Spiral Marketing: The More You Know, The More You Can Know

February 10, 2010

Google Buzz or Google Fizzle?

Ah, Google – you evil bastard! You slipped in another Facebook / Twitter / (insert social network of your choosing) Killer into our gmail accounts while we slept, blissfully unaware of your latest misguided attempt at social network domination. At least the Wave and the Buzz make me think that, hey, I need a vacation; Google Docs? Not so much. But at the end of the day, as much as you’d like to, you will be hard-pressed to transplant the Facebooks and Twitters of the world. You have more money than most to spend on technology – but technology has little to do with the problem you are trying to solve.

Here’s the thing: Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are marginally interesting technology, but I venture to guess that I could pay some very clever college students all the pizza and Meisterbrau they can consume, and they’ll come up with a pretty good approximation of the Facebook, Twitter or ______________ technology in a matter of weeks. Facebook technology has as much value as Twitter or Google Buzz technology: next to nothing.

Yeah, I said it. All this social media technology by itself is worth about as much as, well, Google Wave. Because the value of Facebook is that some enormous number of people use it every day, and they use it a lot. Same with Twitter. It isn’t the technology of the network that matters: it is the network itself that counts. Facebook could easily go away – it happened to MySpace, and it could also happen to Twitter. But MySpace wasn’t killed by technology or Rupert Murdoch’s continued misunderstanding of all thing interwebz (although it hastened its decline).  MySpace is dying because people aren’t using it the way they used to.

The value of a network is generally (and very loosely) based on the number of people that use it (Metcalfe’s Law). The value of a network is more precisely based on the number of possible subgroups within the network (Reed’s Law). On this count alone, your chances of transplanting a Facebook or Twitter go from “No way in Hell” to “Geez, if I drink enough, I could see it happening.”  Why?  Because you brilliantly gave away a veritable plethora of free email accounts (I think I have, like, 87 of them). This gives you a network with an enormous number of users – a necessary precondition to taking over the social networking world.

But this isn’t a network problem alone – it is a value problem. And while having a huge network (through registered gmail users) is a necessary factor in your dastardly global dominance scheme, it is not sufficient.  And this is where you will fall short again.  Because email is more ubiquitous than the largest social network – everyone’s got an account – but the economic value of a network is based upon the aggregate value of the interactions on the network. And people don’t value email interactions. If they did, email would be synonymous with “printing money.”  Which I suspect is what you are trying to do, at the end of the day. But I don’t want to interact socially through my email – I would rather not do ANYTHING through my email, just as I never write letters anymore. There is already enough garbage in email to negate any value it ever might have had – and hey, don’t get me wrong, I use email; I just use it when I have no other possible means of communicating what I need to communicate. But until you can tell me what in the hell “fwd:fwd:fwd:re:fwd:fwd:re:fwd:re:puppies” means without me having to open the damn email, I’ll pass.

The two necessary and sufficient preconditions for achieving social media world dominance and the economic and intellectual imprisonment of the world are 1) a very large and active community; that 2) delivers high perceived value  in the interactions of the community (and “noise” does not equal “value”).   With Google Wave you took a fair (although off target) shot at delivering more valuable interactions, but you couldn’t drive the numbers. With Google Buzz, you are using your huge gmail user base to capture numbers, but without improving the quality of the interactions in that network.

The good news? You’ve got the problem surrounded. The bad news? I think the Buzz you’re hearing is really the sound of a fizzle.

February 2, 2010

Social Media and HR: A Lawsuit Waiting To Happen

Filed under: Corporate Policy,Personal Brand — kboulas @ 6:53 pm

Once again the topic of “personal branding” and managing your personal reputation online comes up, as it does frequently these days.  I make no bones that I am no fan of this idea of personal branding – it is contrived, and silly, and only serves as a buzz topic in the social media encyclopedia.   But it continues to be talked about, and now goes even further: apparently, HR people are now actively searching your social media presence as part of the recruitment process, amidst all sorts of talk about social media as that mythical “Permanent Record.”

For those of you who have yet to hear about this brilliantly conceived plan by our HR brethren, it goes something like this: attend to your personal brand, and don’t portray anything within your various social media activities that might impugn that brand, because, apparently, HR people have decided that they are going to search your Facebook page, Twitter account, blogs, etc. etc. ad nauseum when screening you as a potential candidate for a job.

Oh, yes – remember that picture of you doing keg stands in college?  Or flashing your magnificent breasts at Mardi Gras?  Almost two-thirds of HR professionals – based upon a Microsoft study – intend to use these to judge you as a candidate!  Zounds!  Let us start a new industry; we can call it the “reputational white-wash” business – a Facebook page going into a washing machine can be our logo!  Excellent – we are on to something there!

Upon further thought, however, perhaps we should instead go into employment law.  And here’s why:

Let’s just, for the sake of argument, say that you partied in college, and posted pictures of that on your profile.  Those wily HR professionals search for your Facebook page and find the incriminating pictures.  Egads – you partied in college?!

Oh, and on the same page, perhaps they saw your birthday.  Didn’t get the job? Let’s talk about age discrimination.

Perhaps they saw in your picture that you were black? Hmmm – racial discrimination.

Kissing another man?  Discrimination based upon sexual preference.

And then perhaps they search your Twitter stream and find out about that three-way you had with those two Swedish stewardesses!  Good find, HR!  Oh, yes, and in the same stream they found a reference to the Jewish services you attend on a regular basis.  I think that would be religious discrimination.

“Oh,” say those diligent and conscientious HR professionals, “we didn’t refuse to consider you for a job because of those things!  They just happened to be there when we were searching for proof that you partied in college!”

Really?  Prove it.  Because the crux of the matter is not whether you can or cannot prove that those protected categories of a candidate’s life were not considered – and I would suggest you would be VERY hard-pressed to prove it; only until you as an HR professional actively search for that incriminating “permanent record” will you find the evidence you want, and potentially a large body of evidence you are not, as a potential employer, entitled to consider in your hiring process.  Sure, you may argue that the burden of proof is actually on the candidate to take you to court, and to prove that you discriminated against them. And if you are an HR professional, slap yourself upside the head.  Because I as an executive responsible for the financial health, operations and reputation of the company know that it is not prevailing at trial that counts; it is avoiding a trial, and the potential financial consequences, operational distractions and inevitable bad press and reputational damage of the company in which such a practice will result.

Let me gaze into my crystal ball for a moment.  Hmmm – a high profile company engages in this practice, a spate of lawsuits arise, the company settles those lawsuits out of court and quietly kills this practice, with the broader industry following suit.

So I’ll make this easy on those HR types out there, and stipulate that I did, indeed, party in college.  A lot, in fact.

And if you bring me a candidate you find had a threesome with two Swedish stewardesses by searching their social media presence? Fire yourself, right after you hire that guy.

Because I could use some pointers.

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