This is in lieu of a theoretical description, analytical observation, or research summary. It will read as fiction, but any resemblance to real people is entirely intentional. I will attempt a kind of genetic writing, hoping to conjure the essence and personality of just one kind of social media user from within the details of experience. I can write only a vignette, but if this works, further vignettes already suggest themselves for additional kinds of users. I have more than a dozen of these personas in mind and online as a kind of personas 2.0.
This is an experiment.
We entered the club to the dark thump of a set well on its way to epic. Voices rose as we clustered around the bar, jostling for position and plunging into pockets for the fresh ATM twenties that would serve to secure the bartender’s attention. There is no better way to get first in line than to make an offering of a twenty. It suggests a round in ways that a ten cannot, and promises surplus for tipping far above a five. Fives may work for a beer; but a fresh twenty is that much more.
Still leaning over the warm wet circles gathering quickly on the counter top, I caught Mel in my peripheral vision. Flyers in hand, she was cutting her way through the crowd towards us, a look of genuine enthusiasm pulling the smile wide on her face.
No sooner had I placed my order than she broke her way through the thoroughfare and foist upon me a handful of flyers. “Here take these this is going to go off Adrian You have to come Everyone’s going to be there What are you doing Saturday Here give these to your friends You have to come!” [It occurred to me that here was a girl who’d make a marketer’s dream come true.]
“Saturday? But I’m here now Mel What are you doing Saturday Are you going to be there?” But she was onto my friends already, her fist rapidly emptying of its cargo of lurid party details, DJ names and locations set against disco balls with typefaces inclined and glowing just a bit too much for my taste but just right for the idiom.
My friends and I huddled to exchange glances and toasts, laughter ensuing over the bundles of cards we each now held clenched in our left hands, flyers enough to launch a club ourselves, numbering more than we could possibly give away, especially as we were all here now. But they print those things in quantities only a printer could fathom, ostensibly for purposes of economy of scale, but really just to litter the city with flat printed fantasies and soundless images of another epic night to come.
[It occurred to me that we would each that night make a deposit of flyers to a nearby garbage can, our inclinations being to set our Saturday plans no sooner than Saturday night, at which point we would collectively text one another in a disordered attempt to recall the time and location of the gig in question, hoping that one amongst us might preside over an unlimited plus one guest list option.]
Those parties may have each been designed and distributed one at a time, the thankless efforts of budding designers accumulating on the club floor like the edges of so many sheets of card stock trimmed to contain a four-sided bleed. But to us they were really one long party, a party repeated, a Saturday in never-ending recurrence — places, DJs, times were a blur and had they occurred back to back we’d have been hard pressed to tell the end of one set from the start of the next.
We had no need to keep them separate. Mel was always there for us with the deets for the next one. No party passed without the requisite stack of freshly-minted flyers announcing the one to follow. This was just how it worked. Her pleasure was in the organizing, setting the stage and building anticipation, always for the next one. Our pleasure was always now, a long now lasting nights and weekends of undifferentiated partying, each club and bar but a temporary place-holder for our roving group of sworn night owls.
Her pleasure was the next one, though for her, too, the next was the same as this one, for it mattered more that we were all there together than that new faces join the scene.
We had a family, a tribe of miscreants and misfits loose by the week and tight by weekend, no more troubled than many, no less dysfunctional than most. It was her pleasure that we knew where we were going, ours that she kept us organized. Had we been elsewhere, perhaps she would have captured a different crew. Had we been elsewhere, perhaps we would have found a different organizer. What worked for us must have worked similarly for many other groups and tribes.
Today, those flyers still come flying off the presses (in truth they’re lifted out of printer trays but the imagery lacks alacrity), but there is twitter and Facebook, too, to gather up friends and knit the happenings and plan ahead with. Securing the ambivalences of relations by means of scheduling the future is a pastime that escapes me, but which I see working well for many who are better organized than me. Me, I like spontaneity, and the weekend exists in order to bracket a stretch of open (like parentheses in a sentence, doing time).
I am best with my relations when they are concrete; abstractions confuse me and I become knotted in the tufts that blemish an otherwise smooth social fabric. I like conversation and the making it up of it all. I’m a shitty correspondent. [It occurred to me that for Mel, there was a shadow family in play, and that being at the center of events might have colluded with resolving past family roles and dynamics.]
It was a good thing to have Mel, and her skill at making sure there was a time and place for the rest of us to get lost in. I have yet to create an invite online, and I make a good host only on the occasion that a friend borrows my pad and does all the planning. My skills start when the first guests arrive; Mel’s in getting them there.
Mel is the Inviter. What she does naturally and for which she has a gift, satisfies in some ways both her sense of Self and helps to sustain her social relationships. She has standing and position, a reputation, and fans. While she puts in work, she seems to be deeply motivated, and she takes care to make it right for everyone. She does this not as a host, for once the party starts it’s as good as over for Mel. Rather, she creates the conditions and attends to the setting.
[And it more than just occurs to me that when the day and age of micro-targeting arrives, she will be the go-to person for event discounts, social announcements, and group and graph marketing. For her status among friends and peers lends her recommendations a credibility that far exceeds that of any brand or advertiser. And her relationships include a social obligation that costs nothing to meet, for it is properly contextualized, and naturally social.]
Social networking works when you can account for the diverse personality types that you, and any social media service, depend upon for active engagement. These types are real, and whether you know them by instinct, or consult professionals and research, building to meet the habits of their social skills, interests, and competencies is the only way to properly anticipate user experience considerations in social media.
aslevinSeptember 19, 2010 at 9:59 am
This writeup is quite lovely as well as useful. The traditional “persona” in user experience research describes individual attributes; social systems need to describe attributes of people as they relate to each other. The inviter is one of a set of related personas who act to convene and facilitate interactions. There are also organizers, hosts, tummlers, mentors, more. Each of these has a somewhat different set of motivations – Mel is happy when people have convened, and then she is ready to move on, each party is a new thing to her, and she is connected to many little sets. An organizer wants to see people getting to know each other and acting together over time. A mentor takes people under her wing and helps them develop.
You briefly suggest ways that the Inviter might considered in social micro-targeting, as “go-to person for event discounts, social announcements, group and graph marketing.” Today, many features and incentives are designed as if everyone was the same, and everyone was self-interested and individualistically competitively motivated. But people are different, some are motivated by the happiness and cooperation of others. There are many such opportunities to take these social motivations into account.
gravity7September 20, 2010 at 11:24 am
Thanks for the comment.
I want to just elaborate a bit on the core profile here. I can accept that “the Inviter is one of a set of related personas who act to convene and facilitate interactions,” as you say, but that grouping is incidental, not psychological. So I just want to clarify. One could easily mistake the inviter for the organizer — they are not the same.
The personality core centers on an emotional interest — in this case the inviter is involving herself in relationships. These are real, even if they are handled by means of activities rather than intimacies. The activities — in this case parties — set up situations. Thus the inviter need not have to personally handle all of her friendships one on one, but can enjoy them with the structural help provided by a situational context (the party); can avoid having to directly negotiate and get involved with people but instead have them there, around, as company but always mediated by a group; and the occasion provided by the party is the reason for the invitation (she doesn't have to put herself on the line — it's not personal, but is a social engagement).
This is not the psychology of an organizer. The organizer abstracts social relations, and imputes meanings and values onto them by borrowing from value systems extrinsic to the actual relationship. Personal relationships are identified by their value and valence, not by interpersonal feeling. Relationships are viewed more objectively, with pseudo-objective values/judgments providing distinctions. These extend the organizer's abstraction of social norms and values. People are then “assigned” to the groups according to how they correspond to/conform with the identity represented by each group definition.
The organizer handles relationships completely differently from the inviter. The organizer may want better organization tools — lists, grouping, tracking, control and admin types of tools, befitting a social practice that bureaucratizes the relationship. The inviter may want better communication tools — means to distribute and send out invitations; to see yes/no/maybe responses; tools allowing her to get chatty about an event in the days leading up to it; tools that reinforce the event as social gathering of friends, where it matters more that everyone is coming than it does what they represent.
I could go on, and deeper. The point being that while the behavioral traces of the actions of inviters and organizers may appear similar, they are only incidentally so. What they notice, how they feel, why they communicate or don't, how they think about people, and what for — these are all different.
The inviter handles intimacy problems by means of orchestrating social pastimes that effectively absorb and structure a lot of the ambiguity in personal relationships. The organizer has a personal goal of involving others in value-based activities and uses social tools to coordinate long term efforts. Individuals who are pulled in to help the effort along the way add value to it, add meaning. But this is not an interpersonal relationship matter; it is a matter of value and ideal.
How these people see, and therefore what they can respond to, are completely different. I need to make that clear. I'm afraid that commenting is inadequate to task, but hope this makes sufficient sense.
aslevinSeptember 20, 2010 at 11:48 am
In brief, agreed that they are quite different from each other but similarly underserved, and there is a need for richer understanding of sets of psychological motivations that are social and not individual. This is a deep vein to mine.
gravity7September 20, 2010 at 12:48 pm
A deep vein to mine and a deep vein to mind!
Completely agree on the need to understand better, but not sure what motivations are social but not individual. All motives of interest to us in social media are those that are individual but socially oriented, which in some respects is all motives, period. We're not concerned tho with pathologies — abnormal psych — but with the amplification, extension, projection, internalization, and reflection of motives through acts and actions socially inclined, in mediated contexts and across networked communication systems.
It's all very do-able. But these are motives (and motivations) that are precisely individual. Hence their importance to us — as an explanation of user behavior and activity. We're concerned with what and why users do on social media so that we can design them better. Some social motives may appear to be highly self-centered — that makes them no less social. It's just that the person “arranges” his/her social relations around his/her own self, possibly for narcissistic mirroring, possibly for confirmation, possibly to extend him/herself as an image of self across mediated environments/contexts.
Get to how the individual sees him/herself within a social of his/her own construction, as supported and realized with help of social tools, and you have insight. Into why the inviter is about feelings and the organizer about representations; why the inviter wants to know who's coming so that she can tell others who are on the fence; whereas the organizer may not need to do this personally but would prefer a tool that can publish the Yes list…
It's about seeing the profile that maps to competencies and preferences the user has applied to his/her use of tools.
And then recognizing the dynamics that emerge when types align, find each other, create cultures/genres, and all the other social practices that allow us to say “they” and “them.” (Personally I have no need of this, but marketing and business types do, so might as well be as precise about the groups as possible).