Social media is so hot right now. At least I think it still is. As I pointed out yesterday, in my blog post, "Cultural Latency," things that get suddenly popular have a tendency to become less interesting just as rapidly.
One variant, or effect, of this idea comes from the consultancy Gartner, who had long spoken about the Hype cycle.
In essence, diminished latency means that everyone hears about a technology way before anyone has worked out what to do with it, so everyone gets disappointed with it and stops paying attention, which gives said technology the breathing room to discover what it is for.
Social media hasn't hit the trough of disillusionment yet. Well, actually, it has, but it has avoided the associated lack of attention through nomenclature legerdemain.
User generated content was all the rage a few years back, but became boring. Then Web 2.0 was very NOW, but no one uses that term any more. Now it's social media—but it's the same thing.
I've dealt with how to approach social media before—you can watch the slidecast below—it's mostly about being nice.
Social grammar and commercial grammar don't mix well, so when brands try to use social spaces to push commercial messages things get ... uncomfortable. Relationships require building before they can be leveraged. You can't ask someone you just met to help you move, or to borrow money. You need to build the relationship first.
So, looking at a short term ROI when assessing the value of social media is antithetical to the emerging reputation and gift economy that operates there. You need to take a longer- term view. Brands need to pay it forward in social spaces.
One of the good things about reputation economics is that it drives people to help other people, especially if they know something you don't. Information is the oldest form of gift—it's the only thing that multiplies the more you give it away, you never lose it yourself.
And this dynamic is really useful, if you can harness it.
One of the things I've been thinking about a lot recently is how to better harness the value of working inside a big agency. When I sat in one room with everyone I worked with, it was easy to know who was good at what and to bounce around ideas. Cross pollination works when there are random micro-interactions all day long.
But when you work with over 1000 people it becomes a little harder to co-mingle, which makes it harder for people to share what they are doing, to hang out, to find out who is great at what, to inspire each other.
But social media is really good at that sort of thing.
I experience ambient intimacy with people from all over the world. Their continual partial presence means I can share what they are doing, hang out with them, get to know what they are into, and ask them for help.
So we are bringing social media into the agency.
We have rolled out an internal suite of social tools to supplement existing work focused collaboration spaces, like Basecamp or Sharepoint, that are more focused on hanging out.
Internal blogs, forums, video sharing, and link sharing so people share what they are in to.
We're using Yammer, an enterprise focused microblogging platform so people can share what they are working on and ask for help, in a way that protects client confidentiality.
We are rolling out one of the first installations an enterprise version of Kluster—a group decision making and ideation platform— to enable us to better access the creativity and wisdom of the whole agency.
These are experiments in being social at home, to see if the intimacy and gift economics of social media can work inside a corporation.
I believe, fundamentally, that hanging out more makes you nicer and smarter—so I'm confident that it can.
Faris is Chief Technology Strategist at McCann-Erickson New York. Before that he was the Digital Ninja at Naked Communications. He writes and speaks about brands, media, communication, and technology. You can find him all over the Internet, but his blog—Talent Imitates, Genius Steals —and twitter @faris are good places to start.