Monthly Archives: September 2009

Disrupting the barriers of media in the 21st Century

This pre-internet installation was and remains a vital consideration in the future of media. It has been supposed for a long time that communication and media technologies allowed people who already knew each other to improve existing relationships. Alternatively, broadcast media were used to send corporate-owned messages to the ‘masses’. There has been very little in the understanding of communities and how they are built and morph through media. To date, due to the expense of entry to creating content for media communication technology, most middle class people have been limited to the telephone – and that form is one-to-one rather than the one-to-many formats offered by social media. This installation’s first day shows how people who did not know each other were able to create conversations and relationships – even for a short time.

People in the video respond a certain way because they realize people in the other location can actually see them. This created an ‘event’. In the 21st Century, when everything that happens in public locations could readily and easily be posted to the web, are we seeing a change in everyday public behaviors due to the fact that we are aware, more than ever before, that someone might be posting our actions? From music concerts to classrooms, from traffic accidents to natural environments, people are creating ‘events’. The greater questions are how have we as a community become the public entity we are creating, and what impact does this have on how we relate to each other. What has made people immediately reach for their cell phone to take a picture when something happens? This is a stage of history we’ve never faced before.

While we have come through an era where “the medium is the message,” we have moved on from this. The medium is still the technology. The message today is found in the resonance of community. One is not the other. In fact, the irony as stated by Steve Harrison in his essay on this particular video (found in HCI Remixed), is key. Separation does in fact, invite a connection. If we believe that human beings seek resonance with each other, eliminating some of the barriers to finding that resonance through disrupting the accepted norms of relationships and community will in fact deliver us to new ways of ‘seeing’ each other. Through these new ways of discovering resonance we will be able to grow an international array of communities. The international would relate not just to geographical space, but also class space. We have a media which will offer everyone an opportunity to find resonance of community with the homeless, the traditional-media famous, and their neighbor.

Do online communities pretend to care?

I am fortunate enough to have been invited to attend IMSI, the Invitational Masters Student Invitational, to be held at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, the weekend of October 16-18. Given Rutgers received over 100 applications, to be one of the 25 students invited to discuss their current research and proposed dissertation topic with Rutgers faculty, existing doctoral candidates, and other invitees is a privelege and real highlight of my academic career.

In my application I had to submit an existing paper to demonstrate my research. The paper I chose to submit was on identity work performed on twitter through the use of language and sentence structure. This paper looked at how people create and present an identity of themselves on Twitter, primarily through the use of @ replies, hashtags and retweets. While it’s a decent paper, for Rutgers I’d like to extend it to look at this identity work, and how the Twitter community sees its need to create an identity of concern in crisis and tragedy. This is where I’m headed.

Online communities and crisis

We’ve all seen media stories of tragic events, and how people are affected by them – and how they’ve gathered together online as a result. While sites exist to create online memorials, sometimes it crosses over and a personal fun page is morphed into a place for others to gather when they’ve passed on. On Twitter, I have personally witnessed multiple occasions where someone has ended up tweeting their own tragic events. The death of a wife. The death of a child. I wonder what would have happened if Twitter had been so commonplace during larger tragedies such as the Virginia Tech shootings.

I have watched the online community gather to provide concern and support to individuals directly affected by tragedy. It is this kind of resonance that led me to undertake a small content analysis on the tweets associated with the Australian bushfires last year. I wanted to find out who was tweeting about it? How were they involved? What were they saying and why?

The paper was a very small, very specific analysis in which I was surprised to discover that two thirds of people who twittered during the high point of the bushfire-related tweets were located nowhere near the tragedy. In fact, they were overseas. None of them knew people directly affected. And what were they saying?

Apart from retweeting basic information, the majority of people wanted to know how could they help?

Seeking triangulation? I’m not quite there yet…

Last week I attended the presentation of Leysia Palen’s to-date work in crisis informatics at CU. And the data appears to be reflected in her unit’s research (in particular, on the American-located Red River floods) as well. Exactly the same percentage – two thirds of people tweeting during a disaster are not directly involved.

So, is this real?

I hear a lot of people who doubt the friendships experienced in online communities. They say “how do you know they’re real?”

Now, of course they’re not doubting that the person tweeting is human (sometimes now, however, that presents an entirely different issue), but they are definitely doubting their authenticity. How do you know someone is really concerned about you if you’ve never met them face to face before? And it’s a really good question.

The Karen Walker factor

Karen Walker was a special character who found life, and resonance with many in the hit sitcom, Will and Grace.  While the show has had its day, there are many Walker moments that still hit the nail on the head.It is what is swimming in my head as I plan my paper for the Rutgers Invitational.will and grace

One of these is in an episode when Will and Grace are not talking (after a massive argument in which Will tells Grace to move out, which I swear was one of the strongest bits of acting on television I’ve seen). In chatting with Jack about how to get Will and Grace to talk again, she firstly says, “pretend to think, pretend to think.” She then follows it with “Pretend to care, pretend to care.” Of course Karen does care. She’s just conscious of the need to appear to care as well. Plus it’s funny.

So here I am:

* Are people who offer support in online communities ‘pretending to care’?

* Is the expressed concern a demonstration of identity work that gains them favour and positions them as caring individuals you’d want to have as a friend?

* How does the caring from the community affect the person experiencing tragedy?

Do you have any experience of this? Would you be willing to undergo an interview for my research? What do you believe is true?

My sincere thanks goes to the SJMC at CU, without the support of which I wouldn’t be able to conduct any of my research and also in particular to Dean Paul Voakes who saw fit to support my application with a letter of recommendation that I never saw, but am convinced was highly influential in my acceptance.

Don’t think influence, think resonance

The new buzzword in social media appears to be Influence. According to conferences, some marketers it’s what people want. To influence others.

This is a mistake. It demonstrates a very shallow, one-sided view.

(cartoon from xkcd.com)

Talk to most people in social media for example, and they’ll tell you the truth. What they’re doing is looking for, and responding to resonance, not influence.

What all of us seek in social media is Resonance.

The influence part happens afterwards.

In social media, you can’t influence someone unless they want to be influenced.

Guess what… if traditional media had understood the need to find real resonance with its market, it wouldn’t be in the situation it is today.

Resonance. It’s what creates meaning. Just like the rice here.

Personal brands and the Unique Selling Proposition

After the Creative Revolution in the 1960s, advertisers began to try to find communications that gave people a reason to buy their product. That developed into the Unique Selling Proposition or USP – the ‘thing’ that makes people choose your product. It still applies. Every successful product has a USP. Over time this went from features to benefits. You’ve probably heard ‘sell the sizzle, not the steak’. Sell the benefit. In a marketplace full of things that do the same operation, to stand out from the crowd you need to have something that sets you apart. And that’s your sizzle.

The USP for M&Ms: Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

The USP for M&Ms: Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

For example, there are heaps of dishwashers. They all wash dishes. It’s hard to be known as a product, based purely on that. It doesn’t set them apart. But sizzling benefits like being ‘whisper quiet’, or ‘economical’, or ‘green’ will make the difference for the consumer in a target market. Make no mistake, these benefits might be common to more than one product – but the first to market with it as a sizzling quality, to make it a USP, will get to own that benefit.

In the 21st Century, if you are one of the many who believes you, personally, are a brand (do a search on personal branding and you’ll see what I mean) then the USP has never had more importance.

How do you sell yourself? What’s the one thing about you that makes you different and desirable? What’s your USP?

There are no doubt lots of people who can fulfill a good bit of your job. Code a website, write a story, answer a phone, collect a debt, change a nappy.

But there needs to be something about the way you do it that sets you apart. What’s your USP? Too many people don’t easily identify the things that they’re really great at – better, in fact, than most others. It’s time you did. What’s your sizzle?

It’s harder for women to get to recognise their sizzle than for men.

Research has shown women, in particular, are bad at identifying the things they’re really great at. A female A grade math student will say she’s “okay at math”. Whereas a B or C grade male math student is more likely to say they’re “great at math.”

It’s ironic that in the 1960s, Mary Wells, the first woman to own an advertising agency, was the first to think of branding beyond an obvious USP in the four walls of advertising.

Mary Wells, image from www.wowowow.com. Their photo essay on Mary Wells is great.

Mary Wells, image from http://www.wowowow.com. Their photo essay on Mary Wells is great.

She extended the branding across all the marketing effort, so the flavour of that USP was on the lips of everyone experiencing any part of it. Ms Wells decided communication was something that happened all across the marketing effort. Of course she was right. The first step is identifying your USP. The second is to celebrate it across everything you do. The way you behave, dress, communicate. It’s all your own brand.

A good number of mommybloggers have accomplished this. They can sell their sizzle. But far too many very deserving women are not doing it.

Grab your sizzle, sell it up. Because you’re awesome. You have a USP. Time to identify it, claim it, and use it.