Former staffer and BFF Guillaume Runser recently sent me a link to James Whittaker's "Why I left Google" post. I get enough email spam from well intentioned friends and family to make a Nigerian envious and usually ignore most of it (sorry Mum!), but GR's a smart dude with a stream-crossing mentality so I thought I'd risk the nano seconds required to scan the link and am glad that I did.
You'll need to push through the opening sentence (unless you're Lady Gaga's teacup, opening with "Everyone wants to know why I left" strikes me as playing fast and loose with the definition of everyone). The wince is worth the reward as James offers up three thought provoking ideas:
1). Social isn't a product, it's people. Attributed to his 14 year old daughter, this sage advice gets to the heart of what it means to build and sustain an audience. While his daughter's perspective was the "the people are on Facebook" the deeper truth is that the people are where there's value. People are a tribe of tribes, with each sub-tribe seeking a mutual exchange of value from that investment in time and trust.
2). Social flips the mix of brands versus medium. James ponders the optics of brands like Nike (and countless others) which effectively subordinate their brand to Facebook with URLs like http://www.facebook.com/nike. By encouraging your customers to invite you into their social networks brands are engaging in the penultimate step towards permission based marketing.
3). Poorly implemented offer management is worse than none at all. Though James doesn't say it in so many words, he dryly reminds us of those cack-handed sponsored ads who's absurdity has become a cult of their own but does nothing for the brand in question other than to attract derision and avoidance.
It got be thinking about what I'd do differently. Starting with;
To honor the people is to honor the tribe is to honor the content. As a species, we are a tribe of tribes. Social media product managers need to recognise and develop their unique tribes and to understand that, unlike citizenship of some countries, that members of your tribe can and will be citizens of other tribes simultaneously. Attempts to force people to view, let alone move tribe without offering additional sustainable value (above and beyond an easily replicated "circles'" metaphor) might explain why Google+ is not yet on the top of my "go to" list.
Google and others blogger platforms (Google hosts this blog) provides a wonderful environment to create and engage in deep, themed and persistent (versus Facebook's somewhat transient) content. It provides value that Facebook never will, yet it sits off the the side of Google+ like a dork at a debutante ball. My own work and the work of my team involves creating and fostering meaningful content that seeks to add-value without an expectation of anything in return beyond earning the trust of a tribe that matters to us. The reward is the engagement.
Pay the people. Trust me when I say from experience, unless you're 14, the opportunity cost to engage in a social network is high, which is why I don't sit on Facebook all day. People need more than a free service, they need to pay the bills and if you want that much of their attention, we need to think about rewarding them for it.
Startups such as Klout are seeking to leverage the power of the promotor by helping companies measure and index the effectiveness (message, reach and influence) of mavens who can in turn get your message out. While the rewards to date have been comparatively trivial, it's not outside the realms of the plausible that the instead of Tiger Woods, Nike will move sponsorship to highly connected and productive amateur athletes/social media creators.
Stop reading over my shoulder. It's creepy. Like that guy sitting next to you on the plane watching the movie on your tablet. Learn from Target's mistake, namely that being too targeted (pun sadly intentional) trips over the border from your brand being seen as "on it" and anticipating to stalker-level psycho. Making the obvious faux pas of taking a literal search term and feeding it into advertising makes me think that social media companies have done nothing more than dust off an old copy of Eliza and recompiled it in Ruby.
Tech media maven Leo Laporte frequently reminds me that if you can't work out what they're selling, they're selling you. How long before we start to charge for that?