Frontline: The Merchants of Cool

Frontline: The Merchants of Cool is a fascinating, albeit highly cynical look, into the way teenagers and children are marketed to.

Narrated by Douglas Rushkoff, it is close to ten years old, having been first broadcast in February 2001.

One of the programme’s key themes is that teen culture is fast-moving and transitory. Yet hindsight has proved this to be false.

It would seem that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

The programme was made pre 9/11, pre X Factor, pre Youtube, pre Facebook, pre Obama and pre Spotify (to name just half a dozen things that have shaped our entertainment culture in the intervening years). Yet it remains highly recognisable and relevant to teen culture today.

And so despite the assertion being wrong, it still remains required viewing for marketers, researchers and media folk – each of whom have the spotlight placed on them within the programme.

Discovering what teens want

Even back at the turn of the millennium, teens were seeing 3,000 discrete ad impressions per day, meaning that they would have been exposed to 10m of them by the age of 18.

Yet the programme asserts that surly teens are unresponsive to brands – they instead respond to what they perceive to be cool.

In order for content makers and marketers to know what kids think is cool, they need either formal research or an informal direct line to teens. The programme highlighted four methodologies used:

1. Cool Hunting – as typified by Dee Dee Gordon and Sharon Lee’s’s Look-Look. They start of by identifing teen influencers – early adopters, vocal advocates and people that regularly explore outside of their regular sphere of interest. After speaking to these people to find what they think is cool, they might recruit and train these kids up to be correspondents. They in turn go off and identify the next generation.  All information goes into a database that their clients pay a subscription fee to access.

This seems like a great business model for several reasons

  • It is a relatively low-cost model of both intelligence gathering and recruitment, meaning that the company can operate on a relatively small income
  • Due to the proliferation of research agencies and consultants, they will never have more than a small share of the market and so anyone that subscribes to the database stands a good chance of having a comparative advantage over rivals sourcing their information from elsewhere
  • The business is perpetual. Once something is identified as cool, it has been taken away from the cool kids and so is no longer cool. Thus they need to move onto the next thing

2. Under the radar marketing – Represented by Cornerstone Promotions, this odious tactic pays kids to “smuggle messages” onto forums or even in conversations, essentially paying kids to be walking, talking billboards without disclosure.

3. Ethnographic visits – Self-explanatory (though perhaps it was less well-known in 2001), where researchers and execs go spend time in people’s homes to observe them in their natural environment

4. Screen tests – Inviting kids to test to agents for various entertainment professions. Jessica Biel was discovered in one of these tests.

From these techniques, two key role models/personality segments were discovered – one for males to aspire to and one for females

  • The Mook – where arrested adolescence and crudeness are celebrated, typified by Tom Green and Jackass
  • The Midriff – where your body is your best asset so flaunt it even if you don’t understand it. Britney and Christina were the key role models

Does it sound familiar? So does teen culture perpetuate across generations, or are we on an irreversible trend towards sexualised stupidity?

A critique of these research techniques – and research in general – is that they don’t understand teens as people. Instead they are just customers. After all, the industry is named marketing research and not human research.

Although this is primarily a semantic argument, I think that, broadly speaking, the programme makes a valid point and it is still something that hasn’t been properly addressed in either marketing research or brand/market planning. Something to think on.

Content and marketing trends

Without a true understanding, it means there is essentially a giant feedback loop in play. The media sells kids images of themselves to themselves, and they in turn aspire to it.

There was the example of a Sprite party on MTV. Guests were paid $50 to show up, artists that played got paid and PR, MTV got cheap, aspirational TV and record labels got their exposure and sale. Yet, while it seems to benefit everyone, it ended up being quite conspicuous marketing,  and thus a turn-off for teens.

To be new and exciting to teens, boundaries need to be broken. After all, teens are about rebellion and anti-authority. If Dawson’s Creek is primetime (don’t laugh, it did cover some pretty edgy themes at the time), specialist outlets need to up the stakes. This meant that counter-culture icons such as the Insane Clown Posse and Limp Bizkit eventually got packaged up and sold to teens

A line from the programme I liked is that ICP are “so crude and intolerable that they are essentially indigestible”.

So is this an irreversible trend to the gutter? The edges are always different to the centre, and it would appear that for anything to reach a teen mainstream it needs to be largely digestible. Despite the questionable authenticity, contemporary trends such as 3oh!3 and Look at this fucking hipster seem largely harmless, while  Jersey Shore et al keep up the trend of sexualised stupidity.

Frontline have maintained an excellent website with a full discussion of the trends and coverage of the various interviews – it can be found here. The programme is also available to watch in full – either there or on Youtube (part 1 is embedded below, for RSS readers)

The situation today

The programme does maintain a sense of middle class adult bemusement throughout, but it still makes some great points about the attempts of marketers to pass off fake authenticity, with continually more explosive and extreme angles that try to stand out in the onslaught.

Yet one thing that has exploded over the past decade is the sheer supply of media and entertainment – I’m sure these 3,000 impressions a day have been far surpassed (particularly with the rise of branded entertainment). So marketers are needing to move away from disruption to find ways of actually engaging with teens on their terms – through opt-in involvement rather than unwanted interruption.

Will this fragmentation reduce the power of the mainstream? Rather than two teen idols, is there now two dozen? I’m not so sure. Teens have always been tribal and the hierarchies of social groups within schools aren’t going to fundamentally shift as we get more technologically advanced and savvy. They may not sell as many tickets or items as they would have a decade or two ago, but Lady GaGa, UFC and the Twilight saga are just as important cultural icons for teens today as Madonna, WWE and Point Horror were for previous generations.

But rather than focus on the markets, should we shift our focus back to the audience? I think so. Researchers and planners should essentially be an ombudsman for their target markets – representing them with a clear voice to be heard and respected when designing strategies and tactics.

sk

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Recommended Reading – 26th February 2010

I’ll try to make this type of post a weekly occurrence. My previous link updates were quite unwieldy, so I’ll try to limit these recommend reading posts to around five items.

Ten movie recuts – because it shows how perspective is dynamic and how, through editing or otherwise, we don’t necessarily see the full picture

A couple of posts on Google caught my eye – this book review looking at Google’s business practices (One thing they don’t do is ask for permission) and this Wired piece on their famous algorithm, and how it gives them their competitive advantage

87 cool things is a presentation that Google made last year, showing innovative ways that people have used their video and maps services – both entertaining and useful.

I admit to being pleasantly surprised, but the OK Cupid blog is very informative, and has some great posts on analysing the information it receives from its users. This particular post looks at profile picture myths to see what type of picture is more likely to prompt a response from another user. On a data note, this website is packed full of really useful MS Excel tips

Similar to a post I linked to last week, this post on job interview questions to ask planners is applicable beyond the advertising industry – the questions are penetrative and potentially very illuminating.

sk

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Connected: The amazing power of social networks and how they shape our lives

Nicholas Christakis speaks at the RSA on the power of social networks

“Connected: The amazing power of social networks and how they shape our lives” was the title of the talk given by Dr Nicholas Christakis at the RSA earlier. Due to rather poor time management, I didn’t make it to the event itself, but followed it online. This link should eventually have the video and downloadable audio of the event.

I’d recommend checking out the full talk, as Christakis is an engaging speaker and his theories make a lot of sense. Rather than recap the full session here, I’ll instead focus on a few areas.

The talk

The hypothesis of the talk (and book) is that social context plays an important part in our behaviour and attitudes, and our ties tend to form groups of likeminds. Things ultimately spread in networks.

In his data visualisations, he displayed his theories by using nodes to represent people, with lines acting as connectors.

The number three was a dominant theme throughout the talk.

Christakis noted that there are three theories in how things cluster.

  • Induction – Person A’s behaviour directly affects Person B, who then mimics Person A
  • Homophily – Person A and Person B both have the pre-existing condition independently, and group together because of this
  • Confounding – Person A and Person B are proximate, and share an exposure to an external factor

The confounding theory refutes the idea of network effects. Yet for network effects to be proven, the nature of the connections need to be understood:

  • Mutual friendship – where both person A and B are friends
  • Ego-perceived friendship – Person A befriends person B, but Person B ignores them
  • Alter-perceived friendship – Person B befriends Person A, who ignores Person B

Christakis argues that different relationships will have different effects. He notes that if we were to map our relationships, they wouldn’t form a uniform pattern like a regular lattice but instead vary across three dimensions

  • The number of friends/connectors per person/node
  • The interconnectedness of friends – are the nodes I am connected to also connected to one another?
  • The position within the overall network – is my node in the centre or towards one of the edge?

The final three of his talk is in degrees of influence. Christakis posits that we are not only influenced by our friends but also their friends and their friends’ friends. Three degrees of influence.

He believes that we should look at the networks, rather than the individuals, when formulating policies and strategies, because properties aren’t understandable when just looking at individual components. He used the (excellent) example of carbon. When carbon atoms are linked together in one way, they form graphite. When linked in another way, they form diamond. Two very different structures, with very different properties (And the one with more connections is more valuable).

Thus, he believes we live connected lives (even though he talked about part of it being a genetic trait) because the benefits outweigh the costs. We break off bad connections, and strengthen good ones. We create networks to spread and sustain good and desirable things – things we couldn’t as individuals.

My thoughts

I enjoyed the talk immensely, and would recommend people watch/listen to the full 75 minutes. I appreciated the depth he went into when attempting to determine causation, rather than just correlation. His argument was quite persuasive and of course it has repercussions on how we would be framing our objectives.

It’s got me thinking about whether the value of people within a network differs. Christakis claimed a network could shed its bad apples – I’m not convinced since a breaking of a first order tie doesn’t necessarily break the second order tie, where influence can still pertain. If we were able to break our ties and influence our networks, then surely only good things would spread, and not things like viruses or unhappiness. But notwithstanding, are some apples “better” than others?

Whether through Berry & Keller’s Influentials, Gladwell’s Tipping Point typologies or another example, people have attempted to segment the population in attempts to harness the spread of messages. But does the number, strength and position of connections impact on the value of that person, or is a person only as valuable as his or her network?

Instead could it be analogous to Belbin’s team role functions? A balanced team needs the whole range of roles and contributions in order to be successful. Would a network comprising purely of influentials become less valuable, due to the absence of other types of people to influence?

And so when we devising sampling structures or STP strategies based on their attitudes or behaviour, should we be attempting to create a proxy of individual positioning within a relevant network in order to predict the dynamic interplay of ideas and actions? I’m not even sure if this would be possible, but it would certainly aid our predictions on whether something is sustainable or not.

sk

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Fighting potential irrelevance

Disclaimer: My employer, Essential Research, has worked with several of the UK network providers in the past, and hopes to do so again in future. All opinions expressed in this blog post – and this blog in general – are my own.

The first to market isn’t always the ultimate category “winner”. There were cars before Ford and social networks before Facebook, to give just two examples. Incumbents may hold the greatest influence, but through innovations and developments of products and services their position is rarely fully secure. Eventually a change of business strategy will be required.

I’m wondering if this is what the mobile phone networks are about to undergo.

For the past decade or two, the networks have had the power in the mobile market. They controlled the distribution – through both spectrum and their walled garden approach to content and services. Hence the huge bidding war when the UK government auctioned off spectrum for 3G a decade ago.

But this looks to be changing, as penetration of internet-enabled handsets that access the world wide web – both on a 3G network and on Wifi – shift the focus. While the debate over open access (symbolised by Google) and closed access (symbolised by Apple) continues, it appears that the shift in focus is to the detriment of the networks but the benefits of the operating system, and thus the handset.

This article – on the news that O2 and Orange are joining an open platform for applications – says that ‘The mobile phone networks fear that at the moment they are in danger of becoming little more than “dumb pipes in the air”‘

I’m sure they have methods to standardise the services across different screen sizes, resolutions, handsets and operating systems but it will be interesting to see whether it can compete with the OS based offerings of Apple, BlackBerry, Google and Nokia.

Do this mean mobile networks will go the way of ISPs? Viable businesses, but not wielding the level of power that AOL et al were hoping to achieve.

It is possible, but not inevitable. The main issue for networks is that when they work, they are invisible. We only notice when they fail, and most people will only contact network customer care when they want to complain (sales calls/contract renewals excepted). No matter how good (or otherwise) this service is, it is still ultimately dealing with negative issues.

A handset and operating system should also “just work”, but its visibility means we can also be delighted – whether through eye-catching menus or a satisfying tactility to the buttons or touch screen.

This visibility also means the handset is more closely associated with the service. Networks are still defined by the coverage and quality of voice communication above all else.

The networks risk becoming a utility, where price and quality are the only defining features.

The need to diversify is apparent, but I don’t think this should be in applications.

Aside from the handset/OS competition, there is a huge question-mark over the long-term viability of the applications market. Should HTML5 launch and grow, the balance of power may once again shift – this time from the operating system to the software or service provider. To the consumer, the delivery mechanism is largely irrelevant – they just want the best possible service in the most convenient format.

I’m also sceptical about exclusive content deals. Orange have successfully done this in France, but it raised anti-competitive issues and, ultimately, I think audience scale will mean openness will win out (I also think this is true with handsets trying to get content exclusivity).

Instead, I think partnerships – across a range of industries – are the answer. Mobile networks already have a significant presence in certain areas – such as O2 with live music and Orange with film – and these can be extended. There are also plenty of opportunities to provide complementary services – O2 moving into finance seems like a logical step, for instance.

Like gambling, one of the hardest things in business (so I’ve been told) is knowing when to call it quits. The era of networks dominating the monetisation of content and internet-based services looks like it is drawing to close. Yet there are many potential new revenue streams to develop. Whether picking the right strategy requires the luck of the gambler or not, time will tell.

sk

Image credit: Me

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Two years old, and recommended reading

It’s been two years since my first, tentative, blog post at this address. I’m pleased that it is still going strong but I have been a bit neglectful of it. So, over the coming months I’m going to attempt to do the following

  • Refresh my blog roll – something which is long overdue
  • Post more regularly – I don’t want to commit to an artificial schedule, despite the recent regularity of my Sunday posting. The content on this blog is the most valuable thing – certainly to me, since it helps me formalise my thinking – and it shouldn’t be compromised for the sake of frequency
  • Start a blog project/series – due to a rather hectic start to the year, my news-gathering is on hiatus. However, there are a couple of things I think would work as part of an ongoing theme, rather than a single entry blog
  • Investigate porting the blog over to a hosted domain – I bought a URL and hosting a year ago, and then did nothing with it. There is no overwhelming need to have my own website, and I’m slightly concerned about porting over links and the RSS feed, but it should be something I look into to
  • Resume my link updates

And this last bullet is where I am going to start. We are who we know, and I am regularly educated and inspired by a whole range of content across the web – both “professional” and “amateur”.

When posting new content on my blog, my priority will always be to first be selfish – write content I want to, that can help benefit my understanding or thinking. However, I haven’t been generous enough recently, and I want to resolve that by sharing my inspiration.

My link updates stopped around a year ago, pretty much when I changed jobs (draw your own conclusions) but I’m going to attempt to resume them on a weekly basis.

I’m also going to be changing the names of the posts to “Recommended reading”. “Link updates” sounds too automated. What I am trying to do is curate the best things I have recently read, and convey why I think they’re so good.

So, without further ado, here are eighteen posts I’ve read over the past month that I’d recommend (future posts won’t be this long, but I’ve got some catching up to do:

Learning and working

I loved this Wired article on how athletes are increasingly turning to video games in order to help them learn their strategies. It makes sense, since the Madden series is arguably the most complex game on the market. Technology democratises information, and augments and improves our talents in our chosen fields.

This article struck a chord with it. In striving for perfection, the Duke Nukem game has been in development for over a decade, and indeed has just shut down. There is a point where we have to say that something is “good enough”.

This is quite a short Havard Business blog post on setting goals but I liked the notion that they tend to promote mediocrity rather than excellence. Should we be looking to improve where our skills are lacking – to be well-rounded but average – or should we be looking to push ourselves further in the areas we excel in.

This great post on how to hire programmers is applicable for all industries. Are they smart? Can they get stuff done? Can you work with them?

I liked this New Yorker piece on the reviewers for the Michelin Guide, and the inherent tension there is between objectivity and subjectivity when assessing.

Business strategy

Suw Charman-Anderson has written the best refutation of Google Buzz, and its privacy implications, I have seen. I continue to be amazed that Google just launched this on unsuspecting users, without either a gradual roll-out or a beta label.

I read Venessa Miemis’ post on the Apple iPad after I had posted up my own sceptical viewpoint. A shame, as she offers a comprehensive summary of the different views and issues surrounding the product, with regard to design thinking

Wired has a piece on how a Monopoly online game, intended to be a quick promotional tool, became far more popular than anticipated. Should they end the game as intended, or take advantage of its success and continue to operate it?

It has already made several circuits of the blogosphere, but if you are still yet to read it, I would thoroughly recommend Bud Caddell’s views on what the advertising agencies of the future should be

Julie at Brandtwist says that we need a brand building strategy rather than a social media strategy, and I completely agree.

Consumer understanding

I mentioned Doc Searls’ Vendor Relationship Management concept in a previous post, and this blog post conveys how it can be of benefit to us

An interesting article on the confessions of a book pirate. It is vital to understand people’s motivations, rather than simply castigating and criminalising them.

Village Voice looks at the decade in music hype. I find it fascinating how large swathes of culture can be completely transitory, yet remnants remain and get repurposed by subsequent generations

Marketing and advertising

Helge Tenno’s expanded version of his seven actionable marketing trends presentation is extremely detailed, and packed full of inspirational ideas and quotes on how marketing is and should be evolving.

This Big Spaceship post has some excellent thoughts on why we should move away from trying to create a “viral”, in order to understand how people share and why things spread.

Chris Heathcote looks at all of the different types of screen available, and puts them into context for advertising.

Blogs

Rather than a single post, I urge everyone to visit Roger Ebert’s blog. Ebert is a widely respected film critic who has been suffering with cancer and can no longer eat, drink or talk. He has put a great deal of his energy into his writing, and it is wonderful.

And for those that want yet more reading, Rex at Fimoculous has linked to his thirty favourite blogs of 2009.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/boxercab/427774884/

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Can social media become a mass media?

My short answer is “Yes, if it continues to evolve”.

But there are numerous challenges to overcome within this evolution process.

SIDENOTE: Throughout this blog, I’ll be referring to social media in the singular. I know that technically media denotes plurality, but, to me at least, phrases such as “social media aren’t mass” sounds weird. Well, weirder than “social media isn’t mass” anyway.

Isn’t social media mass already?

I may have already lost a few readers by this point, who refuse to believe my basic premise that social media isn’t mass.

And they will have numbers to back up their spluttering, incredulous rage:

These numbers sound big. They are big. But they aren’t mass.

This is where semantics get involved.

Firstly, for social media I’m referring to platforms or websites whose primary aim is to connect people and facilitate communication – such as social networks, blogs and forums. I’m not considering websites with social widgets or functionality added – such as the comments section on a newspaper website.

Secondly, I believe there is a big difference between a popular media and a mass media. The definition used on Wikipedia is “a section of the media specifically designed to reach a large audience”.

From that definition, and from my general perceptions, I infer that for media to be mass it requires inclusiveness.

And despite the large numbers, social media is not inclusive.

The Diffusion of Innovations

I reference Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations model in a previous post on the iPad. I will go into it in a bit more detail here.

Rogers posited that, within the population, there are five types of person, each with a different relationship with and attitude towards new innovations. The five types progress along a time series

  • The innovator will try something for the sake of it being new
  • The early adopter will try something before most people, but only when he or she is confident that it will be worth it
  • The early majority (or mainstream) come into the frame when they see a new innovation is gaining in popularity and thus must be worth adopting
  • The late majority see a new innovation has proved itself to be worthwhile, and thus they try it
  • The laggards are resistant to new technologies, but will try something when there is little or no alternative

Rogers estimated the proportions in the population to be as laid out in the diagram below:

At Essential Research, we have measured to the population in order to calibrate and weight our data for the Essential Eye, our ongoing exploration of digital media usage and attitudes. Our figures are:

  • Innovators – 6%
  • Early adopters – 11%
  • Early majority – 26%
  • Late majority – 32%
  • Laggards – 25%

If Facebook has 23m UK users in a population of 62m people, that would place it firmly into the early majority stage of diffusion.

Leaving aside my doubts that this figure constitutes 23m unique individuals within the UK, and that as marketers or researchers we are usually (but not always) confining ourselves to adults, I believe social media take-up will shortly plateau unless some big changes are made

Why majority take-up isn’t inevitable

Few, if any, innovations ever reach 100% penetration. There will always be rejectors that go out of their way to avoid certain technologies.

Digital media has the additional hurdle of scepticism among a minority – whether cost, fear of privacy, shame over incomprehension or a belief that they can live their lives quite happily without the internet, thank you, there are a significant minority that never have, and perhaps never will, use the internet.

Anyway, I digress. The main point to note is that early adopters are DIFFERENT to late adopters.

How are they different? They tend to be

  • Younger
  • Higher social class, and more educated
  • More disposable income
  • Greater interest/proximity to science and technology
  • Greater opinion leadership
  • More social

This may seem obvious, but it is vitally important to reflect upon.

The demographic differences aren’t such a huge deal since people age and earn more over time, and it means the user base will always skew to the more commercially attractive audiences. Essential Research Brandheld data bears this out – 64% of all users of social networks via a mobile are aged 16-34 and three quarters are on a contract phone.

However, the attitudinal differences could be a major barrier to social media uptake.

Later adopters advocate things to a lesser degree and are less social. They have smaller friendship groups and are less likely to want to meet new people.

The network effects become less powerful. Latecomers see less benefit. Their investment into the software will bear less reward.

And this is assuming that later adopters can be sold on the idea to begin with. This is not guaranteed.

The mainstream prioritise different benefits

The proposition that convinced the earlier users to adopt social networks will probably not work for the latecomers.

Earlier adopters saw their friends on the site. They saw the software made it easier to keep track of their large and disparate friendship groups. They got to grips with the technology quickly, and found it easy to adapt as the social networks change to accommodate a larger user base.

Yet even in the early majority, we are witnessing problems with adoption. Examples include loud protests over redesigns to Facebook or people getting confused by a simple error within Google’s algorithm.

Two things need to fundamentally change in order convince the mainstream to trial, let alone permanently adopt, social media.

  1. A return to simplicity: Feature creep is a well document problem with iterated software. The earlier adopters – the more vocal power users – may appreciate greater customisation but it raises the barriers to entry for newcomers. The longer they leave it, the harder it is for them to figure out how to use these services. And the greater the chance they abandon them. Apple may have beautifully designed products, but the simple and intuitive interface is the most important part of the design. The core social media service should be simple, with additional functionality optional for those comfortable – the Firefox model, if you will. A quick fix would be for Facebook to offer its lite version as a default.
  2. A realignment in promotion of benefits: Mainstream and late adopters are less inclined to experiment. The benefits to using social networks need to be immediately obvious and tangible. A benefit either gives you something – entertainment or information – or lets you save something – time, money or effort. The more averse to new technology someone is, the harder these benefits are to communicate. Currently, there is plenty of room for platforms, developers and marketers to improve in this area

How social networks can become more attractive

Conventional wisdom might say that the less affluent among us have more time on their hands. 8 hour shifts, no ski-ing holidays in Chamonix etc. They have the social surplus that Clay Shirky talks about. And we’re not expecting them to create a new Wikipedia, just to engage in the social media space.

But, given the current platform, not gonna happen. They will be more likely to stick to their gin and television.

What do people gain from social media that they cannot get elsewhere? Why should they divert their time from their favourite TV shows, or from housework or other chores, in order to “join the conversation”?

Where are the tangible benefits?

Well, they may already be there. They just need to be communicated

  • Facebook and Twitter are building on the fact that they are increasingly responsible for traffic directed to major news sites. Conversely, despite being unfashionable, the portals are still popular. This is primarily because they offer a single place to get all desired information. If Facebook or another social network desire to become a portal, they need to contain, or at least link to, all relevant information for that person in a similar manner to the portals
  • Even if people aren’t social themselves, they may still like to read or hear the opinions of others on topics or areas that interest them. A comparison could be made to radio phone-ins, but with a criteria of entry based on interest rather than geography
  • Vouchering schemes are highly discriminatory, but cost/cost saving is eye-catching. People will gravitate towards the discounts
  • I really like Doc Searls’ idea of Vendor Relationship Management, where potential customers recruit providers instead of companies advertising to potential consumers. This clearly represents an easier route to deciding upon a major purchase, and is far preferable to disruptive advertising or poor performing display advertising.

The final point brings us on to the business model.

The challenges for a successful business

It is one thing to succeed in bringing in an audience. It is another thing to successfully run that business. To my mind, there are three major challenges to overcome before this space can be fully monetized

  1. Competition – in this instance, competition can be a bad thing. Maintaining a presence on a social network requires a major investment of time and effort. People are reticent to needlessly duplicate this. I believe that the low distribution barriers and start-up costs in the digital space mean that there should be no concerns over monopoly activity. Google, Amazon and eBay have all succeeded in this position to date, and there is no reason why Facebook cannot . I see no issue with them maintaining that (sound business strategy permitting, which is where Myspace fell down), with specialist networks operating in its orbit. If I am right, Google Buzz will swiftly fail
  2. Evolution without natural selection – I have quite a large problem with Google Buzz. Dumping a new social network on a group of people without it evolving from innovators downwards is a recipe for rejection. Without any proven benefits among even a minority of users, there is no reason for the average user to adopt it. It could be argued that the average Gmail user is savvier than those of competitor services, but there are as yet no clear benefits to using it. I’ve personally removed it from my Gmail, and it will remain turned off until these benefits become apparent. Throughout the evolution of social networks, there will always be the tension between placating the current users while reaching out to the sceptics. This requires a careful balancing act between keeping pace with the ambitions and needs of the power users, and the more conservative use of the later adopters
  3. The commercial model – there are many potential routes to take – basic display/interruptive advertising, VRM, subscription or integration with search to give just four examples – but the commercial model for ensuring the success of the social media space is still unclear. There may be a growing number of social media agencies in the space, but until they offer real, workable proposals for a) monetizing the current user base and b) attracting a mass audience, the prospects for mainstream success remain limited. It is therefore in their interests to do this, otherwise they will remain a niche proposition at threat from integrated campaigns from digital agencies, not to mention full service agencies.

Conclusion

Will social media become mass? Ultimately, I think so.But not in its current guise.

Social media is currently geared towards the technologically savvy. This is fine. But if the platform wishes to mature, then it is necessary to change.

The focus needs to move away from the exploration of something new towards the benefits people receive. This is achieved through highlighting the gains – information and entertainment – and the savings – in time, effort and money. Running alongside this is the need to identify and promote a sustainable commercial model – not an easy task.

Yet, to revisit Rogers’ model, an individual needs to trial something before they can fully adopt it. While social networks are free to join, the registration page still represents a barrier. Keeping most of the functionality behind the log-in is analogous to a paywall. It is hidden away. It is exclusive to users.

This isn’t a trait of a mass media. Social media needs to evolve further before it can be considered one.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ejpphoto/2633923684/

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Twitter, unlike Facebook, is socially mobile

The reciprocity of relationships is, in my opinion, the most fundamental difference between Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, both sides need to agree before the connection is made. On Twitter, people can follow whoever they like.

Does this make Twitter more “social”? I think it might.

I’m writing in broad terms, since different people use the services in different ways, but this makes Twitter aspirational. The more socially mobile, to reuse the pun from my title.

Facebook is who you know. Twitter is who you want to know.

Facebook reinforces social conventions. Twitter does not.

Facebook maintains the status quo. Twitter breaks it.

Facebook is about the past. Twitter is about the future.

Facebook is a constant reminder of our past actions and relationships. Nostalgic of both the recent and distant past.As Don Draper points out in this scene (embedding is disabled, but I’d recommend watching or rewatching it), nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound”. This is powerful, but also static.

It is about who we know and what we did.

The good moments but also the bad.

The people we’re glad we’ve stayed in touch with, but also those we’d rather keep in our past.

Yet the social pressure is there to accept these reconnections and intermingle the different worlds and circles of our past (I’m sure Don wouldn’t appreciate that). These relationships are hugely powerful, but they’re not the whole story.

Twitter is about the future. It is social networking in terms of forging new connections, rather than maintaining old ones.

We seek out people who we perceive to have similar interests or ideas to our own.

We recommend people to one another.

We follow macro and micro celebrities, whether to vicariously bask in the reflected glow or to learn from them.

Whatever our motivations, we are able to do this. There is no requirement to justify the people we follow. Likewise, there is no pressure to reciprocate when an individual (Or organisation. Or bot) follows us.

This fluidity of Twitter is a major advantage it has over Facebook. And if Facebook is seeking to keep more of our browsing behaviour within its network, it is something it needs to address.

It’s not just about who we are. It’s also about where we want to be.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyermonkey/2842941601/

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