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Watching the Facebook

Facebook, twitter, internet radio – I love all that stuff. The interconnectedness, the interdependence: I find myself fascinated by how these online communities grow and change, both in themselves and how they change us.
I’m not the only one of course; An earlier post on the dharma of Facebook generated lots of interest. Maybe Facebook and Twitter are one big interactive sociology experiment; one megabrain that arises from us and is both more and less than us collectively. As Bugs used say, “mmm, could be!” And maybe not.
But I’m also fascinated by how and why these spaces or entities are funded. Because no one works at Facebook or Twitter just for hte fun of it. They are not volunteer-maintained. Companies are spending a LOT of money to invest in and exploit social media. It’s interesting to see how consumption, consumption, consumption is driven in social media.
I read, for the heck of it, and this recent blog post caught my eye.
Ripple6 is a Gannett company that provides both publishers and brands with a range of social media tools. For Proctor & Gamble’s Rouge Magazine site at, Ripple6 built a closed community (“The Salon”) where invitees from the P&G mailing list could converse about beauty regimens generally as well as a specific product P&G was promoting. One of the aims of the project was to find advocates and activate them outside of this closed community.
According to Ripple6 CEO Sang Kim, a number of analytic tools can be used to identify potential brand cheerleaders. “What was cool is that one of the things you could see was peer helping,” he says. “Someone would say that they had tried something and it didn’t work, and then someone else would chime in and say that they had experienced the same thing and here is how it worked better for her. That is clearly an advocate — someone who doesn’t just say this is great but actually shows you how to get greater value out of the product.” In other words, the conversation revealed a behavioral gesture the brand would want to enlist: the propensity to reach out and advise.
. . . Once an advocate has been identified, simply slamming them with messages or product to spread around is a mistake, Kim finds. “You really need to embrace them and communicate with them first.”
In a closed or branded community, the advocates can get special access to the product and the company. Then you can give them the tools to recruit. In the case of the P&G program, “it was a very explicit viral program. The goal was to actually have the advocates bring their [external] network into the community.”
So “peer helping” doesn’t just have karmic benefits, it seems. It has measurable monetary benefits to advertisers, as well. And being able to measure that impulse is an expertise to be sold.
Altruism, or compassion for another suffering human who just can’t get that damn exfoliator to work, makes one an effective shill to drive consumption. People who can measure your altruism can sell their services.
And don’t think our every click, our frequency of interaction, our time of interaction — every move we make on FB isn’t being measured. It doesn’t matter if they can’t tie an activity to a particular person. We are a herd, being observed. I don’t particularly think this is evil, just very interesting. What to do with knowledge of the herd? Shall we sell it more crap or share the dharma? Very interesting to see how every action, every impulse, is not what we think it is. My impulse to help another might just help destroy the planet. Whoops, there goes that interdependence again!

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Greg P

posted March 31, 2009 at 5:30 am

Some comments (coming from someone who works directly with the Facebook platform and knows the industry very intimately):
The reference to “peer helping” is a description of virality. If you have ever been sent a funny email or a link to a youtube clip and sent it to your friends, you have engaged in a new form of communication that did not exist just a few years ago. Now, the tricky part: let’s say this youtube clip was not a random person taking clips of their cat flushing the toilet, but instead it was Adam Samberg on SNL. By sending this funny movie to friends, you are performing a service to Saturday Night Live. You think you are just forwarding a funny email, but you are really saying “I, XYZ person, endorse this SNL clip for you–everyone following me on Facebook–to view.” Think about the monetary value behind that? This is the bread and butter of viral marketing. (The YouTube clip is the “virus” and you, Lazy Sunday watcher, are the host.)
There are two amazing part about this mechanism of communication. The first is its unparalleled reach. If you send it to two friends and those two friends send it to two friends, after 20 iterations, over 1 million people will have viewed it (reduced in practice by the fact that many of those people will be the same person getting the clip twice).
The second part of the puzzle is that unlike watching commercials on TV, people *enjoy* both receiving and sending these advertisements. Put more vainly, you and I have a certain amount of status among our peers from our online dealings. Have you ever seen a clip and wanted to be the first to send it to your friends? We don’t like to admit it, but there is a strong element of status in being hosts to viral marketing. (Have you ever found yourself feeling left out at a party for not having seen some esoteric clip on YouTube? I know I have.) The companies are not the only ones who benefit from your interactions with social media.
What Facebook and other social media have done is provided a canvas for individuals to express themselves. My point here is not to be an apologist for Facebook et al. To the degree that use or non-use of a product implies status (WHAT sweety, you booked us at the Ramada on our honeymoon?? What’s that dude, you bought a Mac?) little has changed with social media, except the mode of expression.

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Greg P

posted March 31, 2009 at 5:33 am

whoops: Adam Samberg -> Andy Samberg

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Ellen Scordato

posted March 31, 2009 at 9:17 am

Thank you for that excellent explication.
Unfortunately, I am not one of the people who *enjoy* commercials on tv. I deeply object to television and its nonstop message. “YOU LACK.”
My husband and I have a long-running (and oft-discussed) disagreement over that box o’hell. More than one argument has begun when I will not stop talking back at the tv and its messages.
Interesting that we pass along bits of info or entertainment “virally” to gain status. And once again, the message is if we don’t do this, we lack something. We feel “left out.” So somebody better sell us something, quick. We better get up on something, quick. Is there any other answer to the human need for status and value? Yes, but it’s probably just as bad an answer. Sigh.

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Greg P

posted April 2, 2009 at 10:41 pm

@Ellen Scordato,
Not sure if you misunderstood my statement, but my original post directly relates to your talking-back-to-the-TV:
From my comment: “The second part of the puzzle is that unlike watching commercials on TV, people *enjoy* both receiving and sending these advertisements [..”these advertisements” was a reference to youtube videos, etc].”
Perhaps I am not clear on what you mean by this: “And once again, the message is if we don’t do this, we lack something. We feel “left out.” ” I understand how this applies to traditional media (cosmetics commercials, for example), but I would argue that social media in particular is composed instead of many varying streams of “I AM.”
My mother’s reaction when I first described facebook to her was something to the effect of “oh, great, this just gives people tons of new ways to feel badly about themselves.” My reaction is that it’s a new canvas for social expression and interaction. Nothing about facebook tells people “You are worthy if you someone writes on your wall and you are not worthy if they do not.” Of course that happens on its own, which i think is telling about human psychology and how quickly we develop ways to feel inadequate. Personally I think it’s misguided to think has anything to do with facebook–IMO we are the problem. :-)

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