We’re now four years into social media, depending on how you measure it. We have a goodly number of best practices to share, from the activity update that is fast becoming ubiquitous among social networking sites to twitter campaign tips of all shapes and sizes. Social media consultants are nigh on a dime a dozen, and their ranks have swelled of late with an influx of SEO and e-marketing consultants.
And yet, in many ways we are still at a loss to explain exactly how social media work. Why some social sites fail and others succeed. And why features that work in one context seem to work very differently in another.
As self-appointed experts in the field, ask any one of us what distinguishes social media and you will get a different answer. For some it’s the new relationship, for others the new branding. For some, the new public, for others the new medium. Most of us will have some view of social media as a force for greater trust, closer relationships, better communication, and faster, cheaper, and better distribution. But when it comes to an accounting for why these are the case, we tend, as a group, to fall back on analogies and metaphors.
Analogies and metaphors communicate well, but come up shy of an explanation of how social media work. While I lay no claim to a complete or exhaustive logic of social media and their uses, I am a somewhat tireless thinker of the mechanics and dynamics of social interactions. These are real phenomena, and can be described better by means of sociology and media theory than by analogy and metaphor. In this I am finding kindred spirits and fellow thinkers, and collectively I hope that our efforts will be able to offer deeper analysis of social media from design, function, and social practice perspectives: built on the kinds of insights that can help you, the client, better benefit from your social media efforts, whatever they may be.
I offer a unique and holistic analysis of social media. Your site, application, community, or campaign. I bring seven years in web development and three years specializing in social media to my analyses. My social interaction design approach combines a grasp of design features and functionality as traditionally practiced by user experience professionals with a deep and broad grasp of social practices anchored in a wide reading of social theory. I have brought this to other clients, from those offering online communities to apps, analytics, and campaigns.
I approach client social media product and service issues with questions addressed to the user experiences key to your success:
- What are your user’s interests?
- How do they use social media and where do you fit in?
- Do your interaction models lead to the kind of content you want left behind?
- Can you make them better — by providing users with features, content, or functionality that also results in new practices?
- What kinds of users use your product and what kinds of users are you losing?
- If you have adopted social media best practices, are they working well, and have you considered alternatives?
- How will you grow and develop on a forward basis, and what’s your strategy for getting there?
The goals of my forensic analysis are to provide you with a review of how well you are doing socially. And of course how to become better. I take the user perspective in order to walk through the experiences of different kinds of users, not only in goals and uses but in personality also. I look at communication among users, and find signs of breakdown and fade out as well as effectiveness and engagement.
In terms of design and feature implementation, I offer recommendations on how to map features and social functionality to growth of your user base. Social architecture and social features can be used to steer social practices and make adjustments to the kinds of interactions that your product encourages. Here, ratings, lists, tags, favoriting, sharing, member profiles, messaging, boards and commenting, navigation, and other social activities can be finessed to emphasize different facets of social media use.
In your selection of social objects, tokens, and social elements used in communication, social exchanges, themed activities, and content structure and interaction, I look for ways to focus activity by means of structure and support for interaction. I look at the kinds of information and content contributed, and help to delineate between interactions based on contributions and those based around their contributors.
In social interactions and activities, I examine the ways in which your product organizes the user’s time. This involves an understanding of fast and slow systems, open and closed social transactions, sequenced, serial, and chained interactions, and the opportunities and expectations these create for users participating in real time as well as those who consume content later.
Different kinds of social groups and publics can shape user participation, and their inclination to be seen, by whom, and how. I look at your product or service for the ways in which system design provides this soft organization of social formations, as well as the interactions common to them. Here the differences among user populations on fan sites, mobile networks, friend-based networks, expert review and recommendation systems all involve trust, reciprocity, and other aspects of social relationships and dynamics. Subtle and nuanced descriptions can help you understand what’s going on from user perspectives.
I examine the conversations taking place in your product or around your campaign, and look at the kinds of users who participate in them. I examine social incentive models and the types of conversations that your core (current and potential) users engage in naturally, using my own personas 2.0 for social media. I look at transaction types and the cultures and economies in which they provide the highest levels of participation. With those in mind, I look for areas of breakdown or failure, and generate potential improvements.
Looking at the kinds of presence and public your product enables for users, I identify design practices that might create distortion and bias. If your product is designed for subjective experiences and individual engagement, I propose ways to use bias constructively. If your product is designed to produce more objective content, I examine ways in which you can reduce bias.
With enterprise and organizational adoption of social media, I look at points of resistance to use and adoption, and propose ways through or around them. In marketing and customer service use of social media for campaigns, or for community product innovation, I can help you make best use of community management and audience engagement techniques, from twitter on up to closed communities.
In conversational media, I bring conversation models to bear on the kinds of conversation occurring around your product. These include the kinds of use habits common to users based on personality and on a variety of user interests. I look for ways to best support users whose interests are mutually engaging and compelling, and which tend to produce high levels of communication.
In summary, a forensic analysis of your social media efforts can help you to develop further according to user experiences and perspectives. And help you to see how social dynamics contribute to your success. I bring my unique framework for social media social practices to every client engagement. And hope to do so for you.
Engagements can be one-off or ongoing, and vary in depth and scope as best suits your needs and budgets.