Notes on Influence, or Making Social Media Matter

Try as I might to focus, I admit, my email and the ongoing pings from others manage to draw my attention to articles or topics they want me to read.  Obviously not all  sources of email have the same effect, some warrant an immediate click, others are often passed over initially and others altogether ignored and/or deleted.  On days, when I have a deadline, email gets less of my attention.

Similarly, it explains why I don’t launch Tweetdeck daily;  and conversely why, when I do launch the application, I end up with over a dozen windows open.  My attention divides between my own best laid plans and the topics now unfolded on my desktop.  Inevitably I can’t ignore the onslaught. I’m always needing to catch up, especially for a reality check on what others are thinking.  In spite of doing my best to read the NY Times daily, or listen to a full cycle of the news on public radio, I don’t have time to check all the blogs I know and like.  I am either selective, or  end up as I did today, devoting a significant block of time to just “catch up.”

Today, I followed a Tweet referring to Gary Vaynerchuk’s passion and containing a link to Fast Company video excerpts of a  feature panel.  Cheeky Geeky’s tweet premise?

Metrics? “I care more” is the @garyvee game plan for businesses. Great video –

Did I buy the premise that by caring more, Gary is far more effective in the social media space than others? Upon viewing the video I had to add my two cents, excerpted here:

Customers have always been choosing, limited choice meant they either sat out or  settled for less than they wanted. With the increased number of competitors and the overwhelming array of choices now instantly available, social media has become a vital force. Consumers are always looking for signals, signs that reassure them they are making the right choice and so it is no longer the medium per se, but the voice of influence utilizing the medium that matters. The array of vehicles that enable customers to share their enthusiasm or disappointments, provide authentic signals that differentiate what’s out there and worthwhile.

But a later email  that referenced Turning Customers into Creators. This New York Times piece upped my desire to ante up and blog already. Particularly, this excerpt:

PlumWillow doesn’t want to wait until it hears — positively or negatively — from its customer. It wants customers in-house so it can always be ahead of the curve.

For PlumWillow, however, the trick is to find a balance between its own strategic direction and fickle consumer feedback.

For every brand,  less certain about how to use social media, why would they willingly turn over their strategic direction to an ongoing focus group of savvy teens? My eyes were rolling as I read in one sentence this brand’s wish to place itself at the front of the curve; and in the next,  that the ticket was having customers in-house opinions lead them. Not sure they have it straight. Merely building something, or even building it “right” will not make customers follow, let alone find you.  If leading opinion and closing sales were that simple  fewer firms would keep creating  purchase opportunities and consumers choices that much more limited.   Consumers are not just fickle, they honestly don’t know what works or what they want anymore than the producers do.  They only know whether what they have ,or seen, suits them or not.  What Social media has done is allow them the means to share this news more widely and effortlessly.  Sending direct signals to producers has managed to alter their footing from sheep to equal partners.   Re-reading Albert Hirshman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty helped me to revisit the connection between true economic choice and  consumer actions. The elasticity of demand makes a large difference as to the willingness of suppliers to enter the market and compete.

Everyone who does participate  in using social media tools aid everyone else to figure it out.  If I’m sharing my reaction or preferences with one friend, why not let the world know too…maybe I can interest other people too. Did Facebook have a business model when they launched?  NO, but they seem to have captured if not kindled  people of all ages and geographies imaginings as well as  much revenue along the way too.  Strategic direction in the social media space is about leveraging influence to positive returns for both parties, buyers and sellers.  It’s not about what if?  but what Is or isn’t working and then responding in kind.


Challenging the norm

Often, I find myself baffled by gaps in common understanding. The result has been a divisive congress, general discontent and a bit of general stagnation.  Why do my visceral reactions to events, and the news as it unfolds, differ so dramatically

On the instinctive level  we are very similar.  For example, flight is the adrenaline fueled response to the sense of fear.  But then we don’t all have the same fears do we?  Anyone out there enjoy the smell of fresh skunk?  My guess is that most find the scent unpleasant and I suspect that our degree of discomfort correlates   with the strength of the smell and the strength of  sensitivity to scent  which in turn varies the reaction.  Did your nose wrinkle a little at the sight of these cuties?

Word choices too have a way of triggering mental images or associations.  Speakers and listeners can easily find themselves connecting to very different ideas, as these varying images of ice in water illustrate.

Intuitive leaps, or the manner in which we understand or attach meaning to our observations in the world can quickly diverge. It is easy to understand how one missed connection can lead to dramatically different conclusions. Few people follow the same process when problem solving.  In fact, in business there are hundreds of possible strategic  frameworks.  The  approach chosen, merely extends from our own unique chain of prior experience and  perception of fit within the associated context.  The likelihood that my choice match your solution set depends on the degree of overlap in our experience set. Variation in our choices is healthy all the way around, as long as we are each willing to learn, or accept the possibility of more than one right answer, method or  result.

Communicating and orienting everyone to the same mental model or construct is a particularly telling and ongoing leadership and political challenge.  How do you help your organization or constituents adapt when the situation or circumstances change? How do you help construct and leverage the mental model of how things work, whether they could be made better or differently? Or even how do you help establish a common accepted set of norms?

Last week, graduate students in the communication workshop I co-lead, shared some key findings from their small participant sample research into electricity practice and awareness.  No matter what the age, many people referenced lessons learned from the continuous message or directives received from their parents.  The almost universally assimilated message was that flipping the light switch cost money.  Many of the research participants were able to recall the message, some even pass it on to their children;  but few managed to question the basic premise or get any further research to support the supposition.  In fact, this idea could be found as the basis for many of their other conclusions about electricity conservation and costs.  Little dissonance exists around the relationship between turning on lights and added electricity costs. The shared experience, or valued experience of frugality appear  almost universal.

In contrast, yesterday’s NY Times, page one headline asked “Taking Loaded Gun into Bar? In 4 States, It’s Already Legal. ” The profiled Gun rights advocate, Mr. Ringenberg, expressed that carrying loaded guns protected him from other people’s guns.  Whereas an individual patron in one of the bars felt differently: “It opens the door to trouble.  Its’ giving you the right to be Wyatt Earp.”

Guns in bars?


The absence of a universal or shared consciousness about guns baffles me. Similarly baffling are the public opinion poll results attesting that a significant proportion of Americans  believe that our president is a Muslim, or that he is not an American citizen, the latter of which is an impossibility under the constitution.  Perhaps, the answer lies in the nature of our construction of mental models, or the means by which we construct reality.  Wikipedia explains mental models as thought processes that help us interpret the world around us as well as shape our behavior.  Our mental models or the manner in which we conceptualize the task play a large role in how we view ourselves and the world.  Our decision-making chain and the construction of norms, which evolve according to personal psychological dispositions, often impair social efficiency. We don’t realize the full benefits of a fully congenial society, because our individual construction or acceptance of distinctive norms about people and their behaviors  lead to diverse expectations that  need neither objective logic or facts as their basis.  If you are paranoid or easily threatened, I imagine your mental models may foster a resolve to take control and lead you to connect self-preservation with gun advocacy. Or you may simply be a strong believer in individual liberties and thus you connect freedom with gun advocacy. In contrast, a belief that though freedom is a right, there are some boundaries in which society takes on the larger requirements of preservation.  Just as I can’t do everything alone, so too my participation in greater community assures that my basic needs, including protection, are met more broadly.  In the same way that I don’t have to grow my food or hide my money under the mattress. In exchange for my own labors, I can interact and benefit from the services provided by the police, the grocer and  the banker.  My mental model connects freedom to a more complex set of benefits and dissociates the person from the weapon of harm, e.g. a gun.  This doesn’t make us passive, though in the presence of someone with a weapon,  my not having one  may prove a less effective life-preserving strategy. But critical to my life-preserving strategy is the belief that everyone accepts and honors the basic concept ” thou shall not kill,” and it is the collective belief that will keep me safe.  I’d certainly like to learn how to further the formation of common norms in our thinking and allow us to move from conflict to a more cooperative if not coördinated  system of interaction.

Resolving what are increasing complex problems requires close examination of the components or constructs that we hold but may have never questioned. Our challenge is not to let our own knowledge, or mental models, however acquired when left unchallenged can sink us.