Quality over quantity, experience over vision

Theoretical knowledge still largely dominates strategic thinking about the social web over practical experience, which has resulted in succession and long term planning issues as business use matures
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor


 In the continuous cultural evolution and mutation our ever more connected digital world goes through, a key reality check is how experiential technologies prove to be. To put it another way, in essence everything effective post dot com web 1.0 has become increasingly connected, hands on and interactive, using interactive digital tools to achieve specific goals.

A technology, app or business practice may look useful in theory, and intellectually we think we understand how and why they may be useful…but unless we actually experience their value and use them over time so they become part of our everyday way of doing things, awareness that the technology, app or business practice exists means very little.

This may seem blindingly obvious, but the reality is most individuals, and especially groups of people, will use tried and trusted ways of doing things when the going gets tough. 

We're at an interesting saturation point with social technologiy use models right now. Millions of people understand how to regularly publish on the web from a dizzying array of devices, and any sense of newness is long gone.

However despite this millions more understand in theory what 'social' is but don't actually participate, except very superficially. I favorite economist knocking quote/joke as an analogy: An "economist" is someone who knows a hundred ways to make love, but doesn't know any women/men'. The same thing is true for the practical social business experience of many online, particularly when you get beyond  individual use of social networks - lots of research into what other people are doing to organize collectively, reading books (often written by people with little practical experience themselves), when all it really takes is diving in and thinking through some practical experiences.

 With Facebook having trained people in skimming and grazing to see what other people and their interest groups are posting, many are now skilled in broadcasting a social life front as their ideal digital alter ego for themselves and their loved ones. These posturing use patterns can be hard to shift as Facebook hits late middle age across all its posting age groups. 

At the other extreme the hands-on digital world is the essence of Twitter and epitomizes individual users experiential world. The huge Twitter social graph some individuals can quickly spin up around themselves are motivated by individual goals, and require constant care, feeding and interactions to evolve and blossom. Building 'personal brands' has much more in common with public relations strategies to amplify, broadcast, connect and sell to others than it does with demonstrating competency in what the Tweeter is positioning themselves as being an expert in. Much Twitter activity seems to be 'digital magpie' behavior - scouring the digital universe to find fresh information and republish for personal credibility gains, and even publishing books about other people's experiences and ideas. Fresh, original thinking is pretty thin on the ground these days because people are more aware to keep the good stuff private.

What was once crowd sourced for the common 'collective ownership'' good is now being co opted for corporate gain by large companies as the defacto way of creating materials for resale. An example is the Lonely Planet travel publishers, which was purchased by the BBC and has now been sold to new owners. According to UK magazine Private Eye, editorial staff have been fired and new products will rely on crowd sourced content..assuming people continue to share their travel experiences online once they hear about this...

At scale, we're now at a point where internal social networks inside businesses ('social business') have been around long enough to discuss some retrospective historical lessons.

Many of these environments have had a beginning, middle and end, which runs counter to febrile sales rhetoric from software vendors and community manager professional associations of viral adoption and weed like growth.

A typical trajectory is the successful persuasion of a budget holder in a company to finance a collaborative and/or engagement environment for (hopefully) well defined goals - something I've been heavily involved in for several years as a consultant. An appropriate technology environment is installed and the individuals driving the initiative evangelize it and often spread into other areas of the business. Then some of these people change jobs and the original fervor and focus is dissipated. Political rivalries rear their heads and rival environments with different agendas appear, and before long we have an environment with tens of thousands of 'users' (usually thanks to hook ups to systems of record) with little activity going on in them.

The solution to this problem is simple. It's all about succession planning and long term goals for how and why an environment exists. Succession is particularly important in the experiential, hands on social business world, where a human pulse and contact is far more important than the underlying technologies used to enable interactions. Far too many social business environments were set up in an ad hoc way as tentative pilots with part time custodians and concierges in the past, resulting in a gradual lack of focus and vitality which got worse as personnel changed.

Planning enduring use models sounds obvious and simple but it's at the heart of any system of engagement planning, and defining how leadership will evolve and change over time is an essential part of that thinking. Harnessing and extending the ways individuals actually interact in their social universe as the digital world evolves is an important part of this thinking, and as I've mentioned here previously many people like to be explicitly told how and why they should interact professionally, because their paycheck depends on it...


Editorial standards