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What a social scientiest learns about your business from social media

Listen, I'm just a farmer from Iowa - I don't want your discount ticket to see "Mama Mia!" on Broadway..This week, Clay Shirky went over the precepts and misunderstandings about social media and was suly covered by The Economist.  The principles of social media are now so well known that they will probably be a mandatory undergraduate essay soon!

I started to summarize what The Economist said Clay Shirky said (!) and found myself mashing and extending.  Very quickly, I’d move to what sophisticated social media users are doing and what social media coaches do to help people use social media better.

Following below are

  • The three misunderstandings of social media listed by The Economist, mashed up, followed by three questions we like to ask

Then I’ve rewritten the ideas as

  • Three questions I would ask you if I were helping you with your social media.

This is a first draft.  If you have any comments, I would like to hear them.

Point 1: Social media is not part of the information age!

As poet David Whyte says, “This is not the age of information . .  . this is the time of loaves and fishes. People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand.”

Social media is not a call center where we ‘push’ a script, or, try to ‘steal’ information from unwitting customers.

Social media is a conversation.  We join in, in the way of all conversations, adding, extending, asking questions, never knowing where our exchange is going and preferring – all the while – not to know because surprise is delight, and delight brings us all back again!

We might eavesdrop, of course.  We can also try to dominate the conversation.  But we also have the opportunity to join the conversation, wherever it is and wherever it takes us!

  • Where is the conversation?
  • Who is coming and who is going?
  • What are they talking about and how does the conversation change as people come and go?

Point 2: Social media is not technology!

The road, the telegraph, the penny post, the telephone, the radio, the television – communication became safe, fast, cheap, shared, visual.  The intrepid, the adventurous, the business-like, the sociable, the opinionated, the entertaining– one by one, we all benefited.

The internet is one more step along this road of inclusion.  But it is different from earlier technologies in one important respect.  It self-heals. Take any one of us away, and the conversation closes over as if we were never there in the first place  The internet searches, and continues searching, until it finds the conversation it needs.

We often treat the conversations as static and fixed.  This is misdirected because it is the morph that is really interesting. What is the conversation now?  What is the conversation in a few moments?  What will the conversation be in a few moments?

Which morphs are interesting?   And what causes them?

  • How are people connected to each other?
  • What are the unspoken rules of their interaction?
  • Which external cues influence their conversation?

Point 3: Social media is not research!

Social media is, well, social, and sociable.  We are part of the conversation, and while we are in the midst of one conversation, we are taking part in others too.  We are talk to a lot of people at the same time.  We have multiple identities and many goals, all of which are important to us.

To the left, to the right, above and below, there are other conversations.  We can look only at one conversation at a time, but the edges ring the changes.

  • What other conversations are happening around our people?
  • When do these conversations command attention?
  • What morphing takes place as the edge becomes more interesting?

Social media and you

If we were working together, this is what I would want to know and the questions I would be asking

I want to know which conversations interest you

You might already be very clear about the conversations that matter to you.  And you might be central to the conversations that matter.

Social media boosts our sociology and anthropology.   Computers mean data.  Data means analysis.  Analysis means insight.

I would ask: Do our social media numbers tell us anything more about the conversation; who is part of it: and how participants come and go?

  • What do we already know and who is the curator of our knowledge?
  • What social media numbers are easily available?
  • What do our social media numbers tell us, over and above, what we knew already?

I want to know who influences the players in your industry

Who studies the players in your industry?  Do w know?  Have their been any studies on your social networks?  Or, any wider anthropological or sociological studies about who are the players and how they act together?  Do we understand how players relate to each other (or not)?  Do  we understand the external cues and events that attract their attention?  Do we have any hunches or naive theories?

  • What morphs have caught our eye and ask for explanation?
  • What information do we have about the player and what can we find easily?
  • What insights can we generate with quick and simple studies?

I want to know who influences players in your industry

It’s very likely that you already know who influences the people you work with.  They are also very sensitive whom you talk to when you are not with them.

  • What other conversations are the players having?
  • What do we know about those conversations?
  • How do changes in those conversations ripple through ours?

These are the questions I would ask you when we sit down to talk about you and your social media.

  • What conversations are happening?
  • How to the conversations change and why?
  • How are the conversations affected by other conversations?

Seemingly esoteric, I know, but these three core issues are not new.  Social media just makes it possible, practical and urgent to track them and position your business accordingly!

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