Facebook & Friendship: It’s Complicated

I talk a lot about the positive aspects that social media brings to our relationships. It allows us to explore facets of our social network in ways that were hitherto unlikely. My generation feels less need for traditional high school reunions in part because there’s no need to re-union. We’re already in touch with our old friends-the question “so what have you been up to” has little bearing. Yes Boomers, here’s where you can lament the old ways but I know for a fact that you were the reason classmates.com is still around and that many of you are now on Facebook chatting with old classmates!  As I’ve written elsewhere, Facebook more than any of the big 4 platforms mimics our offline social network the most and as such is where we maintain and are able to grow our offline relationships.

But there’s another side to all of this. Just as much as Facebook amplifies the positive of our offline relationships and can facilitate growth, it has also brought a way to completely end a relationship once and for all in a very clear and public way through unfriending. I’ve been racking my mind for a pre-Facebook offline equivalent. The closest I can come up with for adult relationships is removing someone from your address book or more recently deleting someone from your phone. But even that’s not really analogous because the other person doesn’t know that you did that and other people have no way of finding out unless you tell them. What it really reminds me of is a playground pronouncement of “You’re not my friend anymore”. But once again given the fluidity of relationships at that age even that’s not really a great example. A shared fruit roll-up tended to repair all wrongs.

The bottomline is that all of these actions were private. For the other person to know you’d have to have a very uncomfortable conversation making it clear that they were no longer a part of your life. There’s a reason that this tends to only occur within families (estrangement) and of course significant others (the breakup). The discomfort and awkwardness of that conversation with a friend is a high price to pay. It would take a massive occurrence for an adult to have that conversation. Consequently we tend to get colder in our relationships- perhaps a bit more formal. But the key is that that has always left an opportunity to renew friendship because ultimately no “you’re not my friend, get out of my life” had actually been said.

Facebook has changed this. Now with the simple click of a button we can signal that we no longer want someone in our lives. There’s no cost to us. Facebook doesn’t even send a notification so the only way someone might notice is if they come across your profile (or of course if they use an app to check which, let’s be honest, is a bit excessive). In fact the actual cost occurs if you did it in the heat of a moment because then you have to request to be added a friend once more which triggers the “why did you unfriend me?” awkward conversation.

I guess my message through this post is to think twice and even thrice (yes it’s fun to use that word!) before unfriending someone. Right now Facebook is full of heated and opinionated posts. It’s scary time around the world and everyone reacts in different ways. But there are several steps you can take to distance yourself from someone before taking that final act.

  1. Unfollow them. This means that their posts won’t appear on your feed. They have no way of knowing this- no harm no foul.
  2. Break your friends up into various lists that you use to filter post visibility. Are you tired of having a few of them get super opinionated and confrontational on your wall? Then limit their ability to see certain posts on your wall. It’s the same as the decision we all make not to discuss politics or religion with many of our friends and family.
  3. Add them to your restricted list. This is a bit of a bigger step but still not at the unfriending level. It makes your feed appear as if you don’t post very often. But, once again, they don’t get notified and you can always remove them. It’s similar to acting colder to someone offline. Yes it can be passive aggressive BUT the opportunity is still there to keep the friendship alive.

Check out Facebook’s tutorial on how to create and manage lists here.

Above all I urge you to stop and take a deep breath before deciding to unfriend anyone. Recognize that by doing that you are sending a very powerful signal that will require a major conversation to undo. Friendships matter. They are so very valuable and most of the time Facebook can bring out the best in them. So don’t let it bring out the worst.

Here’s Why Your Mobile App Isn’t Taking Off

I’m writing this post because I’m tired of startups touting their apps as the next big thing and then being utterly shocked when they fail to takeoff. I’ll only say this once: It doesn’t matter how new and shiny your technology is and how excited it makes your VCs- the public has to decide that they want to use it for you to ACTUALLY get traction. So stop investing in big blow-out bashes and start investing in the basics of a social strategy and, in particular, community managers.

As we all know, the mobile application field is incredibly competitive and consumers do not mess around. The average consumer has 26 apps on their phone but mainly only uses 5. Also there’s zero tolerance for tech issues. In 2013, Compuware, found that 79 percent of users will discard an app if it fails to launch after 1 or 2 times. For an app start-up that can be absolutely disastrous. Sure your app may top the iTunes download list and get major publicity for that but if hardly anyone ever opens it after that that’s just a hollow number.

This happens over and over again. One recent example is Peach. It got massive buzz at CES 2016 with the typical “will this replace Twitter, Instagram, Facebook” headlines but within just a few days it was old news for the general populace. This is a great lesson-you can attract a few early adopter types but they tend to be very fickle and unless you harness them as influencers or knowledge sources they will likely be off to the next app to tout as the “next big thing”. Even if you do harness them you’ll still be left with a ghost town of a network which isn’t ultimately going to generate that coveted ad revenue you promised your VC’s you would be able to collect.

So what’s the secret? Clearly it’s not just in the build. There are a bunch of cool apps out there that just don’t get traction. For a non-app example think about Google+. It had users built in thanks to gmail accounts and people still didn’t utilize it. App adoption- social network or not- requires the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) to solidify into actual use.

To get people to repeatedly use an app you need to have some type of offline trigger. The best way to do this is to get an entire community to become hooked. Facebook nailed this by activating entire universities and Twitter did it as well (albeit much more accidentally).

Here’s one idea- I call this the water-cooler effect and it goes like this:

  1. App developers do a soft-launch for a few early adopter-type people who, critically, are part of offline networks. They need to be active on several social networks, have a physical office that they go to and, ideally, a circle of friends outside of work. (Social strategists are basically stalkers and this info is easy to get) This is also a time to get feedback on usability- pay attention to this as it is critical. Remember, users will only try to open an app 1-2 times. Make sure that these people are majorly pumped about the app AND have a reason to want others to use it as well.
  2. When the app is ready for prime time let the beta testers know and make it a big online event. Get them super excited- even perhaps think of a way to gamify growing their circle of friends on the app. Because here’s the key- THEY are your offline ambassadors and gateway to adoption and retention of app use. It just takes one very simple question asked casually: “Have you downloaded this app yet?”followed up by “Here let me show you how it works” It’s that simple. Imagine what that would do say in NYC. I’m not going to go through the math here but even if you only got 10% of the people to spread the word you would get exponential growth.
  3. Community Management is critical to keep the momentum going. There WILL be rollout issues and features that people really want to see. Your Community Management team needs to be always on for those first few weeks to answer every question promptly and keep excitement growing in using the app. Invite users to give feedback, work with the internal team to adopt some of the ideas. Maybe there are 3 easy feature ideas you could put together in a week- why not put them up for a vote to see which ones the users want. This developers community and keeps users coming back for more.

Do you see the theme? It’s Community that makes your app succeed. This is a lesson that has been proven time and time again so please stop ignoring it. This is where your money needs to go. It’s a people campaign. Putting your logos everywhere doesn’t translate to retention! It’s the community that brings in the value and that’s what will make people continue to use your app. That’s what will get you that coveted revenue and make you more than a few day blip on TechCrunch.

Why I’m a Social Strategist (and it has nothing to do with social media)

“So what do you do?” It’s a question that I’ve learned to dread outside of the marketing world.

How do you explain the role of social strategist to a cabbie who is trying to make polite conversation or to a great aunt who barely knows what Facebook does? “Oh, so you post stuff on Twitter?” is hardly the response you want to get particularly when, let’s be honest here, the “What do you do” question is the opportunity to do some humble bragging. My current go-to is “I advise brands on the type of stuff they should post on Facebook and Twitter. You know the Super Bowl? Yeah stuff like that.” And then I change the subject.

Okay so it’s not really important that a cabbie understands what I do. But it does get a bit frustrating when it comes to family and friends. And I know I’m not alone. Get a group of Community Managers and Social Strategists together and within a few minutes we start to commiserate. Because here’s the thing. We do way more than work on social media. Sure that’s what you tend to see but for most of us what draws us to this career runs far deeper.
And that’s what you want to share in response to the “So what do you do?” question.
Social strategists are equal parts dreamers and doers. We’re best utilized in roles that intersect at the center of marketing and creative design. Often we’re the bridge between the two. That’s because our jobs require a blend of the two. It’s all too easy to loose this when the main output you see is various analytic reports but look closer and you’ll find that every social strategist has a strong creative streak. That’s why the unexecuted or failed social strategy hurts so much. It’s like a commissioned painting that was never finished.
My passion for social strategy is rooted in the joy of building- particularly communities. I firmly believe that there is more that can unit us than divide us. I look for individuals who are interested in learning, doing, or contributing more and find ways to build communities to empower them because we can do more together than divided. “Wait,” you’re probably saying, “aren’t you a marketer? This sounds like some airy fairy idealistic crazy talk.”
The way that I see it, any opportunity to demonstrate the power of community and our commonalities is a win. Anything I build that focuses on facilitating conversations between individuals who might not otherwise interact further ignites my passion. That’s why I do what I do.
Take a minute to look back through this post. You’ll notice that with the exception of the first paragraph I haven’t mentioned social media once. That’s because being a social strategist is about far more than those platforms. And that’s why I get a strange twitch in my eye when I have to use those mediums to try to define what I do.
Now I do have an ulterior motive for writing this post and that’s a call to action to make use of the full potential of your friendly social strategist. Sure we can answer your social media questions, manage your accounts and write blog posts.
But if you take a step backwards and let us into your wider content strategy and vision we can do so much more.

Being Human in 2016: A Year of Decision

Trying to predict trends in the New Year is a publishing tradition. With the rapidity of technological innovation,  these posts increasingly concern innovations in technology. This occurs both directly, such as WIRED’s “2016 Will Herald the End of Google (sort of)”, or indirectly, like Inc.’s “6 Predictions for the Most Disruptive Tech Trends”  and “The 5 Most Undercovered Marketing Trends for 2016” in Forbes.

But there are other trends in the world that dwarf the promises of emerging tech. Problems that can’t be solved by an algorithm or rich guy’s donation to “charitable purposes”.

There are certain points in human history that we look back at and see as pivotal turning points in our collective experience. These are years when politics, culture, economics, and technology come together to create an unstoppable force of transition around the world. One of the most recent such years was 1968. These years force change. They do not “disrupt”, nor can they be fixed through new apps. They come out of the fundamental aspects of our human nature and the way in which we relate to one another. Most importantly, they are moments of choice. We are headed towards such a moment.

Global inequality is the principle challenge of our time. On average in developed and developing countries, the poorest half of the of the population controls less than 10% of the wealth. This is not something that will be wished away by the Sharing Economy or fixed by a buy-one-give-one model. It is not something that Elon Musk can solve.

Worldwide population displacement is at an all-time high. According to the UN Refugee Agency, “one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.” This is not a tenable situation, particularly as it coincides with domestic calls to raise borders trapping these refugees in horrific situations such as the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. There is no crowdfunding this problem away.

In the midst of these issues, the threat of global terrorism and conflict loom. There are enough articles out there so I won’t go into everything here. But suffice it to say, when taken together in a single equation, we are facing a crisis — one in which technology, for all of its shiny promises, can only play a minor role in solving. These are human problems that require human solutions. 

These solutions do not come cheap. Nor are they likely to create opportunities to be the next big unicorn. They will not revolve around the creation of a new economic paradigm. Rather they will be focused on empathy. Remembering that hard work had nothing to do with where we were born and the opportunities that it afforded us. Remembering that no matter how bad things are there is always someone worse off than you. Empathy does not need to be blind. But it does require taking the time to listen, to learn, to understand, and at times simply providing a shoulder to cry on. Technology can assist in the creation of solutions but, to be effective, our ultimate goal must be helping others, not turning a profit.

My 2016 prediction is that this year will be simultaneously one of exciting innovation and deepening inequality. I challenge all of us to not turn a blind eye to the world’s problems. We live in an increasingly connected age with access to myriad sources of information. 

Let’s make 2016 the year of empathy. 



Our Shared Rainbow Moment

Only a few days in my life can compare to the feelings of pure joy and solidarity that I felt on June 26, 2015. It’s one of those markers that I believe is going to go down in history as collective memory- a “what were you doing when you heard” moment in time that we share with each other in years to come. Events such as those make us want to come together as humans- introverts and extraverts alike- to be with each other. Sharing those moments with others is a major part of the experience and we see spontaneous congregation in city centers to be with each other. Everyone wants to be a part of it.

On June 26th we saw the way that Facebook and Twitter in particular have become virtual city centers. Within minutes of the announcement profile photos across the social space were redone in various shades of rainbow. Tons of Brands joined in with, in my opinion, no real visible marketing strategy, rather they seemed to be motivated feeling that they should be a part of this momentous occasion. (A H2H moment!) And while Facebook didn’t change their logo they launched the “Celebrate Pride Tool” to create a rainbow filter of your profile picture. By the end of the day my Twitter and Facebook feeds were full of rainbows. A visual testament to our unity at a momentous time in history.

What does this mean? Probably not much in the long run. A bitter election campaign is right around the corner. Our profiles and feeds will be full of various opinions and divisions. Statistically unfollowing and de friending WILL occur. But let’s remember this moment. The field of rainbows- each an individual decision to create. Each representing a moment when we made a very human decision- to stand up and be counted and unite our voices together in celebration of equality.

Yes I’m waxing eloquent and no I don’t care. Blame it on the rainbow.


How a #NewWaytoWork Led to Imagining a Drone that Delivers Coffee

In November a group of Futurists convened in NYC to for PureMatter’s #NewWaytoWork Thinkathon in conjunction with the launch of IBM Verse. As a social strategist I’ve participated in a good number of hashtag campaigns and this one indeed seemed like a pretty cool concept. I was excited to see where it was going to go and with such a great make-up of influencers I knew that it could be very special. Little did I know just how special and how it would impact me personally.

I’d always considered myself fairly unemployable basically because I can’t stand for the status quo. Whenever I jump into a position I immediately think about what can be done to make a process better. As you can imagine this doesn’t go down very well when you’re supposed to be an entry-level drone. But try as I might I couldn’t turn it off. This compulsion is one of the reasons I started my PhD and ironically the main reason I left after 2 years. And it’s why I became a social strategist- a position that allows me to innovate to my heart’s content. My job is to build a better mousetrap and I love it.

But there’s a flip side to this. I’ve gotten used to living inside of my head. I’m used to everyone’s eyes glazing over 30 seconds into a conversation. I always tell people I’m happiest sitting in a corner with piles of data to analyze and that’s totally true. But it means I’m starved for interaction. There’s a joy that comes from the exchange of ideas. I thought that I would find it in the Academy and when I didn’t I assumed that it was simple not to be. That, not to sound overly dramatic, I would simply be alone in my head.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. What Academia couldn’t provide, IBM could. Stop for a second and think about that. IBM. A behemoth of a corporation founded in 1911. The epitome of the dreaded corporate private sector. And the catalyst for my entry into a community in which I feel totally accepted and valued. When I geek out others join in. No idea is too crazy.

Yesterday I came to the realization that the #NewWaytoWork hashtag has created a community focused on innovative thinking. Here’s what happened. Last month I participated in a #MillennialTalk tweetchat sponsored by IBM Social Business during which I suggested that part of the future of work would be a drone that delivered me coffee in bed. The idea generated some laughs and conversation. Then yesterday I participated in another IBM Social Business sponsored tweetchat- this time Brian Fanzo’s #SBizHour. We were talking about innovations we wanted for our work calendars and someone mentioned an alarm clock that integrated with a calendar. This led to my tweet:

As soon as I wrote this I was struck with the realization that the unifying factor was the innovation sparked by the #NewWaytoWork campaign. Both chats were fairly different and yet since they were sponsored they had the same Futurist message. My idea is of course fairly silly- not really focused on substantive contribution but the point is that these conversations are taking place around this hashtag and they are focused on creativity. Think of how many conversations you’ve been in where a new idea immediately gets struck down. There’s time to be practical but if we are to move forward we need a place where strategists and futurists feel free to exchange ideas.

Oh and by the way, a drone that delivers coffee actually exists:

Next step- integration with my alarm clock.

How Twitter Gives a Voice to the Voiceless

Yesterday Mack Collier responded to Gary Vee’s statement that “Twitter has a noise problem” by saying that actually Twitter’s problem is that “no one is talking there any more”. Both view points come from analysis of conversations en masse and are particularly from a social media marketing perspective. (And before I go any further let me point out that that is also my world. Many of the strategies I write are for Fortune 500 companies whose bottomline is turning ROI.)

But Mark Collier’s argument goes beyond ROI concerns. It’s framed around his experience that many of his circle of early adopters no longer frequent Twitter. For him, this indicates that the platform is no longer a place for conversation. In my mind this is a pretty out of touch statement. For starters, the early adopters of Twitter are just that- early adopters. Let’s be honest, there is a bit of a Portlandia vibe in Silicon Valley. Once something is cool it’s over. Mack Collier admitted as much pegging the death of Twitter as the moment Ashton Kutcher joined.

But while the Silicon Valley elite may have left, other groups have entered in droves and if anything Twitter is more alive with conversations than ever. These conversations are occurring in niche communities built around hashtags. Mack Collier points to rise of the tweet chat in 2008 as evidence mark that organic conversation, and therefore Twitter, was dying. Yet I’d argue that the start of hashtags as a rallying point for conversation is what allowed Twitter to get into the groove that has made it such a special social network.

As I wrote in a previous post, Twitter is the embodiment of a social media network. You go to Facebook to interaction with your offline network. On Twitter most of your network are people you’ve never met in real life. Early adopters didn’t necessarily have this experience and certainly didn’t enjoy the remarkable diversity of Twitter in it’s current form.

In recent years while Twitter is certainly the site of marketing “noise” it has also played a critical roll in giving a world-wide voice to the voiceless.

Here’s the hashtag traffic map released by Twitter for #Ferguson on August 9th [click on the photo for the video]:

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 12.54.58 PM

As we all know this has helped to spark many much-needed conversations about race which are now being had at the national level. Yes there is a lot of anger- what do you expect? But the point is that people are talking.

Another hashtag to note is #YesAllWomen. As I wrote last May, while the hashtag was short-lived, “In the #YesAllWoman hashtag we found our collective voice.” I compiled a storify of a sampling of the tweets and I encourage you to look through them to get an idea of just how big of a deal this was.

Twitter has changed from its early days. It’s harder to do social media marketing but if it were easy social strategists would be out of a job. Yes Twitter needs to monetize and perhaps the Facebook model (shudder) is one that will help. But to say that conversations have left Twitter is to ignore the immense role that Twitter has played over the past few years in creating unprecedented opportunities for interaction and collective action. The conversations haven’t left Twitter. You just have to know where to look.