Social Media Systems (1)

(Update – swapped Sam’s live UStream embed for Michael’s recorded YouTube embed)
This is an expansion on my Brrism talk on Systems Theory and how it can be applied to social media (systems).

There are a couple of benefits of using something like systems theory when designing a social media system, plus a couple of drawbacks. Perhaps most importantly, it helps with the big picture before worrying about API calls, jscript vs php, etc. The main drawback is that is won’t tell you how to make your social media system actually grow and thrive.

If you’re interested in the history of systems theory, General Systems Theory, Bertalanffy, et al, then my previous post touched on that, plus there are good wikipedia pages to read (linked to in this sentence). This article will concentrate on the overview, the next article will introduce to a particular systems approach and I’ll conclude this mini-series with an example application.

What is a System?

The word ‘system’ has become somewhat diluted and it’s meaning confused. However, systems are relatively easy to spot and describe.

Patrick Coin, Feb 1996

Firstly a system has components. A ruler is not a measurement system, it’s just a straight bit of metal or plastic with some marks on it. A feather is not a flight system, it’s very well adapted to direct airflow, perhaps with display markings, certainly helps with insulation, but it’s not a system.

All those components are contained within a boundary. Sometimes that boundary is fairly obvious, like the Yellow-Bellied Sap-Sucker. Sometimes the boundaries are more arbitrary, this website might be considered a system but there’s no physical boundary. Ultimately, the boundary is where you want it to be, but should be relevant to the system you’re looking at. But remember, the wider the system the more complex, too tight and you might not have a system at all!

There is a theoretical construct called the closed system, in reality all systems are open. This means there are inputs and outputs that cross the boundary. What this stuff is that crosses the boundary will depend on the system. You might have information, raw materials, written articles, even abstract concepts like trust. The point is that stuff crosses the boundary and you can describe it.

There is an important caveat to all this stuff crossing the boundary, there has to be a transformation between the input and output. Otherwise you’ve got a pipe! A pipe is not a system.

A communications system is a system because although part of the input (your message) is hopefully the same as the output (your message), there is a pile of associated data about the sender and receiver that is transformed in moving your message to your recipient. There are also internal transformations of the input message through encoders, compressions algorithms, decoders, etc.

Systems are also in a hierarchy of systems that form their environment. My little Sap-Sucker lives in the rainforest that is its ecosystem, that is part of a wider global system, and so on. It also has a digestive system, neural system, and so on down the scale. Systems within systems.

And lastly, but most importantly, systems display something called emergent properties. In social systems this is the law of unintended consequences. Behaviours that arise from the interaction between all the components and sub-systems, variations in inputs, changes in the environment. The point being that you can’t define them all when you analyse the system.

So far, so mechanistic. How do we apply this to social media? More >>

If you’re interested in what was actually said in my talk, the video is up on Facebook (sorry, not on an embeddable site, will have to talk to Michael about that). Sam Downie (@samdownie) was streaming on UStream and the slides are on Slideshare.

The performance of junior doctors in applying clinical pharmacology knowledge and prescribing skills to standardised clinical cases

I have recently submitted a thesis for a masters of philosphy, entitled: The Design and Validation of assessment tools for use with Junior Doctors in Applying Clinical Pharmacology.  Part of this work has been written up and will be published in the next edition (June 2010) of the peer reviewed academic journal British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Entitled: The performance of junior doctors in applying clinical pharmacology knowledge and prescribing skills to standardised clinical cases. This paper builds on the fact that safe prescribing is a core competency in undergraduate medical education. That a large proportion of undergraduate medical students and recently graduated doctors in the UK are not confident in their ability to effectively and safely prescribe and that errors are common in all healthcare settings and prescribing errors are the most common type.

This study produced twelve valid and statistically reliable assessments of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics (CPT) knowledge and prescribing skills in areas that pose a high risk to patient safety. The findings show that a large proportion of Foundation Year 1 (FY1) doctors fail to demonstrate the level of CPT knowledge and prescribing ability judged by a subject matter expert (SME) panel to be required at this stage of their careers. My co-authors (Prof Nicky Britten & Dr David Bristow) suggest strategies and areas where teaching can be focused to improve the safety and effectiveness of FY1 doctors’ prescribing.

If this is an area of interest then below is the abstract related to the article and a link to the journal.

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Aims

Recent studies suggest a worryingly high proportion of final year medical students and new doctors feel unprepared for effective and safe prescribing.  Little research has been undertaken on UK junior doctors to see if these perceptions translate into unsafe prescribing practice.  We aimed to measure the performance of foundation year 1 (FY1) doctors in applying clinical pharmacology and therapeutics (CPT) knowledge and prescribing skills using standardised clinical cases.

Methods

A subject matter expert (SME) panel constructed a blueprint and from this twelve assessments focussing on areas posing high risk to patient safety and deemed as essential for FY1 doctors to know. Assessments comprised six Extended Matching Questions (EMQ) and six Written Unobserved Structured Clinical Examinations (WUSCE) covering seven CPT domains.  Two of each assessment types were administered over three time points to 128 FY1 doctors.

Results

The twelve assessments were valid and statistically reliable. Across seven CPT areas tested 51-75% of FY1 doctors failed EMQs and 27-70% failed WUSCEs. The WUSCEs showed three performance trends; 30% of FY1 doctors consistently performing poorly, 50% performing around the passing score, and 20% performing consistently well.  Categorical rating of the WUSCEs revealed 5% (8/161) of scripts contained errors deemed as potentially lethal.

Conclusions

This study shows that a large proportion of FY1 doctors fail to demonstrate the level of CPT knowledge and prescribing ability required at this stage of their careers. We identify areas of performance weakness that pose high risk to patient safety and suggest ways to improve FY1 doctors’ prescribing.

Blast from the Past

Unfortunately I can’t be at this months Brrism (sorry Micheal @kobb). However, one of the topics will be around ancient scrolls of wisdom (or anything over 5 years in Internet time).

Which got me thinking about what I was up to 10 years ago.

At the time I was a junior PhD researcher at the University of Plymouth. Bizarrely my old homepage is still live, though mercifully I’d updated it in 1999 with fewer flashing GIF’s and roll-over image maps, though the obligatory animated email gif is still there (the email isn’t live however).

A large part of my research (1997-2000) was looking at systems theory as it applied to ‘human activity systems’, so I’m going to cheat (slightly) and reference some work that wasn’t directly about Social Media (or even web-based technologies). Though I was based in the School of Computing, my background is in engineering and the research group was mostly engineers, economists and psychologists. We were interested in how systems theory could be applied to particular social groups (mostly engineering companies in this case) and in particular the processes that those social groups used to achieve certain aims (generally converting some specification into a manufactured product). However, I believe there is good reason to think that much of that research can be applied to social media application in other business endeavours.

Squared Circle Mosaic: Fibonacci Spiral with Hue Twist - Uploaded on January 27, 2005 by krazydad / jbum

Prof Peter Checkland (Lancaster University) is a Chemist that worked in industry on complex engineering problems and eventually moved to the most complex systems of all, those involving humans (unfortunately his seminal work is a book, 1981, not an online article).

Systems are generally recognised by some fundamental principles;

  • Boundaries – there’s a bunch of stuff that’s “inside” the system, and a bunch of stuff that’s “outside” the system (there will usually be an argument over where to draw the boundary but that almost defines the fact that you’ve got a system)
  • Inputs and outputs – stuff crosses the boundary, this can be physical or non-physical [you can have a ‘closed’ system but they’re generally rather boring and hypothetical]
  • There’s some transformation, i.e. difference, between the inputs and outputs
  • There are components within the system; a single component is not a system
  • Systems are nested; within large systems are smaller systems

and most importantly

  • Emergent Properties – you can’t describe the performance of the system just by analysing the component parts

Checkland is important because he was one of the first people to try and describe the messy company and organisational situations he was working within from a systems perspective (building on much of Bertalanffy‘s work between 1934 & 1969) . He identified boundaries and within those boundaries the sub-groups that actually made the company work. He identified information and flows of power within the organisation, and across those boundaries. He was able to sketch out the ‘actual’ human activity system, rather than the business or computer information system. It was the systems characteristic of emergent properties that led to them not performing as planned, and gave rise to the law of unintended consequences (previously identified in social sciences by Robert Merton (1936) but not explained).

But what does this mean for the social media strategist?

Well it means that, despite our shiny shiny toys, there is quite a bit of good research and clear thinking about how people work in groups and in particular how we can design such systems. No matter how carefully we design them, there will be emergent properties; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t design them in the first place.

There will always be boundaries, some stuff will be “inside”, some stuff will be “outside”. You don’t want everything to be “inside“; even planet earth isn’t a closed system.

Stuff needs to cross your system boundary, and it needs to be transformed en-route to becoming an output. I put my details into Facebook (as do 350m others) and a whole bunch of RSS feeds, and I get a ‘useful’ homepage about my ‘friends’. I can put photos, comments, stories, whatever in, and people can further transform them with additional comments, links to other people, etc. True, you can’t automagically get that data out of Facebook, but you can log in and read what’s there. And reading what’s there is one form of taking information out of the Facebook system, as are social networks, etc.

Of course there are lots of component software chunks and sub-systems within Facebook. Each casual game on Facebook is its own system, nested within Facebook. Each fan community is a nested system. Each discussion board is, potentially, a sub-system, nested within a fan page, nested within Facebook, nested within the Internet, etc. Depending on where you draw the boundary, everyone that’s on Facebook is also part of the system…

And of course there’s a ton of emergent behaviour that wasn’t predicted (or predicable).

So what can we do about/with it?

The first thing to note is that, from my experience, most people aren’t very good at meta-cognitive thinking about systems theory. That is, they are used to living within systems (social, organisational, leisure) but they don’t actually spend a lot of time thinking about those systems, and even less thinking about how they are thinking about them.

This means that people will usually try to apply existing social behaviours and norms to on line systems, and if that doesn’t work they get frustrated/angry/disillusioned/etc. You either build your on-line social media system exactly like ‘real’ world (but then why would anyone be interested in your system?) or educate people  into the operating of the new system. That’s why all games have tutorial / training built in.

In order to develop a training programme you need to understand, and be able to communicate, the designed purpose and functioning of your system. One way to do this is draw a picture of it, not a UML diagram or a wireframe, but a human activity system diagram. You don’t need to use any ‘standardised’ modelling nomenclature, so long as you and your team understand it and it covers the basics above.

Michael, Rick Chapman, and I spent some time recently thinking about modelling social media systems. We tried to cover the basics, without employing a formal systems modelling methodology. Its not perfect but I think it’s a good start.

You should know where the boundaries are, what the expected information flows are going to be, the transformations and components that will do the transforming, and what the wider emergent property will be. That will all change once the system begins to operate but at least you’ll have a blueprint and can either take action to bring the system back into the original concept or decide to take things in a different direction.

We did quite a lot of this within my old research group, and its surprising how good a consensus you can arrive at for generic systems diagrams.

This early draft is far from ‘perfect’ but I think there is something of value if you’re building, or thinking about social media, to have a model similar to this in your toolbox to refer to.

Conclusion & Caveat

In conclusion, some thinking time about the network you’re trying to build is valuable. The tools you employ should come afterwards; twitter is not a social media strategy. There are lots of good, well established frameworks to think about social networks, systems of activity, etc. You don’t need to follow slavishly the minutia of their particular quirks and peculiarities but you should understand why they are there and why you are ignoring them.

The caveat: feedback loops are a feature of systems. The huge difference that digital technologies have brought is the near frictionless feedback loop. There is almost no transactional cost to publishing a comment and for that comment to then be republished to +350m people (it happens both automatically via services like posterous and twitter-bots, and through the retweet/comment feature in all social media services), and re-re-published endlessly. That is something that we haven’t modelled effectively yet. The good social media marketeers amongst us know how to achieve this, even if they don’t fully understand the why.

Fresh coffee & Opportunities

Uploaded on October 23, 2006 by Hamed Saber
Well it’s been quiet externally for jbsh the last couple of months but there’s been plenty going on. This post is a cross-post from Open Coffee Bristol where we welcomed in the New Year this morning.

Well 2010 kicked off in the UK with snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures and general chaos as public services ground to a halt.

But not Open Coffee and the entrepreneurs of Bristol.

Fortified by the best coffee that the Boston Tea Party on Park Street has to offer we gathered on their first floor to catch up after the break and discuss the future. By the end Steve Cayzer (HP Labs, LinkedIn), Rupert Russell (Carmen Data, LinkedIn), Helen Davies (For Effect, website), Sam Machin (Orange, personal website), Nigel Legg (Katugas Social Media, website) and Andy (who surname I’ve unforgivable forgotten, sorry).

Conversation covered the various tax implications of company car ownership, developing new brand images for the new year (and the difficulty finding a good printers these days), online marketing for small tourism companies and the challenge of getting good geo-location data, and that was just at my end of the tables!

The general opinion was that while the weather and economic climate might be a bit inclement (or just down right awful) there was business to be done and opportunities to be exploited. Business cards were swapped and a couple of new collaborations initiated.

So the New Year is off to a great start and looks to get better.

Look forward to seeing you at the next Open Coffee Bristol on Tues, 26 Jan from 8.30am in The Boston Teaparty on Park St.

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Brrism – Social Media in Bristol

Always a good evening, the next Brrism looks to be a real barnstormer (6.30pm on Wednesday 20 Jan in the Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol).

There promises to be some great presentations on social media tools (Colin Rainsforth, twitter) and the fine line between time management & time wasting (Lee Cottier, twitter) but I’m guessing the hot topic will be the Digital Economy Bill.

Paul Smith (Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Bristol West) is leading the discussion. The bill is about to enter the Committee Stage in the House of Lords, so there’s no guarantee that it’ll be law before the election, but this is a critically important bill for the UK and Bristol’s digital economy so come along and can make a positive contribution.

Events

Clinical Assessment Tools need to be user friendly

Doctor-Patient contact time is vitally important for diagnosis and treatment.  To aid doctors thousands of ‘tools’ have been developed for use in various fields of medical practice.  But as new technology (including physical assessment and validated questionnaires) is introduced assessment tools become redundent and others are introduced. However technological advances tend to be expensive and time consuming to train medical staff to use.  It is also the case that they often require additional physical space, time to administer and a level of health of the patient.

CigarettesThe aim of Dr Rupert Jones and collegues (including me) was to derive a multi-component assessment index for use with patients with COPD to gain a measure of severity. The index was intended to include items that are clinically important, applicable to all grades of disease severity and all healthcare settings, and simple and clear to use.

Traditionally, the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) has been the main measure of COPD severity for clinicians and still has a prominent place in international guidelines. While patients are mainly concerned with symptoms, exacerbations and functional capacity, airflow obstruction is important to clinicians in order to measure the lung damage and determine treatment. A composite measure could account for various dimensions of the disease, and take into account both the patient’s and the physician’s perspectives.

One highly regarded composite measure is the BODE index which was originally designed to predict mortality in COPD. However, the BODE index involves a Six Minute Walking Test (6MWT) which limits its use in routine clinical settings as it takes time, supervision, and space. Another validated prognostic index, the COPD Prognostic Index is also cumbersome to use in routine clinical settings as it includes seven items, one of which is a health status questionnaire.

Therefore we have derived and validated a composite index of severity in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which has recently been accepted for publication by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.  We hope the index will be widley adopted by the medical profession.

If you are unsure of its relevance or usfulness to your practice, below is the abstract associated with the journal article.

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Rationale: COPD is increasingly recognized as a multi-component disease with systemic consequences and effects on quality of life. Single measures such as lung function provide a limited reflection of how the disease affects patients. Composite measures have the potential to account for many of the facets of COPD.

Objective: To derive and validate a multi-component assessment tool of COPD severity which is applicable to all patients and healthcare settings.

Methods/ Measurements: The index was derived using data from 375 COPD patients in primary care. Regression analysis led to a model explaining 48% of the variance in health status as measured by the Clinical COPD questionnaire with four components: dyspnea (D), airflow obstruction (O), smoking status (S) and exacerbation frequency (E). The DOSE index was validated in cross-sectional and longitudinal samples in different healthcare settings in Holland, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Main results: The DOSE index correlated with health status in all datasets. A high DOSE index score (> = 4) was associated with a greater risk of hospital admission (odds ratio 8.3 (4.1 – 17) or respiratory failure 7.8 (3.4 – 18.3). The index predicted exacerbations in the subsequent year (p ≤ 0.014).

Conclusions: The DOSE index is a simple valid tool for assessing the severity of COPD. The index is related to a range of clinically important outcomes such as healthcare consumption and predicts future events.

New Perspectives – Is the Leaning Tower of Pisa always inclined?

Recently I posted about an area of research I am interested in and mentioned that we were going to Pisa to present the results at the European Health Psychology Society Annual Conference.

I jokingly asked if Psychology could help the leaning tower and we concluded that the research I was offering up for scrutiny probably wouldn’t.

However the “Inclined Tower“, as a Swiss friend calls it, offers up an obvious, and visual, comparison with some of the benefits from attending conferences.

Its actually quite unusual to learn astounding new facts at academic conferences. Most of the formats involved are just too short and the programme too crowded to allow for a long and detailed examination of new research (that’s what Journal papers are really for). In Pisa there were nearly 1,300 separate pieces of research being presented, either in 15 min oral presentations, posters, symposia, or round table discussions. And all this over 4 days [programme in pdf format].

While you may not spend a lot of of time learning new material, you are forced to look at things from new angles and applying your thoughts and feelings in new ways.  In other words from a ‘New Perspective’!

You’re exposed to the work of people with very different, though equally valid, research philosophies.You can see how they tackled similar questions but from different perspectives (sometimes wildly different).

Studies in psychology provide and require multiple perspectives to be applied in order to understanding people as individuals and as individuals in a community. Research findings and implications about the mind and mental processes as well as studies of the development and behaviour, maintenance and change of socially significant behaviour are all of importance in understand and explaining (at least in part) the world we live in and how we situate ourselves within it.

p.s. John here, I sat in on some of the presentations and there were a couple of very interesting points. Traditionally the shift change in hospitals has been seen as a vulnerability and has resulted in a culture of long shifts. Some research indicated that safety might actually be improved with more shift changes, since they were more often catching problems than causing them. It was the act of explaining what was going on to someone new, a fresh pair of eyes, that caught these oversights. Equally, they sometimes gave people the impetus to make a decision. For a start up company that’s charging along eyes on the prize, taking time out occasionally to explain that bigger picture to an impartial observer, is a huge benefit.

It was also notable the lack of technology awareness in health care messages and communications. Not just the use of social media but viral gaming, mobile data capture & evaluation, and general webbiness. As I tweeted from the conference (I was in the minority having a mobile data device with me), online avatars working from fixed scripts do not make for very convincing ‘companions’. There is a lot this community could learn from places like the Pervasive Media Studio here in Bristol and the ecosystem around them.

For a technical civil engineering description of the tower and various attempts to ‘straighten’ it check out this page. 🙂

Social Media – Recommend something

Uploaded on March 17, 2009 by gilderic
Uploaded on March 17, 2009 by gilderic

Recommend: to present as worthy of confidence, acceptance, use, etc.; commend; mention favorably

This is possibly the hardest stage and the one that most often introduces cognitive dissonance. You spend the time establishing rapport, building your understanding, demonstrating your understanding and expertise, at some point you need to recommend a solution. Obviously you want to recommend your solution, your most expensive solution (to push your ROI), or your cheapest solution (to hook them in)?

No, you want to recommend the best solution for whoever you’re talking to.

Of course if all you do is recommend others you’ll quickly go out of business, unless that is your business paid for by someone else. And here we get to a really interesting business proposition that’s been around for some time but is potentially seeing a resurgence in the business of social media business.

Commission based sales and affiliate marketing (where the sales channel takes a cut of the final transaction value) are nothing new. However, this is still a traditional sales pitch, even Google ads will present you the ad that’s paid the most for the keyword you’ve typed in even if you would actually be better off with another (cheaper) solution.

‘Proper’ social media allows you to recommend other people and yet still maintain a link with the customer for the next time, and through the joy of networks to all their connections. So when they tweet what a great consultant/business/product you’ve got, all their connections find out.

There still isn’t a decent mechanism for measuring social value. Tara Hunt‘s Wuffie Factor is an attempt but I’m not aware of it being used much in practice. LinkedIn recommendations are a bit too back-slappy and mutually appreciative which sort of devalues them.

The hardest reports I filled out were the ones where I’d been talking to a company and suggested they get in touch with another University for their £’00k research project. Of course it goes down better if that solution is from the company employing you, but its remarkable how many successful introductions to new clients came from people I’d recommended go elsewhere.

Uploaded on July 9, 2009 by Reinante El Pintor de Fuego
Uploaded on July 9, 2009 by Reinante El Pintor de Fuego

Close: to arrange the final details of; to complete or settle

If the recommendation is accepted, and it usually was, then closing is just the fine tuning of the agreement, sorting out purchase / invoice details, price, delivery, etc.

A word of warning though, just because you’ve build up this great rapport with a client, don’t begin work without a signed contract. If there is to be an exchange of money then you need at least something that sets out in writing the proposed transaction.

Having invested all this time and effort in securing a sale, keep it going, but don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that now they’ve finally made a purchase they’ll go away and leave you in peace, making monthly subscription installments; or that now they’ve bought your stuff you can pester them about every upgrade and option on the list.

I would recommend consistency above all. If you’ve provided a very light touch information stream and simple options leading up to the sale, don’t suddenly start sending bi-weekly email newsletters. Likewise, if you’ve been chatting on twitter, sending notifiers through your Facebook fan page, and so forth, don’t suddenly ignore them to chase the next client/customer.

So five posts ago I asked what was social media good for? It can be good for business, it can be good for your business, but like any tool of business, you need to spend a bit of time thinking through your strategy and implementing it to find new customers and establish rapport, lurk-a-lot (and talk with them a lot) to understand them and their needs, demonstrate you’ve been listening and really understanding, and then make some recommendations on their best course of action, eventually closing a deal with a new customer.

And if I’ve managed to build up some rapport with you, you think I might understand your needs, and have demonstrated that I understand social media, I’d recommend you drop me an email and we’ll take it from there! 🙂

Social Media – Demonstrate your skillz

Uploaded on October 2, 2006 by J. Star
Uploaded on October 2, 2006 by J. Star

Demonstrate: to make evident or establish by arguments or reasoning; to describe, explain, or illustrate by examples, specimens, experiments

Now is the time to join the conversation. Relate to your audience, demonstrate that you understand their world and needs. Demonstrate that you are an authentic person not just a marketing drone. This is where a little bit of human comment alongside the professional is more acceptable than in traditional marketing / communications strategies.

How much will depend on you, your product/service/company and your audience. Try a bit out, see what the response is, if you haven’t quite understood the social norms, apologise and tighten up a bit.

It may be that your online shopping site is able to demonstrate that you understand my need by recommending other things I’d like. At the moment this is still more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’. And frankly my experience of Facebook’s targeted ads is pretty poor (but then perhaps I’m not sharing enough to allow them to understand my every whim).

Freeagent established an early rapport with me through a review of their products on a website (can’t remember which but it was around their launch date), they clearly understood the needs of small businesses in the UK and particularly recognised the need for LLP specific accounting support (we’re incorporated as an LLP). They continue to demonstrate that they understand my needs by staying out of my face and cranking out the updates.

By contrast Greenlight Search Engine Marketing blew it completely at this point. They’d begun well, establishing rapport with a polite email referencing this site and a specific post, and followed up with a couple of phone calls which was a nice touch. I should have realised that they didn’t understand me from the email and phone calls but decided to proceed anyway because of the great job that Vodafone had done with their ‘Live Guy‘ promotion and this was also for Vodafone.

Greenlight asked me to put some links to Vodafone’s store on my post, I thought this was kind of cool (it’s always nice when someone reads, or at least notices your stuff) and wanted to add a small post-script about Greenlight, SEO in web2.0 etc and then the links. Nope, they just wanted the links and to pay me £40. Against my better judgement, and after lots of thinking, I stuck the links on (with rel=”nofollow” tags) and emailed my invoice. A few weeks later, without settling their invoice, I got another email, from someone else in Greenlight, ‘updating’ the links (which I did in good faith). Several months later, still without settling their invoice, I’ve not heard anything further and have taken the links off.

Which brings me to an important aspect of social media (which applies to any business but is amplified with online). Do a great job and your happy customer might tell one or two people what a great job you did, upset them and you’ll have United Breaks Guitars (YouTube video)!

Assuming you’ve demonstrated that you understand your client/customer/community needs, it’s time to make a recommendation on what to do next.

Social Media – build Understanding

Uploaded on January 22, 2007 by gari.baldi
Uploaded on January 22, 2007 by gari.baldi

Understand: to perceive what is meant; to accept tolerantly or sympathetically

This is the sage advice about having two ears and only one mouth, listen to what is going on. Even if you already have a very strong market leading brand; before you wade in, listen and observe (lurk in the parlance). The social norm’s don’t always apply on line and some ‘normal’ behaviour is downright rude on line. Equally, what’s ‘normal’ on twitter isn’t the same as what’s normal on LinkedIn. Think of it like international trade and those HSBC ads about cultural differences.

Social media is great for lurking and the great thing about social media is that lurking is accepted, even encouraged. You can let the river of news from most social networks flow over you while you scope out the lie of the land.

Tools like Tweetdeck mean you can keep an eye on half a dozen topic groups (by using search & group functions), most sites allow you to ‘follow’ a discussion so you get all the updates without having to spend all week hitting reload.

Set up a few Google alerts, feed them into your RSS reader. Find the social media networks relevant to your business, there is one out there and Google probably knows where it is. See what’s popular, language used, topics of discussion, OT discussions (Off-Topic, not directly related to the forum/discussion/network but of interest to the group).

Take the time to figure this out, don’t just hire a 13 year old. Like any key aspect of your business, you should understand the basics so that you can plan and act accordingly. If nothing else, you need to know when you’re being spun B.S. by your 13 year old ‘social media guru’. 🙂

You don’t need to be developing any great theory of everything, you certainly shouldn’t aim to know everything about everything. That way lies analysis paralysis, but you can build up a picture of the industry, your client, their challenges and how you can help them address those challenges.

Most social media sites have great facilities for chat, discussion forums and similar where you can ask questions and monitor replies. However, remember the opening advice above and be aware than discussions can be very robust & opinionated. Whatever you do, I would advise against getting drawn into a flame war. As recent evidence as shown, no one is really anonymous on the internet (if they ever were).

Generally I don’t say a lot at networking events, at least until I’ve stopped ‘working’ and had a couple glasses of wine. I’ll usually ask questions like ‘what are you currently excited about…’ or ‘what cool stuff are you working on’. By taking the time to understand a business in the assisted living technologies markets (primarily for the hearing impaired) I was able to identify that the key challenge was more about growth & succession planning than product development & sales. I was able to demonstrate this by asking more about their business structure & strategy than about their technologies. Having establishing my understanding and credibility I was able to recommend that two projects were developed what were around £100k each.

Having worked on understanding your customer’s needs through social media, you can begin to demonstrate that understanding and establish your position as someone who can be trusted and respected.