In the previous post in this series the subject of personal crowds was introduced, along with touching on how decisions are made both by individuals and by supposedly authentic online crowds.
The original wisdom of crowds concept specified four key attributes for what could be called wise crowds:
It can be argued that Independence is not possible on most social sharing sites, especially where the interactions are conversational. The independence aspect is lost because people are supposed to look at others’ activities and comment, react, and otherwise collaborate with them. People don’t construct their contributions in isolation.
And Aggregation into a single decision is not always valid for constructing wise book reviews or wikis that reflect all of the crowd. The viewpoint of each contributor cannot easily be aggregated in many cases. The wisest voices may be over-ruled by the noisiest ones or the most popular ones. And the method of aggregation is always controversial – is it authentic? – and subject to manipulation.
Diversity and Decentralization are characteristics of most online crowds. Large social networks are typically diverse, and decentralized.
If we pick the part of the crowd that we hang out with, and seek their slices of wisdom, the diversity element may start to be challenged. And that may be okay, for everything from restaurant reviews to hiring to deciding on activities.
If the tools allow it, our personal crowds will be dynamic, and based on the situation they will provide guidance for us that is smarter and wiser than we are.
But do we always need wisdom? The next post in this series will explore the path from data to wisdom.
Wisdom is defined as knowledge combined with judgement that allows us to choose the option that is best. Certain crowds are said to possess wisdom, and given the proper tools this wisdom can be extracted (or created).
Many people inherently believe and trust that crowds can decide better than individuals: judges’ decisions can be appealed to larger & larger panels of judges, celebrities are ranked by how many people are fans, et cetera.
Yet trying to make crowds decide implies that there is a decision engine that can operate the crowd. And we don’t know individually how we decide. But collectively, the decision engine may be one programmed via software, but operated by human contributors.
We typically – or always – use some emotion in our decisions, and the crowd supposedly doesn’t. Or shouldn’t, perhaps.
We could each make the best decisions for ourselves… if we had more time to focus in depth on all options. But we don’t have time, and the crowd does seem to have time to focus on all options in parallel.
And there are those who want to create the illusion of a crowd decision, but to also influence that decision at the same time.
The future promises that, via social networks, we can have a more focused crowd… our personal crowd. This crowd may not be only people we are friends with, but it will be tuned to us as individuals using a collection of inflences. The promise is that your crowd will help and guide you in ways you can’t or don’t have time to.
Some tools that perform this help are available now, but they’re early-stage compared to what will come later. Yet perhaps these tools will have to work around some issues…
A recent study confirmed what I’ve long thought – and assumed – about participation: there is a vocal minority that drives conversation. If one applies the long-assumed 80-20 rule (Pareto Principle) to online social media, the percentages will vary but the result is similar.
Most people (i.e. the 80%) really don’t participate or contribute much, in areas such as rating or voting. And within the group that does constructively contribute their voice (i.e. to 20%), only a very small percent do the bulk of activity. This collection of hyper-contributers allows a very small group to skew the message of the so-called crowd.
Whether or not future studies validate the reported skewing of the crowd’s wisdom, there also is an issue of how the crowd’s decision engine might be constructed. Search for skin care recomendations online and there are sites that are constructed to show apparent crowd opinions, yet these sites are bogus. They are set up to sell a product, using the appearance of being an unconnected third party.
The authenticitiy of the wisdom of crowds may work at times like statistics… statistics are frequently calculated so that they prove the point that is desired (while obscuring other data that may be contrary to what message is to be communicated).
The writeup continues in the next part which will include a look at the four key attributes of what could be called wise crowds, using what the wisdom of crowds concept specified: Diversity, Independence, Decentralization, and Aggregation. In the meantime, as an overview towards crowd wisdom, the first video below is from PBS NOVA ScienceNOW, and the video farther down is from 2007 and highlights some of the wisdom of crowds concepts:
(This is part one of a longer post that needed to be broken into smaller pieces, and is continued here)
The inspiration for this write-up is the Forer effect, which is the tendency for most people to identify with otherwise-general descriptions that are said to be about them. In other words – if someone says we have various personality traits, we are inclined to believe them if the person says the description is truly about us.
Over 60 years ago, this effect was first verified in an experiment by psychologist Bertram Forer with some students. He constructed a personality assessment from various horoscopes, and gave the same assessment individually to every student who took a personality test.
The assessment included sentences such as:
At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved.
Almost anyone can find some truth about themselves in sentences like that. And, in repeated experiments that tendency held true. And with social media and other online (or offline) interactions, there is perhaps the same tendency to follow the Forer effect.
If a social media tool analyzes our online traits and provides us with a judgement, we probably will think it must have truth in it. After all, it’s about us, based on our own input.
Even knowing that an interaction is non-human, such as interacting with a “bot” of some sort (or a voice response system), we still feel that the interaction is ours alone. But perhaps like a credit score run amok with other people’s information, we should not accept the assessment without making sure it’s not co-mingling our information with others.
To some extent, what you believe becomes your reality, and certainly our belief can get us past otherwise-overwhelming challenges.
If a new tool tells you that you are #1,230 of all tweeters worldwide (on Twitter), you are inclined to want to believe it. But what if it were partly a randomly-generated number?
And in a perhaps orthogonal way, an online persona is our own Forer effect upon the world, and this can be bolstered using social networks. It’s the same old technique put online: if enough people refer about someone as a visionary, then it is easier to believe to be true about that person. And we can get others to say those nice things about us! (article continues below)
Sites such as Facebook & LinkedIn, along newer sites such as Philtro, are also trying to enhance their picture of who you are via your social network, in order to provide you with more relevant information (and, of course, advertisements).
While this social network assessment technology is still new, over time we are likely to expect our online services to deliver us what we like, without us having to do much to filter those information & media feeds. Just say (one day) to your phone/PDA – “I want to watch a minute of the most interesting clips of my friend’s party last night, and after that chill out for about 30 minutes to some new music like what I heard there. Go!” and you just might get what you instructed.
And you may believe it’s been done just for you.
A lot of people won’t ever use Twitter, Facebook, Digg, or (insert your favorite social networking site here). Don’t piss them off. They’re visiting your website, watching your television show, or visiting your location. And they, like all of us, bring their own expectations about social experiences.
The reasons behind being what could be called “semi-social” are varied, and include:
- Desire to be different
- Fear of (using) technology
- Not enough desire to socialize online
- Not enough time to socialize online – information overload
- Most friends or relatives not using online social websites
- Desire to cut back on online social activities
So, your choices on how to handle these miscreants – um, miscellaneous users – include:
- Acknowledge them – Show that you know that not everyone “gets” it and tone down the geeky/chic-y plug-ins and social media campaigns
- Help them – Provide work-arounds so that semi-socials can partake of your website’s offerings
- Ignore them – Don’t slow down the speed at which you use every possible social media tool to expand your reach, while risking alienating people who are semi-social.
- Invite them to socialize – Take a chance that you may find their moment to start socializing via one of your preferred methods. (This invitation can happen along with the first bullet point above – after acknowledging them.)
We’re all semi-social and even non-social during the course of a given day. So, it is easy to understand the mindset of someone who is routinely less social online. That is, if you can stop posting for a moment and ponder about them.
Do you have a strategy to effectively participate in and use social media? Yes.
Whether it is written, or not, if you are using social media then you have a strategy. The key to excellence starts with how much time you devote to something, and this area is no exception.
There has been advice out there on social media strategy for a year or more. Following up the strategy, there are lots of lists to help you plan. A strategy is important, since you can do anything with social media.
And it’s all free!
Not really. As the excellent slide deck below points out (see slide 38), it takes time. Time is not free, even if you are not getting paid. There is the opportunity cost of making a choice, as time spent on one activity prevents or delays another one.
And, these additional slides provide a nice overview (from about a year ago) on strategies for social media:
If someone were to start this year using social media in a serious way, what would they start with? What would they think about all of the choices, all of the advice of “must” do activities, and the ever-growing list of supposedly important online personalities to follow?
Hopefully they’d quickly learn about the concept of the social media echo chamber, and keep a foot outside of the door, if not more.
If not, they would be lost in the advice to what may amount to 4 hours a day of important, serious reputation building via Twitter, along with a few hours of interaction on Digg, Mixx, Delicious, and StumbleUpon, remembering to read important blogs, subscribe to podcasts, when not actually creating content via blogging, video, and audio. And how does someone whose primary work is in, say, driving a vehicle all day… how do they do all of this fun social media stuff on the side?
So for all of the social newbies arriving this year: don’t sweat it.
Play around, have fun, find “shiny objects” on the web to try & use, and buy gadgets & toys if you want. Then determine if you are a full-timer, a part-timer, or a hobbyist. For the first two types, make a plan (as best you can) and execute it. The plan should have the basics of a mission statement (goals), a strategy, actions (steps you will take), and timeframes if not actual deadlines. For the social media hobbyist, have fun, and make sure that you aren’t taking up this hobby at the expense of some other goal, such as writing a book, learning a new language, climbing Mt. Everest, or spending more time with family & friends.
Back in school, us kids talked behind the teachers’ backs… unless we were caught, in which case we had to speak in front of everyone.
“Johnny, what were you saying to Eddie? “
“I want you to repeat it loud so the whole class can hear you!”
…this was the type of social experience that we sought to avoid.
Not all teachers were the same. Some teachers really didn’t seem to care about our interactions. And the most clueless ones didn’t flinch when we told jokes about them and laughed about them in plain sight.
The cool ones laughed with us, wisely, and we loved them.
Kind of like some brands are today, in the online social web. Some plug in, some are clueless.
Obvious comparisons to the childhood example – the teacher is an authority figure by position, but still has to earn the respect with every interaction with the students. Yet she runs a risk every time she tries to mingle with the students on their turf. A risk worth taking, and learning from.
And, the teacher writes on the blackboard (“the wall”) and everyone can read it, re-write it, or start writing other ideas on other parts of the room.
These instructors are (usually) paid to be there, and the students know they get to move on to other teachers… that the relationship is only temporary. Unless their teacher is so influential to their lives that they keep the relationship going for a long time.
And in another parallel with online brands, teachers can only effectively connect with students up to a certain class size. After that, they need helpers… teacher’s aides.
But in the modern world, will brands dilute the impact of their social media interactions as they run up against a corporate version of Dunbar’s Number (the theoretical limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships)? For individuals, the number is claimed to be 150 inter-personal relationships.
Yet some people “maintain” thousands of relationships online. They swim (as Robert Scoble said to me) since it’s not possible to interact with every bit of social media as your network grows gigantic. But swim-strokes are okay if at the heart of it you’re a real person.
Brands have it both easier and harder… like a teacher, they have implied authority and a mutually-respected “I’m not really your friend” attitude in their core, yet they also have to reach people on a personal level. Odds are, like teachers and their pupils, some brands will get it wrong, and some will work with each day to find something to evolve the relationship to have rewards for both sides.
Will online social networking make us all the same?
Or, will we elect to stay in mostly same-thinking groups? As we join up in communities online, the homophily aspect could kick in. Homophily is defined as the tendency to be friends with others who are similar, and is described futher in this New York Times article.
Birds of a feather flock together… True? Looks like it. As stated in this 2001 paper “Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks” the tendency shown is to connect with people who are like you: “Similarity breeds connection”. If you’ve stumbled upon a MySpace.com profile that is for an artist in Los Angeles, you will likely see this tendancy at work as you see their friends and the interactions. The University of Wolverhampton in England determined in a study that homophily exists on MySpace (Homophily in Myspace – MS Word format).
Geese of a feather on the snowy Potomac River in Washington DC
In looking how a phenomenon, concept, or media can “go viral”, the virality aspect has to allow it travel along different groups, each with may have their own different patterns of interaction.
And political alignments can seemingly prove this “fact” – that birds of a feather flock together. As has been seen increasingly online, getting the message out directly to small homogenous social groups has value, especially as it usually comes from a member of the group.
But this same social group limits your options. As you meet and interact with new people, via your social networks, they will pretty much be the same as your old friends. Exceptions to this trend possibly include on-the-job interactions, networking for a new job, and ad hoc activities such as searching for a lost pet or person.
For support towards goals, this similarity within a group can be a positive aspect. For a marketing campaign, it is both a hindrance and a help. People resist ideas or concepts that come from outside their group, but if it is shared within a group it is helped by the peer-to-peer approvals.
As pointed out in this O’Reilly blog post & comments, social networking sites encourage you after you sign up to invite all of your friends to join (or at least load them up as contacts). Is homophilus behavior a feature or a bug? How about in one’s own life?
This depends on whether a person wants change, and to some extent if they are open to conflict. Engaging with people who think and act differently from you often means conflict.
On sites such as Twitter, we can search and see different and opposing views to our own, but odds are that we are not following or friending these people, on average. On a philosophical note, then, each can blame themselves for limiting their choices of friends.
In the trend of people to find their news via online social activities, the news we get there is filtered by our preference in friends. The videos we get pointed to, the memes we share… they are going to vary among friend-lines. This inbreeding of content perhaps goes contrary to the common belief that we are expanding our horizons by interacting with hundreds or thousands of friends online. This trend may be also relevant to how mainstream news covers mostly the same events.
The people who become online web celebrities cross the boundaries of smaller social groups… or may define larger groups as they show commonalities. They connect to us on levels that transcend simple small-group connections, and sometimes even transcend language barriers, and satisfy people’s yearning to be part of something bigger. Even as we also apparently yearn to part of something similar.
Can you value your social activities?
is about the best answer possible now.
An earlier post on online social capital and influence touched on managing it as an asset, and certainly there is an increasing awareness of the value of online social capital in business and personal life. (This is not to be confused with traditional social capital, an emerging industry)
But perhaps this is still the dawning of the age of online influence peddling, at least among the social networking crowd.
There are many ways to measure online influence, such as page rank. The current rage is one’s online social ranking.
People are proud of their top (or rising) popularity listings on Twitter Grader, Twitterholic, and other ranking services. These rankings may not out-last the recession as sites like Tweeterboard shut down when there is no long-term sustainability model for it. But blogs like Twitterfacts point to many services to rank these top “Tweeples” (Twitter people), some of whom I’m met in real life. They are having fun as they engage on- and off-line with a large number of people.
In researching for this write-up, the term “social influence counter-measures” came up in a non-web context. Yet, the online meaning of this term carries significance. Every social media marketing campaign involves counter-measures. The campaign goal is to influence, and to thus overcome/counteract/eliminate competing social influences.
Think this stuff is small potatoes? Not. The largest search engine (and perhaps largest brand worldwide) is looking to patent social influence. Perhaps this technique will allow social networks to monetize better. Perhaps it will be the number that you use to rank & value yourself online.
A Chicago VC wrote about the possible profitability for those who can “effectively harness the power of influence across networks“. But, this influence is classically not just about money.
|Moreover, it could allow election campaigns to factor in and influence the popularity contest aspect in an unprecedented way. How much would it be worth to know exactly who influences your opponents followers? (It will always also depends on who actually votes.) Or how would you combat a decline of confidence in leadership?
But, for the individual who blogs or tweets their way to social stardom, there are established and emerging payoffs. Paid blogging posts have been around for years, and now popular Twitter posters can earn some bling (although perhaps not a full-time income).
Better to be popular doing what you love… what you’re passionate about. Why? The solution for monetizing your online social capital or influence is still evolving. The economy may not support it en masse for years, although some people will make money. And the general advice given by many is to do what you love and the money will follow.
Andy Warhol’s famous quote:
“Everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes“
is now a quaint anachronism from the 20th century. Thanks to the social internet, everyone is now capable of being continuously famous.
Perhaps not world-famous, but famous among enough people around the globe. Some personas will break out into mass stardom, assisted by traditional media. Some will be famous only in online communities, and they will be quite happy & successful there.
There is plenty of room for stardom. In sports there are often farm leagues – the minor leagues that feed up talent to the major leagues. In the online stardom arena, it’s a free-for-all, but the concept of farm leagues might apply, especially among the thousands of niche areas. The rumors of enough social media experts in the niche are far from true, as experts continue to share advice on how to make your own star rise.
There will not be a practical cap on the universe of online stars anytime soon. As the rise-and-fall cycle is, well, happening in “internet time”, it is viciously fast. This aspect allows for more stars. And, in a sense, “once a star online, always a star online”, as the social proof via metrics such as video view counts and written feedback & conversations may never go away.
Now let’s forget about the old days where everyone knew the 1st and 2nd-tier media stars, as the growth of India’s Bollywood, China’s film industry , and other production locales such as Dubai create their own stardom centers of gravity. Being world-famous can happen in niches, as has been proven on sites such as YouTube and MySpace.
Every day the worldwide online social network grows by tens of thousands, and should do so forever. One simple metric: every day there are hundreds of thousands of new teenagers in the world and many of them are already online (of course there are almost as many new ex-teenagers every day). Whatever the online coming-of-age threshold, user-generated-content (UGC) will always have thousands of new creators annually who can draw fans from tens of millions who were not online the year before.
Are you cut out for stardom? Even the introverted can find more fame than the mere quarter hour Mr. Warhol envisioned, and they can do it on their own terms online. So are true introverts headed for extinction?
The internet introverts of tomorrow may seek stardom in spite of their base personality. They will be updating their status continuously, always quick to tell-a-friend about what’s important in their lives, and these social introverts will blend seamlessly into an extraverts-only society online (as they perhaps conquer fears about the dark side of online notoriety).
Who won’t be a star in their community? The non-star list includes those people who are not networking online. Some non-networking behavior will be situational, such as people who cannot use a computer for physical, mental, religious, or emotional reasons. And there are generational aspects that stop older people from adopting online social networking techniques, along with digital divide factors that limit who can build or accidentally obtain their online social stardom.
After notoriety, one base necessity for web stardom is content. Usually this content is self-generated, and self-promoted. To be social on the internet implies interacting in form of content creation. Even someone’s RSVP to an event, or joining a group, creates a snippet of content.
But ubiquitous stardom for all may be limited by our own inertia, as revealed in the currently-accepted rule of thumb that 90% of us don’t create real content, and only 1% of us create the bulk of content. And many people have other life goals, ensuring that they do more with their lives and their influence to help others than simply chasing or embracing stardom.
[The next post here will continue an earlier post about online social capital and influence, and touch on how to utilize aspects of one’s social stardom.]keep looking »