Hat-tip for the picture of Kariba Dam wall: acidwashtofu on Flickr
Metrics, marriages & dams
We had a good session on metrics at Bucks08 Social Media Camp at the weekend, and no sooner than we had got home, Dan Thornton, a community marketing manager with Bauer, and Paul Imre, a web specialist from High Wycombe, had translated our discussions into models.
Dan used the parallel of a marriage, to ask how well our social media functions. Paul asked about how much we should invest in social media. He followed up Toby Moores of Sleepy Dog, who had commented that social media was essential infrastructure, much as electricity in our office – essential and not debatable.
- Does social media increase our collective potential to act?
- Can we estimate in advance how much we will increase in our capacity to act collectively?
- And, consequently, can we judge how much to invest in social media?
He used the metaphor of a dam to capture these ideas.
Collective potential and the amplification factor
As luck would have it, there was a lull in the American elections this week, and several articles on how the Barack Obama campaign used social media.
Look at this profile. One of the factors prompting Barack Obama to run for President was that supporters, not his official campaign, his supporters set up a campaign in My Space with 160K members.
Obama expects ultimately to raise USD1bn online. As online donations tend to be around 10 dollars a pop, there is, by my calculations, an amplification factor of 650.
I like this example because it provides a working example for Paul’s metaphor of a dam. The My Space campaign captures and concentrated the energy of 160K supporters. That reservoir helped provide the energy or impetus for a ‘real-life’ action – Obama throws his hat into the ring.
Obama’s campaign is using social media formally. He has a media strategy and staff. Certainly, his use of social media has helped his campaign. It is nice to go to You Tube and pick up his latest speech when I want to.
But I doubt that social media has had a large impact on his campaign. His campaign is still led by ideas, policy, rallies, phone calls, etc. etc. What social media has allowed, are additional forms of communication and additional forms of donation. If it is easy to donate USD10 or 5 pounds, you are more likely to do it.
The amplification effect is reciprocal. The social media concentrates loyalty. Loyalty affects the leader. The leader amplifies loyalty. And we see the effect in the social media.
When it comes to investment, these figures illustrate the size of things. If I suspect I can swell my audience from 160K to 100 million, with the corresponding increase in revenue (4 times I believe the last record), then investing in the infrastructure is worth it. It would be nice to know the cents spent on social media per vote. I suspect the money spent on social media is trivial compared to the money spent on conventional advertising, air travel, etc.
A quiver full of questions
I like any idea with heuristic value and the dam metaphor prompts several questions and rules-of-thumb.
1 Community first
We don’t locate a dam anywhere. We need a catchment area where rain falls, dribbles into rivers which flow into a wider river which flows onwards to the sea where we can no longer use it for drinking, etc.
In social media, we need to understand our community and where they hang out in the social media – Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on.
2. We add a new marker for our community
We don’t build the dam wall anywhere. We must capture the water. With a dam, we build the wall in a narrow place with a natural basin behind it to store the water.
The same principle applies in social media. in LinkedIn, asking a question temporarily captures interest. I understand Second Life works around events. We need to understand the topography of the medium to know how to cocoon our community.
3. Engineer in context
We don’t build the dam wall anyhow. The wall must be an effective piece of engineering and it must work in situ.
Most writing about social media is about the engineering. Less is written about engineering in context. We need to know about the context too.
4 Be very, very responsive
We need to maintain the wall. I know that Kariba, the second highest dam in the wall, is constantly maintained by divers who swim with giant crocodiles (trolls?)
We know that we must be very responsive and very honest in our dealings with online communities. We are likely to learn more.
5 Why are we getting together online?
And we need a reason for the dam. We build dam walls to provide us with hydroelectric power, water and irrigation.
We need to know why we are building the ‘container’ of interest in the media space. What is it that many of us can do together that we cannot do alone? Do we understand the power of community in the context of our business? I would begin by asking business clients about their community and how they relate to it.
6. Where does our business stop and where does our community begin?
We need to understand that we are changing the patterns of interaction. With real dams, water upstream and downstream is owned and used. When we build a dam we have to negotiate water rights far afield and it is very likely that our interaction shifts a level from the individual to the collective. We might even shift from the private to the public domain.
I ‘hear’ this as being the biggest mental shift for business people. In ‘dirt-space’, usually a strong community leader emerges who talks about the possibilities of things like dams and mobilizes people to imagine the possibilities.
7 Lest we forget
Some people lose out altogether. When we build a dam, we flood peoples land.
Who will lose out and what do we intend to do about it?
Dams also change the pattern of use. If you search for Kariba on Flickr, most pictures are about recreation and tourism. There are very few pictures about hydroelectric power or the people who live alongside the lake.
Every action has a reaction, and a heap of side effects!
9 What is the multiplier effect?
And ultimately, can we imagine the impact of our dam? When we understand electricity, we can imagine the benefit of a national grid – or can we? Massive amounts of reliable electricity transform the potential of the economy. We aren’t talking about more of the same. We are talking about infrastructure that liberates us from drudgery, from limiting our work to daylight hours, from winding up our USD100 laptop, from lugging paraffin to power the fridge for our medicines. If your business is based upon that drudgery, you may not be happy to see electricity on tap, or on switch, rather.
This appears to be the second place where we stumble. I would look for the opportunity precisely at the point we say “I’m alright Jack”.
And is I suspect that ultimately, we are going to have to walk-the-talk. Like Obama, we are going to have to throw our hat into the ring and prove the point. And to do that takes confidence in yourself, your community and a critical mass of believers (or hopefuls – sorry!).
Next social media unconference
If you are interested in social media, the next unconference is in London on July 5.
Sign up social media style on the wiki. It’s free. And present if you would like to.