Oct 09

Social networks need phone companies to create good advertising models

Social networks are a minority of communication, and great behavioral advertising strategies will need to think beyond them, out into the world of phones and face-to-face interactions.

Social networks plan to target advertising at people by first understanding where groups of friends exist, and then figuring out who is most influential within that group. By advertising to the most influential member of the group, they hope to reach the rest of the group.

Social networks plan to do this by measuring how often people communicate with each other, and how many times they “like” and “comment” on each others content. The problem however, is that social networks have a very limited view of the world. They only see a tiny fraction of a group of friends’ interactions. They miss all the face-to-face communication, all the phone calls and text messages, and all the email conversations.

Research we’ve conducted on how frequently people use different communication tools showed that social networks make up a minority of communication. Even with people who use social networks every day or couple of days, they communicated with others four times more often face-to-face, four times more often via phone calls, and twice as often via text messages. In other words, the vast majority of the influencing is happening outside the world of social networks. And most of it is happening off the web. Even the best advertising models that only use social network data will have a very skewed view of the world.

Businesses need more than the content and connections that exist in social networks. This is about relationships and conversations, not connections. If we think about…

1. Who is talking to who?
2. What is their relationship?
3. What are they talking about?

…we see that Facebook (for example) knows [1] and [3], but doesn’t know a lot about [2]. Yet [2] is the most important piece. [2] determines levels of trust. It determines who is likely to influence who. Crawling the graph and content on social networks won’t tell us a lot about [2]. The data required to really understand [2] lies in offline interactions and on people’s phones.

The best behavioral advertising models will be the ones that can tap into and understand off-web interactions. Who is calling and texting who? Who is giving who advice about what? Who trusts who?

Oct 09

Sharing is a means to an end. Design for the end.

Adding sharing functionality to everything is all the rage these days. I often hear people ask “How can we make our product social?”, or suggest that we “Add a share button“.

Focusing on sharing misses the point.

None of your users’ goal is “to share”. Sharing is a means to an end. They are sharing in order to accomplish something else. Understand what “else” is, design for it, and you’ll be creating something people really care about. Here are some examples.

Sarah shared a news article with her boyfriend about civil unrest in Sri Lanka. Her boyfriend stopped reading at the headline. They were planning to go on vacation there.
Don’t just add share buttons to news stories – design for collaborative event planning.

Alison shared a link to a small concert by a popular underground band. She wanted people to see that she was finding new music before others did, and be perceived as a music aficionado.
Don’t stop at sharing links – design for online identity.

John shared photos of the recent family vacation with his parents who live hundreds of miles away. He didn’t share them so that his parents could see what John and the family did, he did it so that his parents wouldn’t feel so isolated.
Don’t stop at sharing photos as objects – design for more intimate mediated communication.

Tom shared a video with his friend Stephen. He didn’t share it so that Stephen would enjoy it and pass it on, he shared it to prove that he was right about their disagreement the night before.
Don’t design for sharing video – design for faster information retrieval.

Oct 09

How to build a business using social media (Answer: Offline interactions)

A month ago I heard Mari Luangrath speak at the IDEA conference in Toronto. The theme of the conference was “Social and Experience Design” and Mari was speaking to us as someone who had built a successful business using only social media tools. How had she done it? What advice would she give other businesses?

As Mari described the growth of her business, her process, and the things that happened and how she responded to them, the key to her success became clear to me. Offline interactions. She regularly met people face to face, and all business transactions involved phone conversations. For all the social media tools out there, and the activities Mari was engaging in, nothing beat building customer relationships than interactions that happened offline. These tools had helped her build a wider audience, but as she joked herself:

The internet is no substitute for human companionship.

Key moments that built the business involved meeting people face to face, personal deliveries (some by Mari herself), and a personal confirmation of every order over the phone. She spoke about how the most impactful thing to come from Twitter was meeting people and building relationships at Tweetup events.

For any small business, this is sound advice. Use social media to support offline activities, not as the activity itself.

Oct 09

The absence of mental models on social networks

I’m a big believer in mental models and often structure research questions around them. From understanding news to finance to communication, I try to understand what people’s mental models are, and how we might better support them through design. Recently however, I’ve observed something that I hadn’t experienced before: the absence of a mental model.

As part of my job, I often study how and why people use different communication tools, like their phone, email, IM and social networks. I often probe people about their social network usage and what they think is going on. How does it work? Who can see what? What things are connected? Remarkably, when talking about their social network usage, people often can’t describe or map out how it works. They think hard about it, look at me and simply state that they don’t know, that they haven’t thought about it before, that when they do think about it, they can’t figure it out. When describing their activity on social networks, their different explanations for what is going on are often contradictory. They simply haven’t formed a concrete mental model of the social network, conscious or otherwise, despite having used it for months and even years. They don’t understand the sharing model, or who can see what.

This absence of a mental model leads to lots of inefficient and problematic interactions, lots of misunderstanding about content visibility, and lots of opportunities for improvement.

Oct 09

Why Sidewiki doesn’t change any branding fundamentals

A lot of people are upset because Sidewiki allows people to comment on their site without them having control over those comments. They can say whatever they want about you, and you can’t control it.

But this is not new. People have been talking good and bad about brands for decades. It may not have been to your face, but it happened every day. At least now you can learn what people really think at almost zero cost and more importantly, address your problems.

As Marty Neumeier says:

“Your brand is not what you say it is. It’s what your customers say it is”.

It’s clear that you don’t own the conversation about your brands anymore. This is a good thing, because you never really owned the conversation anyway. At least now you know what people think of you, warts and all.

The fundamentals remain the same. Make great products that people find enjoyable and useful, build great customer service, and people will say good things about you. Make rubbish and they’ll talk trash.

[Disclaimer: I work at Google. I didn't work on Sidewiki. These are just my own thoughts.]