will cost you first. Online cities are just every-bit as much of an investment as building a real city. Just replace the construction cranes, zoning rights and subway systems with software developers, servers and bandwidth costs.
Even after all of that expenditure (in the Web 2.0 world most likely spent with VC money), it may all still be worthwhile if you’re sure you will be the next, say, Facebook.

Here lies the problem: Online properties are extremely transient.

In New York, Tokyo or anywhere else in the real world, inhabitants must either buy or rent property, and usually the payment for only one property is all anyone can afford. Not so online. A netizen who has been around long enough likely has a space in several social network properties simply because it is free to sign up and maintain. Those that love the online equivalent of NYC’s Upper East Side and Tokyo’s Akihabara can online, actually have a place in both communities, and another place in Shanghai, Dubai, London and Moscow for that matter. It’s almost like the ‘golden horde’ effect, coined by Thomas Friedman as he described the movement of global investment capital flows. Like so, netizens will quickly migrate to the next new and coolest community, because the financial costs are nil and the social drivers are everything. And while maintaining a space is free on most online properties, value is not derived by how many open accounts a Facebook or a MySpace has. A site’s value is instead derived from the share size it can grab of the only thing that is finite to a user: her time.
Can you imagine if one year Disney World was full during the summer vacation season, but the summer after it was completely deserted because everyone went to the new Universal Studios that opened across the street? Or going back to our analogy of NYC, if in the course of a few years all its millions of inhabitants migrated to San Francisco just because it became more interesting?
Online properties are extremely transient. It wasn’t so long ago that Friendster was the place to be, or Xanga. And for those that can remember just a few years earlier, Asian Avenue or Black Planet?
Suddenly the Facebook or MySpace or YouTube doesn’t seem like such valuable property anymore. The only reason why the real Times Square is one of the most expensive properties in the world is because people can guarantee it will be trafficked by millions day-in and day-out for many years to come. Even Google, arguably the most trafficked and valuable property online does not have the same level of entrenchment and therefore cannot stay still. Google’s value will immediately diminish if it misses the next revolution in search or even lets another start-up be the first in the arena. And that is a real possibility. Just look at Yahoo or MSN not even ten years ago. Whether its Semantic Web or something else, all the online properties in the Web 2.0 world must find ways of keeping user traffic in their sites. Only then will the ad-supported business model stay afloat.

Enter Widgets & Apps. Online social communities are continually allowing open APIs for third party developers to create interesting sociable programs for netizens to use within the online properties. These Web 2.0 cities encourage people to build interactive attractions within their property to make it all the more interesting for online inhabitants to stay. In my eyes, Widgets & Apps are like the Starbucks of the real world. People just can’t get enough of it, and there is one on every corner of every block. I believe we are entering an age where the Widget/App will gain more and more importance and influence in the online world. As more and more developers shift from trying to create their own social community to creating the next great App, more interesting, and powerful products will appear.
While this might be good news for online cities, since all of these Apps will exist within their domains and work to keep inhabitants from migrating, there is one fallacy. We have seen and heard of Google’s OpenSocial, an initiative attempting to standardize development protocols so Widget/App developers can easily make their software compatible with any number of participating online communities. The problem for the online cities like MySpace, LinkedIn and Ning is that pretty soon the Apps that are supposed to make their property unique and ‘sticky’ for the inhabitant will be available in every other online city, completely neutralizing any ‘social advantage’ one online property would have over the other. Just like how you can find a Starbucks or McDonalds on almost every corner in New York or Tokyo, so too will emergent App makers like Slide, iLike and Google Maps be found on every single social network in the world.
So while OpenSocial may have an adverse affect for Social Networks, it will at the same time be a catalyst for the App’s continued rise to stardom. These Widgets & Apps are still property mind you, even though they are at present still trying to figure out the right business model. As of now Apps are still compulsively obsessed with the ad-supported business model that both the Social Network and the Search Engine love so much. As a property you can think of ad-support Apps like a Starbucks on every corner giving away free coffee but hoping you’ll buy their recommended CD of the month. Or like McDonalds giving away Happy Meals hoping you’ll buy a toy.

We are now on our third generation of online properties who have survived and succeeded based on an Ad-supported business model. Will it change? Perhaps. But its hard to move an entire industry that are true believers that traffic = ad dollars. Widgets & Apps have a unique opportunity to play with their business models that social networks and search do not: These new programs are transient and user-perpetuated, almost viral in nature. They can go in and out of Social Networks, Blogs, and many other online properties of the both the Web 1.0 and 2.0 eras. And while social networks continue to shift and collide like tectonic plates, jockeying for a bigger piece of the user’s online presence, Apps will be in every one of the properties, becoming increasingly more interactive, and capturing more and more of what’s really important: the user’s attention.

As an entrepreneur what kind of property would you rather create? A New York City, or a Starbucks Corp?