5 quick questions – 5 long answers

8. marts 2009

Stephan Sabinsky recently Interviewed me for the Danish Communication Association (DKF) about what we do here in Socialsquare and some of the emerging patterns we work with.

The format is 5 quick questions, but it turned out be quite some extensive answers.
The interview can be read here (in danish)

I have taken the liberty of running the text through Google Translate, adjusted it here and there, so it is probably not the perfect translation. But in the vein of the article “good enough is perfect”. So here goes:

Stephan: Online presence, social marketing, SEO, applications for Facebook and iPhone, blogs, wikis, Web 2.0 … what is’ new media ‘really?

Me: First and foremost, it is important to understand that what we call “new media” really are not media at all. They are rather tools to make communication and sociality happen. Of course, all these tools and platforms “mediates” in one or another degree, but the focus is no longer on a media – form and content has been atomised. This is what we learned with blogging.
We can now distribute information in a radically different way. And while many in communications has focused on blogging as a particular ‘genre’ of writing – typically the ‘Diary’ – the principles behind blogging are way more interesting. In the digital realm, we find that the conversation and the sharing of information no longer needs to be in one place or in one form, but may exist in all sorts of places, without losing relevance.

The new thing, is that we can now separate content from form, and therefore we are able distribute and share information in a much more efficient manner. And then we have introduced the social as a kind of ‘algorithm’ to find information – or rather to make information find us – in some more appropriate ways. If there is something new in the media, it is that now have a mass of media, but it is important not to think that we all are small newspapers or TV stations that provide content that substitutes the “real media”. We are just starting to use distribution power of the internet the way it was intended. Content is increasingly just context – social context.

Where previously the internet where hyperlinks between content, with the Web 2.0 wave – if we must use the somewhat hackneyed term – also we have people on the internet. And we have begun to harvest these relations between people for interesting and meaningful purposes.

With regard to developments in relation to the social, it is clear that it makes a huge difference that the cost of having a meaningful communication with many have fallen to a minimum. And it starts to make a hugh difference when you compare that to the costs that is for distribution and transaction in the ‘old media’. It is not because we do not like paper versions of newspapers that they are dying rapidly – it is simply too expensive to keep them alive.

Stephan: What products and analyzes demand Socialsquares clients currently the trends I see?

Me: We see a clear demand for new angles, deeper knowledge and better solutions in how organizations are using the Internet. A focus shift from web to participation-web where users are more in the game – either as the organization opens up a bit to the outside world or build platforms where the customers or members of the organisation, can do something together, for example: community solutions.

We see that many are beginning to realize that the network is not just a repository of content, but, as mentioned above, is a vibrant and dynamic infrastructure that is very efficient in spreading information . There is much focus on blogging, wiki, social networks, and other idéa-platforms and some of the tools that we in the Socialsquare has helped to introduce through out almost five years.

I always say that we have gone from the challenge of getting the organization out on the internet to a new challenge of getting the internet into the organization. So, increasingly it is not only that the organization has a website out there, but to get the organization to capitalize on and ‘live’ with the internet, and that requires more than a CMS. We have to look at the skills, the strategy, ways of governance and to delegate responsibility towards not only communication but also core business.

We often see that companies have a very traditional approach to the web – and we are trying to change that, by focusing on the principles, that make a difference, rather than the “technology”. The social internet is starting to make a difference, and many companies have become aware that they do not work and communicate in a way that fits in the ecology of the web – but the organisation is typically very in doubt to what and how to become a part of it. Right now for example there is an extremely strong focus on Facebook because it has been an extreme adoption of Danish users soon is 2000000. It has an extreme attention, but for an organisation it is very much like adapting to a new culture, another language, different praxis, new rules of engagement.

The social networking is not about communication, but about participation – we help businesses do that a little better, we make participation happen. Participation is a bit like innovation: no one have a department or specific skills developed for participating. This applies both to the internal lines and external relation to the outside world.

Stephan: Is your type of product among those who first cut off in times of crisis?

Me: I think not. On the contrary. I think it would be natural that in crisis looking more closely and trying to secure the relationships that one is dependent on. And we may also seek new avenues of contact with the outside world, eg. by involving others to ‘reinvent’ the organization or the core business. the time when “he who lives hidden, lives well” is over, you have to open up, especially if you are in crisis.

We work to open the organization up and to make participation happen in the space there is between the internal and external of an organisation. We believe that our products and approaches are often quicker to put into action – less process, more action, faster results. In a crisis there is no need to launch massive IT or communications projects, but you would like to be a place where you are more manoeuvrable and continuously can develop and adapt.

Social services and networks lives outside the organization whether we like it or not, and in a crisis, I believe organizations should learn to listen to the voices of the stakeholders. And there will also be increasingly need for strategies and knowledge about what happens on the part of the network of organizations rarely are in contact with, but which are becoming more relevant to relate to. Not because of the crisis as such, but simply because it happens – whether the organization likes it or not.

Stephan: What are the typical problems and obstacles for organizations in relation to getting started with social media?

me: The problem is first and foremost that we have labelled the widespread phenomenon as “Social media”. The lets organisation believe that it should be a media or try show that it now is “social”. We think it is about creating opportunities for participation in something that makes sense, something that creates or supports a relationship, participation as part of the core business or involvement. We can not use our traditional notion of media for that. Media is not social. People are social, but we can mediate and facilitate participation.

The radical is not that the Internet has become “a media”, but that it is both the production, distribution and consumption in one system. This gives us a completely different model and perspective than, for example newspapers, TV and everything that traditional media is. Well, we probably do not even really know what a ’social media’ really are. This is misleading. The radical is the notion of the “social”. And the interesting thing is, what it happens when you put the “social” in front of your business, organization, processes, tools and not just see it as “media”.

We try to create change and generate value by making processes and building digital tools for social participation, which helps to solve a specific problem by opening up the organisation to the surrounding world. And we see that the web is just a very good platform to do this effectively. The problem is perhaps that “websites” often becomes a communications department project. Objectively speaking, communications department are perhaps the last place to start participation and openness, because it instinctively seeks to catch the internal organization and reduce or exaggerate it to some external messages.

The communication department perhaps should be dissolved, as this strange appendix close to management, that it often is. That does not mean that we no longer need the people in the organization that know something about communication and to communicate – on the contrary. But maybe there is a need for one or more new roles in relation to this, a more facilitating role, and perhaps a new location in the organization. There is a clear barrier to let go and distribute communications – this is a problem.

The problem is ultimately the way organizations are organized. To manage complexity we have introduced systems and limited people from each other in the organization. Marketing is separate from the sales department, which is separated from the communication department which is separated by product, etc. In other words, the entire organization separated or bounded from the external. at Socialsquare we are trying to re-establish lost connections and break down those boundaries at a very practical level and with very simple tools.

Getting back to the basic ideas that created the Internet, can help to break this complexity down – but you have to act in the premises and principles that are in it. We must organize yourself as a network in order to be in a network in an efficient manner. The full impact of network is profound.

Stephan: How big is the potential of social media?

Me: It is impossible to say. It will of course require that we have an idea about what the “goal” of social media is. And that is not formulated by anyone. The most interesting thing about the social internet is perhaps that it has no real goal that, no one as such controls it, and it occurs in that all can contribute, and create meaningful relationships. Therefore, it seems more a kind of process that is triggered by a variety of independent movements and actions.

Viewed in this way, the potential is enormous because it is not just about the rollout of just another ‘new media’. But perhaps the real potential is the many new ways to organize ourselves without any real or formal organization – in the end we could see the principles of the internet as tenders as a DNA for new forms of markets, new business models, new forms of organization, new bid for how democracy can be developed.

We are talking about a profound and radical rethinking of what organisations does, how and why they do it. But there are of course also the opposite case, the progress we see, could be rolled back; we could face the emergence of several ‘internet in the internet’. That is the profound danger of something like Facebook. Facebook, Google etc have a huge knowledge through all their data and hence an enormous power. And there will be many battles to keep the network ‘neutral’, and for established industries do not stifle the network of rules, strange formats and lawsuits against people who are really just trying to use it for what it does best — a specific case example is the pending Piratbay-trial currently unfolding in sweden.

If not this development and traffic on the network can be free, it could die or turn into a media of vendors as we see from the traditional media. But I think that what is set in motion is too massive, it is a very strong movement that involves people at their core ethics, and we are not going back. I often say that the Internet is a hopeless technology, but it is also why it works so well. If we are to understand the potential of most of the technologies and phenomena we see on the web now, it’s that they exist in an acceptable failure mode, otherwise they would not work. paradoxically true.

Wikipedia is not a perfect encyclopaedia, but good enough in most cases, thus it can scale – unlike a system that is perfect, but is very difficult and costly to spread. In the digital realm, the core dynamics are such that ‘good enough’ – really is perfect. With the social web, and the networks we create here, we are not seeing the perfect collection of knowledge, but the perfect spread of knowledge and information through social emergent proximity.

The new paradigm we are moving into, is an active chaos, a sort of productive anarchy. Our quest for the perfect system – be it IT, organizational or business that promise to solve all our problems at once, proves time and again to fail. In order to do something and to succeed, we most follow a different path, where what occurs, occurs outside what we totally control. What will work, does not necessarily meet our demands in terms of perfection, but will be good enough to be able to expand and be adjusted rapidly and constantly – but do we have the skills for that.