Social Marketing & Games

If you think social media is only for technology companies, think again. Heres a look at how Danone use social media to change the image of the Activia brand.

As you can see, its all about engagement. Now, i am not a marketing person, so i wont even try to look at that aspect of things, but another interesting aspect of this is the fact that the campaign was played out as a game. Users would go through a series of Activia challenges designed to create more engagement of users with the brand. One of the aspects which probably would help to create a buzz around the campaign would be the component of the challenge which would give users a sense of achievement have having crossed different levels of the challenge.

Now, this campaign could also have been run as a series of activities, probably the same set of activities, seemingly unconnected to each other (think activity of the week). The series of challenges, like the levels in a game, leading to the final event creates the level of excitement among users at crossing levels, at reaching the next level. This creation of a continuum of levels into “higher” levels brings with it the engagement which the brand needs, and gives a good illustration of the effect of gamification on activities, whether they be marketing or learning.

Yatra of Kashi – 1

The city is Eternal … Kashi, Banaras, Varanasi … any name you know it by, the city, and her magic remain eternal. For, unlike other cities, where different names denote different aspects of the character of the city, with Banaras, its just the Eternal City. Having been at Banaras for four years, there is a soft corner i have for the city. And its not just because i have been there. Banaras is, after all, the city which is topmost in the mind of Hindus the world over. In weddings in the southern part of the country, in fact, the groom is supposed to go for a Kashi Yatra, taking Sanyaas rather than marrying the girl (if only men were so intelligent as to carry it out), and the father-in-law-to-be and the brother-in-law-to-be need to persuade the groom to give up his designs (evil folks there) and marry their daughter or sister (double-evil folks), as Chetan Bhagat has explained in his book, 2 States. But when i talk about Kashi Yatra, i have a totally different meaning in mind. One with mushaayraas, fashion shows, theatre, JAM, rock music … the festival at IT-BHU. A couple of weeks back, i got the chance to go back for KY after more than 15 years. And what an experience it was. Not just being there, but the whole process from conceptualizing it, to the planning, jamming, and the show. And actually, it was the journey which made it so amazing … much more than the climax.

By now you must be wondering what i am writing about. For those not in the know, i was a drummer when at college. This year, some of the most amazing musicians i have seen or played with got together to play at the old college … of course, as we later figured out, it was also about giving the kids a decent rock education. But thats beside the point.

So, what am i talking about? A number of things. Which is why it would take more than one post to write about the entire journey. Because the journey begins at a point which is the dream of social computing evangelists. Now, those of you from IT-BHU, or music buffs would not be too pleased with that reference, but thats the way it was. Let me explain. How did the idea of an alumni band, with guys from across batches, playing at the college fest germinate? Simple … on facebook. How? Let me tell.

A few months ago … and alcohol does do wonders at times … having a discussion with the Old Monk … i came up with a wierd idea … something i never did when i was at college, and something i wouldnt be able to do now, given the girth … cycling from Lanka to Vishwakarma Hostel. I dont know the distance, but its much more than my waistline, or my cholesterol-ridden heart, or the bicycle, for that matter, can handle. But thats not the point. I and Shamik Raj Mendiratta got discussing about this idea. From here, me and Nitin Bhatt came up with the idea of jamming at KP (King’s Pavillion, for the uninitiated, is the home of rock in BHU, with some of the best amateur rock bands having played here). This was jamming for old times sake, to bring back memories (more about this later, but for the moment, i am just telling the story). From here, over the next week or so (again thanks to Old Monk) came the idea of playing at KY.

At this point, the entire idea remained there. It came a little forward with Jaya Sharma telling me that KY was happening in January, 2010, and me posting on the IT-BHU group telling guys about the KY dates, and asking guys what they think about the idea of playing at KP. These were tentative thoughts at this stage, which i was putting there, simply because i wasnt sure of where they would lead, if at all they would lead anywhere. This was in November 2009, and this is where Amit Pande took up the entire management of things. Pande was amazing. He took up the entire management of the journey to KY, starting from talking to people across cities across India (when Amit is in Singapore), getting people together on the same page. Pande got everyone of the musicians (across batches … oftentimes guys we didnt even know about) on the same page on facebook. He got in touch with folks, just out of sheer enthu to explore the idea, rather than to recruit guys for the show, and explored a number of possibilities from which emerged a shape which was seen at KY. This included connecting with guys, discussing their ideas about what we could do, and so on. Once this somewhat got organized, Pande took to the organization of things in a way i havent seen before. For example, this was the first time i had a conference call to discuss which songs we need to play at the college fest. Well, in a nutshell, from this point on, it was all about Pande’s managerial skills, managing the logistics of people (most important), getting ideas together from people (creating the group on facebook where everyone of the musicians connected), and getting their opinions about music, along with working out schedules, finding out who would be available when for jamming, and then working out everything from there on … Hats off, Pande.

This much for this … more to come!

Communities and Social Networking

Communities an social networking, to an extent, are concepts which are overlapping. Let me explain why i think so. Communities are about people who are brought together for something specific (or maybe not, but usually), like a shared interest, or a shared stake in a business requirement, or reasons which are similar. Which has brought up terms like communities of interest, communities of practice … though i feel that at the basic level, they are communities, whether brought together by interest or by practice or another parameter. So, underlying is the idea that communities are a group of people who have something in common.

Now, what are social networks? In a social network, people who are in some way connected with each other, whether through a shared interest, or whether through just knowing each other, come together by creating connections that can be used for something. This something at one level is just keeping in touch, or knowing what others you know are doing, what they are reading. At another level social networks are about keeping in touch with what people with shared interests are doing, reading, the people they are connecting with, identifying people who are experts in your area of interest, and so on. Which implies that at an oversimplified level, a social network is also a community. Or maybe thats not an oversimplification. But if we look at them closely, whether communities or social networks, they are about people being connected by something, whether it be shared interest or just knowing each other, with shared interests emerging from there.

So what is the role of communities in this realm of social networking. As you can see from facebook, for example, there can be communities within social networks, like you would find groups on facebook which are a cross-section of social networks. For example, you may be a member of a group of which no one from your social network is a member, or you may share a group with a lot of people from your social network. But the question which comes is whether the role of communities in the social networking realm is as well defined as we would have thought maybe five years ago? Are communities as well structured or well defined as they were? Or are they becoming more and more fluid?

What i am saying is that in the realm of social networking, communities may be moving to a form where they are less well-defined and are not persistent either. People could be leveraging their social networks for identifying people who could help with something, coming together with them, solving the problem, and thats about what the interaction for that particular scenario would be about, and beyond this, the social network would continue to be the way it is and the community doesnt really persist beyond the specific requirement. In other words, communities come together from among the social network for a particular requirement and then they just dissolve into the larger fabric of the social network. Or we could say that the social network becomes the source for communities, facilitating the search for people and the means for communities to come together?

Twitter …

I have an on-and-off kind of interaction with twitter. There are days when i am online most of the day, and there are days, when i just dont login. I wonder why. But, this gets me wondering … What is twitter all about? I mean, i understand twitter from the perspective we are familiar with, but given my interactions with twitter, i am wondering … what are the implications of a twitter within the organization. And this is something i havent been able to figure out.

There is lots written about the value of a twitter-like tool within the firewall, but i am thinking … lets look at it simply. Twitter is a platform which lets you write short messages about whatever it is that you want to write, and your friends to follow those messages, and comment on them, if they like. The 140 character limit is quite nice … stops people like me from ranting on and on. But, having said that, there is the other aspect of this … the volume. There are so many activities people do. Which is why, oftentimes i find some kind of overload from twitter … theres just too many tweets to go through. Which is actually nice the way i am using twitter today, but if you were to replace your connections on twitter with your colleagues at work, would you be so keen? Maybe … or then, maybe not.

There is also the idea that by following what your colleagues are doing, you yourself can learn a bit. Colleague reading a blog? If they tweet about it, you could get to know about an interesting blog, which you might find helpful at work. But then, looking at it from a different perspective, how about social networking? Wouldnt a social networking platform do just about something similar? With the additional functionality for building your social networks, and interacting with people as they go about their day-to-day work? In other words, what about social networking (aka facebook) as an aggregator for the activities that people are doing? There is definitely an overlap here, though i tend to believe that maybe a facebook is something which i find easier to interact with, because it brings in a more social aspect to the interactions. And if one could link up a corporate facebook with some of the other systems, it could actually be an interesting concept.

I have posted a poll to find out what you think … care to post your comments? Look forward to hearing.

Social Computing … Observations And Implications

I was watching this awesome video which Luis Suarez has made, posted over at his blog. There are some very imortant point that Luis is making over here, especially when he says that with social computing it is no longer you versus others, its you as part of a team, of a community.

What i liked probably the most was the idea that in an open platform as social computing can provide, it quickly becomes clear who is contributing how much, and what. The whole idea of free-riding is something which can be taken care of. Though, to my mind, that is a tad oversimplistic. Folks will find out ways to get around this. This also could have implications for the way people work … bringing in more transparency … and, to my mind, this is one of the very reasons this kind of a change would be resisted in a large number of organizations. Not just because change is usually resisted (which i believe is not, its just that the value proposition of the change is not usually communicated well enough …), but also because a lot of people are not comfortable saying out things in the open.

What is also interesting is that unlike with email, you can control what you read. Of course, this might mean you miss out on something. But, as Luis says, networks have a way of informing you. While this is valid logic, this rests on the assumption of adoption. And, this is where the chicken-and-egg situation i have written about earlier comes into the picture … the network cannot deliver value till there are plenty of people in it, and you wont have plenty of people in the network till it start delivering value.

There are two things i would add to the number of excellent points Luis has made …

Let us first ask, what is the most important asset for an organization (knowledge-based, i am assuming here …)! The most probable answer you would get to this question is … People! Yes, they sure are. But, if people are the most important asset, why is it that Knowledge Management systems are content-centric, and not people centric? After all, content is a proxy for people, isnt it?

Look at facebook, for instance … the focus of the entire network is the people … when you login, you see what your friends are doing … you are seeing content which is generated, for sure … but, content that is generated by people, or, in other words, content in the context of people, which brings people to the centre of the entire schema. Ditto for twitter, too … the first thing on a tweet is the picture, and the name of the person who has written it. Even your favourites are content, but they are about the people … the focus being on the people who are generating the content.

This has another benefit … Unlike documents, or static content, which goes obsolete over a period of time (by the time you post it, as Luis says), the people who write the content dont! People are more up-to-date than platforms are!

Another thing which comes up is, if you are emailing a document to ten different people, you are sending ten different copies, one to each one of them … you are in effect isolating one from another. Contrast this to the social computing paradigm, where you are bringing people together, by bringing them to a single copy of the document.

AppGap On Facebook

AppGap has put up the recording for the webcast on Facebook for Business … Quite an interesting one, this … the summary is available here. They are making some very important points. One thing which they point out is that facebook has a way of getting group information propagating seamlessly, and information tends to find its way to other groups quite easily on facebook.

If, on the other hand, you look at linkedin, you would not find something like this happening. In fact, the groups over at linkedin are not nearly as dynamic as what you could find over at facebook (unless i am missing those which are …). From this, or from other research, they arrive at the conclusion that facebook users are more social than linkedin users. First of all, i dont think this distinction can be made. You find more or less the same set of guys around. To my mind, this is more to do with positioning … linkedin have positioned themselves around work … its a very serious network! On the other hand, facebook is fun … which is probably why folks believe that facebook is for “kids”, while nobody has this opinion about linkedin.

In other words, the social network is heavily reliant on its positioning. Which is true of most of the tools you would come across in the web 2.0 stable … they are, after all, all about people participation, and people will participate in a way in which they perceive the tool. Hence, this perception needs to be created and managed, more so in the organizational context. A well-hidden social network is totally irrelevant. So if you are looking at introducing social networking at the office, it might be a good idea to run advertisements for this.

Social Networking … Today, Yesterday!

Shiv Singh has written an interesting piece about how facebook is blurring the lines between personal and professional lives. Interesting because this is something which we can see all around us. And interesting also because i dont think this is completely owing to facebook, or the social networking phenonomenon which is all around.

My two bits … the way i see it, the lines between professional and personal lives have never been completely well defined. They have always been blurred. Remember those networking dinners? Office parties, and the kind of chatting that goes on? Human beings are social … and, human beings need to network, because none of us are in a position to do everything that we need all by ourselves. Ergo, social networking.

Having said that, the technology wave is definitely catalyzing things, and the sheer scope and breadth of social networks today is remarkable. Having said this, this is true of a whole host of technologies. Take CRm, for example … the entire idea of CRM has been built around something which the neighbourhood grocer has been doing for ages, although on a totally different scale.

On to the most interesting part … the reach which social networking gives us. Just to give some statistics … On linkedin i have (at the time of writing) 200 connections, which gives me access to a network of more than 2 million people (at least theoretically). The numbers are mind-boggling. That, to my mind, is the real secret behind social networking.

Fantasy App …

Is it a pointer to me being a wierdo if i am fantasizing about an application? Well … maybe! But then, whatever …

I have been using both facebook and twitter for over a week now. And the way i see it, both of these applications actually complement each other. While facebook is about connecting with folks, and doing your own thing, twitter is about being yourself, and just penning down your thoughts from time to time. I am thinking of a facebook homepage where updates from twitter, from my network get reflected, and where i can not just keep in touch with what my friends are doing, with their statuses, photos, work, play, etc., i can also keep in touch with what they are thinking.

And, this is a pointer to a larger thought process … Right now, i am confused about which social network i want to log into. So, i log into twitter, because i want to share my “thoughts of the moment” with others, and i log into facebook to connect with friends. And, i log into ning for communities, and … What is required, to an extent, is an aggregator, which can give the functionality of the social networks i am a part of, in a single place. This way, i am sure a lot of folks would save a lot of time not having to update multiple social networks?

There is, of course, the argument of diversity which multiple social networks brings in, but i dont see too much logic in that, considering that most of the folks on my network in facebook overlap with those on twitter, and hence, the impact of diversity is only minimal.

About Twitter …

I have logged onto twitter … finally! OK … so i was trying out facebook all this while. And, for all the cool things that twitter gives, i somehow find the functionality at facebook way too cool. Actually, this is early days yet, but from what i am seeing, one thing which is really like about facebook, which i am missing at twitter is the way i can see all the applications my friends are installing, all the groups they are joining, etc., etc. … this, to my mind, is a wonderful way of easing the process of discovery. These were my thoughts when i had joined facebook. And not much which is changing here.

Though, the thing i really like about twitter is the way short, sweet, quick messages can just be shot out. This is an interesting thing to do, especially because this enables me to capture the “thought of the moment”. Rather than writing a long blog, i can write a series of short snippets, which could basically become the source for my blog. Its akin to something i have been thinking of doing for some time now (since i started writing my book … yes, more about that soon!), that is, carrying a dictaphone and just recording whatever thought occurs right at the moment when it occurs. Its this kind of functionality that i find quite interesting. More so, in the organizational context, this could be really nice, because with this, rather than asking folks to write their experiences in a blog which could be quite lengthy for people to write, or worse still, asking them to write documents, people can simple capture this “thought of the moment”, and share this with whoever wants to see what they are reading … especially with their social networks!

Application in Facebook …

I came across an interesting application on facebook … But, more than the application itself, the idea of the application is quite interesting. We all know that facebook, and similar social networking sites are a platform which enables us to get in touch with friends and family, as well as to come in touch with more people with whome we might share some interests.

Interestingly, more and more, there is the need for people to be able to categorize their friends. On social networking sites, we tend to have a large number of friends, and this brings up the requirement of categorizing them, maybe even colour-coding them. This, to my mind, is an interesting phenomenon. Outside these social networking sites, we dont need to colour-code our friends. This raises the question of why. And this is one of the most interesting things about social networking. When it comes to social networking, we are all creating ties which go way beyond the ties outside the circle of social networking. These ties which we end up creating include friends and family, for sure, but at the same time, we are in a position to discover … discover groups we might want to join, and more importantly, discover people we might want, or need to connect with, for shared interests. These could be people who are experts in a particular subject we are interested in, or they could be people who are also working on a particular topic, which is also of interest to us. And this idea of discovery is the essential value of social networking.

Lets take an example. One of my favourite bands is one by the name Junoon. Well, there is a nice group which is their fan club on facebook, and i was quick to join it. Interestingly, six of my friends from facebook also joined the group. In all probability, they also wanted to, but either they never came round to it, or they werent able to find it. This is the nature of discovery from social networking. And to my mind, this is one of the major issues knowledge managers need to work on, to make sure that we are able to bring about a similar nature of ease of discovery behind the firewall, as there is, outside the firewall.

There is an interesting application i came across the other day. This is a facebook-like application developed by Trampoline Systems. Or, the facebook-like application from Microsoft. The idea is to bring the idea of social networking into the firewall. However, having said that, there is a bit of euphoria which might be a little misplaced. For, the entire motivation for adoption of social networking behind the firewall is quite different from what it is outside the firewall. To that extent, there might need to be a few changes to the approach to social networking which might need to be brought in to bring about this change within the firewall. All ideas on how to do this invited …