Friday, May 29, 2009

Bringing Our Social Personalities Into Application & Utility

Most people think of social media as a MySpace or Facebook page or an application or widget; these are merely micro-channels. Often times, they’re not even the most effective channels. The real power of social media is in the social graphs themselves – in people and their personalities. And this is a good thing too, because people own brands, not companies. In fact, people are brands.

The thing to understand about the social media phenomenon is that spontaneity isn’t random. The dialogues we carry on through social media are governed by a set of rules. And as humans, or social animals, we all need rules. In fact, when properly observed and respected, we thrive on them. Therefore, it is imperative that brands not only develop a strong personality, but establish boundaries, just as we do with our children or the people that we love. Our concern for their “digital balance” is what creates an element of trust and understanding as well as a clear line of communication.

Listening, and then responding appropriately, is key.  The “noise” that we experience where there are disconnects in communications – particularly amongst groups or tribes – is based on our need for validation, not for relatedness. So when we look beyond ourselves, and defer to the ebb-and-flow of our tribal communications, ideas and experiences of great value are allowed to flourish.

Giving and discerning the right amount and right kind of information creates and maintains a healthy digital balance, and carries over into any medium.

It’s easy to think of brand utility in terms of things that we can use. But where there is at times a void is when brand utilities no longer serve as relevant parts of our daily lives. This boils down to a fundamental failure in our line of communication, a stopping point in our ability to share or build conversation around communities of people.

While it is important to think about what a utility can offer, it is even more important to think about how it can scale. Utilities are really representative of the social graphs that grow and shift within the media landscape, which is precisely why the landscape constantly changes. In other words, we need to treat tools in the same way we treat people – with respect, creativity and inspiration.

Social utilities foster human interaction. So when we think of building a website or an application, we should think of how that platform or tool can make a real difference. We need to update it constantly. We need to respond and act. We need to give new participants a voice in an ongoing conversation. We need to ask advocates what it is they want, and then provide it for them, in real-time.

So instead of creating widgets, we create lifestreams. Instead of passing along badges, we pass along codes of conduct. Instead of conducting tweet-ups, we create movements.

Ultimately this shared responsibility we take on is representative of the cultural super-ego that exists within the social web. It is crucial to our evolution that we cultivate it with the utmost integrity and never know when you'll need a friend. Or a new tribe, for that matter

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