Participation will no longer be optional.

I missed the blogpost „social media will be like air“ by Charlene Li in March. But before not mentioning it at all, I’ll rather blog about it late. The article is about the fact that social media, especially the communities/social networks that make up these media plattforms, will be be ubiquitous in a few years. The son of my boss once asked, how people managed to access the internet before computers were invented. A rather smart question, once you think about it.

In a few years kids will ask us, why we used so many different platforms to socially engage with one another online. (And why we used platforms in the first place). Similar to why they will ask us, why we needed stationary big machines with huge screens to access the internet.

So the article of Charlene Li is worth reading in any case, but there was one point that I particularly noticed:

4) A business model where social influence defines marketing value. Today’s advertising models don’t work on social networking sites – that’s because simply targeting better on profile or social graph details is still the same old media model of CPM and CPC pricing. What’s missing is marketing value based on how valuable I am in the context of my influence. For example, Steve Rubel is a highly influential person because he is an authority on social media, the people in his social graph tend to interested in his views, and they in turn have a great deal of authority as well. (Several people came up to me after the speech and said that this is similar to a „PageRank of people“, a very easy way to crystallize the idea.)

There are discussions about the future of your „typical target group“ already going on. The idea of establishing a „PageRank of people“ seems to be a viable solution. Discriminating it may be, but it provides a good indication of who to target – or should we rather call it: speak to?

In summary, Participation is no longer optional writes Steve Rubel, referencing Charlene Li’s post. And he ads:

The end result is that marketers will need to shift the way they approach communities. Static advertising is no longer viable. The solution is collaboration. Marketers will need to tap these emerging social operating systems to build meaningful connections through their sites and others before competitors do.

Engaging in „social networking“ with your brand/product advocates will be is a crucial part of the media mix. I just wonder, when this insight will have found its way into marketing plans of most companies?

Spare Cycles mean Time for Participation in Web 2.0

Chris Anderson has a post about the question why people will have the time to produce content for the typical web 2.0 applications. And he is right: why would anyone have the time?

He calles it „spare cycles“ and refers to all those moments, when people are forced to stay in one place or condition, but don’t actually have anything to do, so they come up with silly stuff – or things filling the web 2.0 space.


He’s in his room, labeled „Sheriff“. Young guy. He’s watching a movie on a portable DVD player. That’s fine–he won’t be needed for another half hour. But of course „needed“ isn’t quite the right word. „Required“ is closer to it. He will be required by policy to stand by, gun in holster, while I take my laptop out of my nerd backpack. He may, fingers crossed, go his entire career without a terrorist going through that security checkpoint. He may indeed never unholster that gun in the line of duty. That sheriff is watching a movie because he has spare cycles. Spare cycles are the most powerful fuel on the planet. It’s what Web 2.0 is made up of.

Everyone has a little time that might be a „spare cycle“. Only some have more than others. And even if you have time, sometimes you’re too tired to use it for anything sensible, because you’d rather relax instead.

But generally speaking, I think it’s true: there is a lot of aggregate user time that can be tapped for participation in Web 2.0 content production.

Downsides of Participation Inequality

Jakob Nielsen has some interesting views about the downsides of the 1% rule that I blogged about. In his article
Participation Inequality: Lurkers vs. Contributors in Internet Communities
he lists those „Downsides of Participation Inequality“

The problem is that the overall system is not representative of Web users. On any given user-participation site, you almost always hear from the same 1% of users, who almost certainly differ from the 90% you never hear from. This can cause trouble for several reasons:

  • Customer feedback. If your company looks to Web postings for customer feedback on its products and services, you’re getting an unrepresentative sample.
  • Reviews. Similarly, if you’re a consumer trying to find out which restaurant to patronize or what books to buy, online reviews represent only a tiny minority of the people who have experiences with those products and services.
  • Politics. If a party nominates a candidate supported by the „netroots,“ it will almost certainly lose because such candidates‘ positions will be too extreme to appeal to mainstream voters. Postings on political blogs come from less than 0.1% of voters, most of whom are hardcore leftists (for Democrats) or rightists (for Republicans).
  • Search. Search engine results pages (SERP) are mainly sorted based on how many other sites link to each destination. When 0.1% of users do most of the linking, we risk having search relevance get ever more out of whack with what’s useful for the remaining 99.9% of users. Search engines need to rely more on behavioral data gathered across samples that better represent users, which is why they are building Internet access services.
  • Signal-to-noise ratio. Discussion groups drown in flames and low-quality postings, making it hard to identify the gems. Many users stop reading comments because they don’t have time to wade through the swamp of postings from people with little to say.
  • In addition, he also lists some point on „How to Overcome Participation Inequality“.
    But the main point still is: you can’t overcome participation inequality. You can only optimise the way content is produced an sorted, trying to make it more suitable and/or relevant for the average users.