Social Application Optimization

Alec Saunders points to a great post by Jeneane Sessum on Social Application Optimization – likening it to Cluetrain Manifesto with its suggestion that marketing is conversation.

Jeneane suggests there’s a need for a strategy and programs to have those conversations in social spaces creating an integrated presence across social sites or as she calls it Social Application Optimization. As she says it’s:

“the opportunity for companies to engage in social spaces — to find new ways to interact with their customers, partners, and the watching world — without making a pain of themselves”

She provides more details about what she’s thinking about when she answers some questions in the comments section:

“Gonzo Marketing really. Businesses can underwrite and sponsor participants, can step outside of their “business” in order to do that. Business becomes enabler of people doing cool things, not pusher. … And there will be others too–the ones who do it wrong, which will give all the more props to the ones who do it right.”

Of course it’s a welcome idea – and increasingly practiced. It’s the last part that critical – because as Cluetrain proposes it’s about authentic conversations and those can be difficult to do if you’re too focused on immediate return or your side of the conversation (same as in any social interaction).

This type of optimization is not without other difficulties. While social sites have recently opened up a bit (API’s announced for FaceBook, LinkedIn and rumored for MySpace) – they will probably always define who and how you can access people’s networks (as though user’s personal connections were THEIR network). It’s this mediation of relationship that can confound the discussion – making it important when choosing sites to know your audience is there –and to match the type of interaction to the sites meme.

More difficult is to recognize that users of social sites are mobile – sometimes using a variety of sites each for a distinct purpose, or moving form site to site (more on this in an upcoming post).  Keeping an authentic brand conversation across sites is difficult as the more one matches one sites meme making adoption and conversation easier the more a different style for other sites may look contrived – especially if there is any drift from the brands core ‘personality’.

Further complicating this is the fact that users do not carry a single identity with them from site to site. This limits your ability to ‘understand’ users interests and networks while making conversations (services) more basic than they could be if users could carry their behavior from site to site – making personalization richer while allowing continuity of discussions in different environments.

Regardless of the difficulties engaging users of social sites is going to increasingly be part of many companies marketing mix.

Federated Social Networks

Following up on yesterdays post I came across an interesting post on Seamus McCauley’s Virtual Economics blog that argues that vertical (activity/theme focused) social networks won’t win because:

 “a social network that lets people express multiple identities in multiple ways is almost always going to dominate a network that tries to confine identity within a singular niche.”

On one level he’s right; the more a network allows you to map the diversity of your identify onto the network the more useful the software will be. The issue is the expression of multiple identities has to be facilitated by software – and that means navigation, display and ease of use. All of which get easier the more you restrict diversity and options.

Compare the profile and network mapping in LinkedIn and Facebook.

LinkedIn uses an explicit template to deliver profiles based on professional accomplishments – there is very little room for ‘personality’. While it allows ‘social interaction’ in the form of Answers one must navigate away from ones profile to get the full richness of the interaction. That said the tools it provides to identify relationships as a result of your profile and network are very strong.

FaceBook takes an entirely different approach using a broader profile template but focusing much of the attention on the ‘profile’ that emerges from ones social interactions and the group connections one participates in. Network mapping is through individual and group affiliation with weaker abilities to link into ones extended network. 

The software defines how ones relationships are expressed in the social network.

What’s interesting is this light is that social networks are not just individuals – they are also organized groups of individuals with shared interests and goals. An organizational focus provides information that can shape the definition of software so it delivers value – and also surrounds it with contextually useful information that is outside the social sphere.

Of course this is won’t happen as long as the members of a social network and the applications that drive interaction are indivisible. Now I’m not an information architect but it seems to me that for a social network to be as granular and flexible as people want it will be separated in to multiple highly focused and efficient components.

Managing personal data in a flexible, accessible and inclusive way is likely more than enough of a challenge – especially given the potential volume and sources of that data – and the relationships between them (think Google for personal & relationship info). Systems to re-interpret information in light of context and new information present there own challenges – as does displaying that information in ways that are group, context, location and devise specific.

Maybe its time to think of social software, not as a single site, but as a federation that together delivers a variety of services that match my needs.

When Social Networks Collide

Ed Sim, asks whether LinkedIn and FaceBook are on a collision course?

The underlying question, is each currently targeting different social networks? Or are there networks starting to overlap? If it’s the latter, how long will people maintain, and consistently interact with two sites offering similar services. Ed asks:

“wouldn’t it be great if there was a meta-service where you only maintained one user profile and you could check off which details were fed into which different social networks.”

It’s a good question and interesting proposal – though I’m not sure it’s the right one.

What’s good about Ed’s proposal is that it recognizes that the future value of these services will sit in one of two places:

– assembling a large inclusive personal network
– applications that provide new ways to associate and interact.

To date all social network sites have been geared to building the former by providing enough of the latter to be sticky and viral. This has naturally resulted in them seeing all relationships as equal, as that offers the best opportunities for viral growth. The down side is that it doesn’t map as effectively to actual social networks – and results in a proliferation of profiles and applications that are incompatible and incomplete.

Take the suggestion that LinkedIn is for ones professional network and FaceBook for ones social one.  This dichotomy suggests that people are two dimensional when in fact relationships are a good deal more fluid and multi-dimensional as demonstrated by the people who have friends and contacts in both applications. For these people the separation is artificial.

The truth is that social applications don’t do a good job of defining (and tracking) the degree of friendship or affiliation. One may be a good friend or important business contact at one time and reverse those roles at another place. Time may reduce or increase friendship, while recent or ancient engagements, personal / professional goals and the ever changing state of reciprocity within the relationship always come into play – except on social sites.

There are immense opportunities for applications to present and filter profile information to reflect the shifting shape of our social lives – especially as these applications become more mobile and relate to presence of others in our network.

I think a meta-service is necessary but that the profile associated with it should be very light and ideally the relationships mapped should be built through a reciprocal exchange of information as applications access the meta-service.

This leaves enough flexibility and value at the application layer for groups to innovate beyond the current one dimensional static relationship that dominates current social sites.

LinkedIn Answers – A Media Resource

If you haven’t been to LinkedIn Answers you should head over and take a look. It’s both a lot of fun and offers hints at where online media development may be going.

 

Just use the search box to find questions that interest you – like “Media + Online”.  It’s amazing what turns up – and who’s asking and answering – which is easy to find out as you can easily link from the questioner or person answering to their professional profile (company, role, web sites & blog). This  quickly adds a whole new dimension to the questions.

 

For instance I’ve been following an individual who had leadership roles in some pretty big Internet ventures asking questions about the “trigger point for traditional media to add online presences”  Areas of Disruption from Consumer Internet”  and “successful programs for online advertising.  Whether these questions portend a social media application targeted to traditional media– or even an open API available to media on a fee basis is impossible to say – but it’s an intriguing line of questions.

 

You of course can find ask questions as well – which opens some pretty interesting opportunities as well.