social media

When social doesn’t mean sociable

Social networking, social media, the social web-some of the most frequently used phrases of the moment but how often do we stop and think about what “social” really means?

One of the easiest (and laziest) answers seems to be that it’s about making friends-being sociable. But it’s interesting to  note that while “social” does derive from the Latin “socius” (meaning friend) it does so via “socialis” meaning allied. Somehow enabling allies and allegiances seems like a much bigger and more transformative idea than simply socialising.  

Some of the most interesting social sites at the moment actually seem to me to have very little to do with friending people, or poking people, or checking out their holiday pictures. The most interesting initiatives seem to be those that bring individuals together around a common purpose, enabling them to achieve things together previously only possible for major corporations. Ideas that allow individuals not simply to friend one another but to be useful to one another-that cut out the corporate world or conventional distribution mechanics and create a consumer to consumer value exchange.

As Jyri Engestrom puts it in his excellent post on “object-centred sociality”: “The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They’re not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object. That’s why many sociologists, especially activity theorists, actor-network theorists and post-ANT people prefer to talk about ‘socio-material networks’, or just ‘activities’ or ‘practices’ (as I do) instead of social networks”

I recently attended the inaugural IPA “Game Changers” event where among other great speakers Giles Andrews from Zopa inspired the crowd by explaining the genuinely radical thinking behind “the social lending company”.  For those who aren’t familiar with the proposition, Zopa is a service that puts individual borrowers directly in touch with individual lenders. It not only offers a welcome stream of credit in these increasingly crunched times, it also offers a win-win by offering compelling rates for both parties.

This is a genuinely transformative piece of thinking that uses the fundamental characteristics of the social web-the ability to bring individuals together for their common good, the ability to start conversations-but has relatively limited interest in the sociable web. Concepts like Freecycle, couchsurfing or quirky work along similar lines: I don’t need to be intimate with other users to be of use to them, collaborate with them, fund them, enable them.

Perhaps the most interesting point this raises is that the future of the social web may be driven not so much by friendship but by a new kind of trust. Trust in individuals versus institutions. Trust in people I don’t know (that I’m not friends with) but who I instinctively prefer to the plc and who are brought to me by editor and enabler brands I believe in. As crumbling faith in institutions meets technologies that can genuinely empower both the individual and the crowd, the possibilities are endless (and a little scary). The future of the social web may in fact be less sociable, more (dare I say it) socialist….

So what does this mean for the corporate world? Well, the end probably isn’t nigh just yet. Deriving real utility from social media requires an investment from the individual-in terms of time and in terms of reciprocity. So it will probably remain for a while the preserve of the digitally savvy and time rich. But it may be time to start thinking now about which other services that could previously only be delivered by the might of the corporates that may be socialised next.   If lending can be socialised, what’s next? Venture capital? Real estate? What are we already doing on a micro-social scale that could go macro? What else can we congregate around to our mutual benefit? Would be fascinated to know your thoughts….

Crowdsourcing Our Logo: The Crowd has Spoken

And boy, did we get an earful.

picture-1To quickly recap: As a innovations unit tasked with exploring new models in communications, we needed a logo that can convey our mission and philosophy. So it made sense to try crowdsourcing to experiment first-hand with how all this might fit into our industry down the line. In the process, we hoped to find fresh talent who are marketing their skills in new ways.

A lot of people asked why would we do something like this? Don’t we have great designers in-house? Doesn’t that stuff commoditize design? Isn’t that exploitive?

That’s beside the point: the pros and cons of crowdsourcing design can be debated ’till we are blue in the face but the fact is, the model seems to work and therefore deserves our attention.

Currently, we believe it works best for small or start-up clients. But as the model evolves it has a lot potential to work for larger clients with more demanding needs.

These new technologies aren’t going away, so it’s now our duty to understand how to work with them. We can continue to insist that us trained professionals are irreplaceable by the untrained crowd (and end up like our poor friends in journalism), or we can start figuring out how to turn eggs into omelets. From our viewpoint, this isn’t about preparing for the day that creative agencies can outsource design, it’s about preparing for the day that clients can outsource creative agencies.

BBH Labs believes that in the not-too-distant future, creative agencies are going to resemble expanded networks, with core teams overseeing expansive partnerships rather than the more vertically-integrated models existing today (more to come on this topic later). We see these kinds of partnerships and platforms happening across media increasingly already.

The task now is to find out how to build these new models in a way that is fair to all involved. Crowdsourcing our logo was the first tiny step in a larger Labs process to come – the medium was the message.

(For full post click below)
(more…)

Twitter – the Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?

The crescendo of noise around Twitter grows by the second. Yet while for many this delivers a symphony of Web 2.0 magnificence, crafted by millions of tweeting voices (Aaron Koblin managed only 2000, though it was far from symphonic), others hear nothing more than deafening silence. I’ve been trying to think through this paradox. Two events of the last week illustrate this tension well.

I had a message from my brother Tim (@malbonster), co-Founder of social media agency Made By Many in London, when I woke up here in NY. Tim is ‘into Twitter’. His message was subject titled: ‘I hope it’s not, but the fun bit feels like it’s almost over’. He was lamenting a tweet he’d read this morning from a friend (@netgrrl) which read: ‘Ah… I’ve mentioned coffee too many times now, I’m being inundated with follows from coffee marketers.’ Yes, I found myself nodding subconsciously, it’s being ruined. The crazy experimental bit with no rules, where no one has any idea how to monetize, or even whether it will be successful, and where marketing has been wrong-footed; that’s all gone . . .

(for full post click below)

(more…)