Why most social platforms are just as bad as email

Most social media platforms are just email reinvented. It is not better than email (nor is it worse), it is just email with a fancy layout taking advantage of the top of the hype cycle. Anything marked as social could be a solution, especially when the workflow feels identical. Since if the flow feel comfortable it should be an easy change process right? Well if it feels comfortable then you are either lucky to work in a truly social enterprise or you are just implementing something you already have.

If the platform is not going beyond these features, you are just paying a premium for a new way of emailing:

  • One on one private conversations; the feature to exchange information in a private way, just from one human to another.
  • One to many conversations;  the feature to exchange information by sharing it with a bigger audience of people you know and don’t know.
  • Tracking conversations; the feature to see if a conversation was read by the receiver
  • Making lists of people; the feature to create a list with which you can share information.
  • Get updates; the feature to get updates from people either because they send it you to specifically or because the information is public
  • History; the feature to go through information exchanged in the past
  • Filtering; the feature to filter and store messages in a specific way either when receiving them or after receiving them.
  • Mark as unread; the feature to mark information as not read so you can follow-up later or you can filter it easily for later consumption.
  • Prioritizing; automatic (algorithmic) prioritizing of incoming information on what is important for you and what not.
  • Alerting; the feature to get an alert when something important happens you have to take a look at.
  • Notifying other people; the feature to notify some people of the message you have sent. This notification can be either visible or hidden to other people you communicate with.

What kind of features could make a social enterprise? To be honest, it is more than just features, it is around the design of the platform. It is about how it works, not how it looks like. Social Design is in its most effective form a way for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. It is a process, not a channel not a business model, it is an activity, it is a set of design principles which enable you to make truly social experiences. Experiences that connect, that people want to trust, to which they can relate, in which they want to participate with friends or strangers, to which they want to contribute with their time and efforts and experiences that they can share with others.

It definitely is not recreating email with a social layer, it is creating a fundamental shift in how we interact with each other and our environment. So if your social platforms feels really comfortable that might be a sign that there isn’t a substantial change and just yet another email in disguise. Change is uncomfortable.

Your social media strategy: free wifi; why creating a shareable experience matters

In some cases 95% of marketing budgets are spent on getting customers into a store. When customers finally made it to the store there is often no way to tell their friends what they are experiencing or to lookup some information they needed via their mobile devices. This is not only the case for retail stores. Most venues with a high entertainment value (holiday parks, amusement parks) or venues with a high hospitality level such as hotels or restaurants also don’t offer an easy way to share your experience. All these locations just simply lack connectivity such as a decent phone reception or WiFi.

The reason it is lacking is because of several myths and trends:

  • In hotels there is the worrying trend that the more expensive the hotel is, the more expensive the WiFi is.
  • In stores too many retailers are afraid that people will start comparing prices in store and will ran away.
  • In restaurants people are afraid that guests will be glued to their smartphones and won’t have any attention to the food or their fellow guests.
  • In some amusement parks people are afraid that having their guests share the pictures from the park will result in fewer people visiting the park.

As Ebenezer Scrooge already said: “Bah! Humbug!”. If you spent 95% of your budget on getting people in, why not make sure that when they are in, they can share why they are in and why others should join. Make it easy for them to share the experience. People won’t run out your store because your competitor has goods that are 2 cents cheaper, unless your service is so horrible it will drive them away. In restaurants people pay attention to their food and other people at the table because of the environment they are and a picture of an attraction in an amusement park cannot replace the real life experience.

If you are able to create an experience that people like and are willing to share, people will share it, if you at least make it easy for them to share. Think of offering free WiFi, offer them advice with which app on their mobile phone they could do really great things in sharing, let other people tell your story. Make it worth sharing and make sharing as frictionless as possible. The costs for having such a WiFi connection in place is basically just your marketing costs, since your customers will outmarket your marketing department in the end.

Social Design – Making it a better cat and mouse game

Two weeks ago I was quite fortunate to be invited to speak at the Social by Design event which was organized by Capgemini and Microsoft. During this event I took the liberty to elaborate further on how retailers in specific could harness social design to make it a better experience. Especially since currently most retailers have customer service departments that are more loyalty prevent departments than real service departments. Also something that some retailers (or organizations) in general tend to forget that even though it has always been some kind of cat and mouse game between customer and organization, the customer is now the one who is the cat. He dictates what happens and social media provides him some additional powers in doing so and help in organizing small online revolutions.

To provide some insights in why most current efforts failed I explained the case of JCPenney’s reports on f-commerce and why it failed, something that I wrote about earlier on on my blog. After that I introduced the Social Design elements and explained how they work in some examples of often non-traditional retailers.

The examples I mentioned were:

  • C&A in Brasil which is displaying the number of likes on a hanger for a certain item in store. It provides some additional social proof, plus it provides insights in which item are popular.
  • Lyst. Even though I am not really into high fashion, Lyst is great. As you join you are asked to follow certain brands, people, designers, stores. Based on these choices a personalized shopping suggestion list is build. For each suggestion you can see who also likes this item, but you can also buy it directly. A new way of doing social curated ecommerce.
  • TasteLive. The premiere Wine and Beer tasting community, which connects the offline with the online (tasting beer offline is so much better than online). Provides a platform for its users to connect, but also to share. The frontpage of their website can be seen as a best practice, since it shows very little managed content and tons of generated content.
  • Ovoto shows how things have changed. It is not Google directing people to your site of your product, it is people. Ovoto allows you to take a picture of something and let you ask a simple question about it to your friends (“should I….”) and then provides your friends with the option to vote yes or no on it.
  • Kickstarter show that has become easier to 1) get funding for your product 2) get customers 3) bypass retailers completely 4) earn some decent money as well.
  • Editd is doing fashion forecasting with market intelligence. Which is a highly specific niche, however being a niche might be sometimes better than trying to be everything for everybody. Editd harnesses the data which is out in the open on social media to predict what the next big trends will be in fashion and which brands are loved.
  • Consmr is an app that allows you to scan a barcode and provides you with additional insights on the product with regards to ratings, replacements recalls and other additional information.
  • Stylistpick is quite similar to Lyst, though its approach is different, instead of letting people to choose from different brands, it asks you twenty questions before you join and based on your answers it creates a shopping profile for you.
  • Unbound has similarities for Kickstarter. It connects writers with their audience and lets the audience decide which book will be printed.
  • Hubbub is an interesting platform since it connects local stores and provides visitor with an opportunity to discover great local stores and their offers. They make it even easy for these often small stores to have an ecommerce platform, since Hubbub is taking care of all logistics.

The reason why I closed my presentation with the examples of Sainsbury’s renaming tiger bread into giraffe bread and Sweden which lets every week another Swede to manage its Twitter account is that these examples show how obvious and easy social design can be. It is just a matter of listening and thinking on what really matters for your audience, the audience determines what happen you as an organization might be allowed to participate (on their terms).


Social Design Elements

Currently I am working on a approach to make social easy understandable as a design principle. One of the approaches I have taken for this is to split it in six design elements. Those elements are not mandatory in each social design, but at least one of them will occur in a social design:

  • Connectivity: you need to connected, not as in a relation , but as via a wifi network, bluetooth, or any other way that enables you to share and retrieve information.
  • Participation: things get better when more people participate (think of for example of the defacto example of Wikipedia)
  • Data: data is the new oil, social media analytics, prediction markets, filtering etc. Everything you can do with data
  • Identity: the individual, identified by several characteristics. Profiles can be optional, there is more to identity than an username
  • Trust: social environment have a certain trust level in order people can and will participate
  • Shareable: things should be worth sharing and it should be possible to share things with others

What do you think of these element of social design. Are these all elements, are there more element, can these element be merged, what would be proper definitions for these elements? Of course you’ll be credited for this when I use it in my presentations.

Product designers: don’t be a gatekeeper, be just better

If we can’t make something that is better, we won’t do it

Apple designer Jony Ive

An easy way to keep your audience in or to grow and audience, is by being a gatekeeper. Of course that is attractive since the effort to get and keep your audience is relatively low, since people getting in is simple (there is just one way to use content: our product), getting out is really hard (since again: only your product allows access to the content).

I noticed that Spotify is doing this by forcing you to download their product before you can listen:

Spotify is probably great in a lot of things, and does a lot of things better than other products. However it doesn’t make listening to music better. Especially not by forcing installing the app before you can listen to a certain song. It is a typical method of a company in a relatively young market to grow market share: closing the gates and let nobody out and make sure that the only way to get access to content is via your product.

What might have been a more mature solution is by letting me listen to this song and then try to convert me to Spotify by offering something that my traditional music player doesn’t. For example:

Now Spotify lets me listen to the music and can give me a compelling reason to get their product: if I want to hear more music like this, or if I value erwblo’s music choice I can use Spotify to keep up to date to this by subscribing to erwblo.

It is not about making things only usable via your product, it is about giving people a compelling reason to use your product in the first place. It has to better, if it isn’t: don’t do it.

Facebook’s Timeline: the emperor’s new clothes or how it kills your brand

Facebook is introducing Timeline for Brand pages in the upcoming few weeks. Of course this is in basis about unifying the complete Facebook experience. Though I would say it is more than that. Timeline will make a killing in brands. It is the emperor’s new clothes, though instead of an emperor walking around naked we now see brands being exposed.

Since suddenly it will be clear which brands are social on top (such as lipstick on a pig) or social enabled / designed. Timeline is all about telling a story that is worth sharing. Timeline is not a timeline of your latest and greatest (not!) press releases and other marketing material. If you don’t have a story to share as a brand that is worth sharing you will be exposed.

Stories are things that are worth sharing, press releases aren’t, corporate communications isn’t, it is about telling great stories. Timelines will enforce this upon brands. Brands all of a sudden have to become story tellers and a lot of brands will learn that the current story they have to tell is incredibly boring. Face it: nobody will listen to a boring story not even when they have pressed the like button in the past.

You have 30 days to get your story right. Will you be able to have a good story to tell, a story worth sharing? Or will it be the emperor’s new clothes? Leaving you exposed while you are still thinking you were doing brilliant things with a like button.

f-commerce: the mismatch with the traditional retailer business model

There is a lot to do about f-commerce lately, especially the closing down of some Facebook storefronts of big retailers. Of course there are people telling that commerce on Facebook doesn’t work (and of course never will work in their views) because Facebook is different and without understanding their own comments, they hit the nail on the head:

“There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop, but it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

This is exactly the reason it is so hard for retailers to do anything with social media at all:

  • Most retailers have boring products which are not worth talking about. Why bother your friends  with boring products.
  • Traditional retailers have a business model based on high volume and low margins, so there is no time (or money) to build up a relationship with their customers. The only thing that matters is selling high volume.
  • Retailers traditionally are short-term thinkers. A ROI of 6-9 months is unthinkable and in some cases even not possible since the retailer would be bankrupt by then. However 6-9 months is the smallest timeframe you should be thinking of when doing anything with social media.

It is different. Adapt or die

Facebook is different and by trying to push old things on a new platform you notice that things won’t work. Facebook is not your e-commerce site, it is a social platform. Providing people with a catalog of all your products doesn’t work. People on Facebook never said that they were missing your catalog on Facebook in the first place, even worse: they don’t miss your organization at all at Facebook.

If you want to do anything around commerce on Facebook you have to design it better instead of just copying your catalog in a tab on a Facebook page. Your catalog is not worth sharing, products, if these are great products, might be worth sharing, experiences are worth sharing. It is not about selling your product to people on Facebook, it is making the product worth sharing, it is making the product worth to talk about and it is making sure that the product adds value to the individual.

It is a different way of doing business. Conversion is not the primary goal on Facebook, conversations and relations are the primary goals. If you succeed in these two then you might be able to sell something. However if you keep your old business model in place it is nearly impossible to do this, since the old way of working is constraining you.

Social Design: a sign up pattern that helps (and one that fails)

Having people participating on your online (social) platform is something that requires often a lot of hard work and careful planning and design. One of the basic things to help people to participate is to make things really easy to start with. So make it easy to sign up, and once signed up, make it easy to login. For me personally Quora is the key example of making things simple. The login screen provides you with and option to either login with a dedicated Quora account, a Facebook account or a Twitter account:

Since most people have more than one email address, Quora makes even that question rather easy since it checks your email address while typing it:

Quora makes it real easy to get in and to participate. It makes it also real easy to logout and when you logout your session is remembered so that if you would prefer you could login instantly without having to type your password once again. If you really want to logout you have to do an additional step to terminate your session. Also Quora shows you with an overview of all other sessions that are active and which you could end as well.

However not every application makes things so easy. SAP StreamWorks has an anti pattern of participation, even though it is one of the few social bits in SAP’s ecosystem. SAP doesn’t make it too hard to login. Since you also choose to use your Google Apps account (which makes sense since it is a corporate environment) or your general Google account to login. However when you have to create a new account, you are all of the sudden slapped with a captcha which just makes it harder to sign up.

However the real anti pattern starts when you login on StreamWork with an existing account a new device. Since SAP prefers to make it a secure environment they decide to put an additional check in place before you can really use the application. However as many companies SAP confuses secure with hard to use. Since if I want to login I have to answer four questions which I have probably selected in the past (to be honest: forget completely about those questions) and there is no way of getting past these questions if you don’t know the answer.

Security is important, though don’t confuse security with making things hard to use. Captchas, additional questions or email address guessing don’t help in driving adoption. For me Quora is one of the scarce example of making things really easy and really user friendly. That is what you want to end up with: making sure there is no reason for the user to not sign up and to log in once again when he or she is coming back. Since if you don’t make it easy, people are most likely not going to use it, they can spend their time on better things than jumping through hoops.

An example of real social marketing

Marketing in itself is not social, it never has been and it never will be. Though sometimes there are activities that are a core example of social design and that could be qualified as a marketing. Dropbox is such an example. To give you a bit of background Dropbox is introducing a new photo import and sync option in the new version of their software and to make sure it works they offered a beta.

So far, nothing new. It is just a beta and of course in beta direct user feedback is preferred and there is ongoing conversation on the forum. What might be interesting in this case is that the announcement was made on the forum, not somewhere on their blog or other more formal channel. However this still isn’t really social, it is just a conversation. However the thing that made it more social was just one simple incentive: if you use the product and do an upload of 500MB of pictures you will get 500MB free.

Dropbox is not just requesting for people to spend their time with the new beta of Dropbox, Dropbox is instantly giving back. By doing so it is no longer a traditional beta which is just asking people to spend their time and do your work in finding bugs. It is not a traditional beta in which you can get early access by spamming your friends or in which you can get extra disk space by spamming your friends. Dropbox ensures that the experience is becoming worth sharing and can be beneficial for all, instead of introducing a new Ponzi-scheme. Dropbox makes it social by making sure there is value delivered to the ones participating in the beta, even if they don’t give any feedback. Plus they make the news about the beta worth sharing and your first picture upload to Dropbox is worth sharing, since all of a sudden you have 500MB of disk space for free.

By doing so Dropbox is using the three basics of social design: delivering value for the individual without demanding value back, making it worth sharing and making it conversational by allowing direct feedback from users. And by doing so they create even a bigger return than when they would have done a traditional marketing campaign or traditional beta around their new release.

Social Design

In 2012 I will spend some more time on explaining and writing about the concept of social design, what you can do with it and more important how you implement it. To provide you with some insights on how I see what social design is, hereby a definition:

Social Design is a design strategy that encourages participation and sharing by harnessing the concept of trusted community. It is about delivering value on asynchronous reciprocity basis: the value provider will deliver more value than he’ll receive back, since social is about the receiver of value, not about the provider. Social Design helps organizations and individuals to determine what to make and do, why do it and how to transform both immediately and over the long term to make social as the core of everything they do.

Probably I will be publishing most of it here, though I might also be focusing on working some longer pieces which will be available through different channels (although most of it will be published via my blog anyways). Something else that might appear is about Dark Social Design principles, which should be a rather interesting area to explore. Especially since we see these dark design principles everyday.

Let me know what you think of Social Design

In the mean time, let me know what the things are you would like to know more about in social design, or what the issues are you have experienced during your social design process and implementation.