Social Networks

Entries related to social networks, group psychology, anthropology, and really any of the social sciences.

The Undoing Racism Challenge

It may be that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is close to running its course. More and more, I see people criticizing it, asking not to be tagged, etc. A friend who runs a rescue farm wrote about not having time, ice or money, and I thought, we need a farm chore challenge. Muck out a stall, feed some horses, and share a video of it online, or contribute to an animal rescue.

It made me think of another challenge, which I’ve been trying to get a chance to write a few thoughts about for the past couple weeks, the 100 days of gratitude challenge. One such gratitude I might post is about being able to safely let my twelve year old run around outside after dark with friends screaming and laughing and having fun. Not everyone gets to do that. In fact, far too few people get to do that.

It made me think of my friends who have black kids and the talks they have to have with their kids.

Today, another friend posted, “I love that the ALS challenge is capturing attention, wish we could create a Michael Brown Challenge....” Many friends replied and I started to reply there, but I thought it might be better as a blog post.

The power of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it is something lots of people can participate in and share virally. Many of us may be too cash strapped to be able to contribute to the ALS Association, but we can at least help share the message with a video. What might be a good simple thing many people could do to help spread the word about undoing racism?

Since I had just gotten home from church, my thoughts started off in that direction. The church I currently go to is very diverse. It is one of the things I love about my church. However, at other times, I’ve attended churches that are very homogenous.

I remember years ago, when I was in college, a friend of mine invited me to go to church with him. We walked along the road together, and a car pulled up and asked if he was going to church. He said he was and that I was coming with him. We both climbed in the car and headed off to church.

As we walked up the steps, Ronnie introduced me to many of his friends. One, an older woman, looked me over closely and said, “I’m surprised you want to come to church with us.” I looked at her, puzzled. “Really?” I asked. “Why?” She got all flustered and apologized and said maybe she shouldn’t have said anything. I looked around for a clue as to what that was all about, and it slowly occurred to me. I was the only white person there.

During the service, there was a time for guests to get up and introduce themselves. I felt awkward and insecure as the eyes of a hundred black churchgoers looked at the only white person in the congregation.

For me, a white person who was not accustomed to being in the minority, it was an enlightening experience. I wondered if that was how some of my black friends often felt.

My first thought was that the undoing racism challenge for white folks might be something like going to a setting where they experience being in a minority. Yet getting people to take pictures of that and share it online might be a challenge, limiting the potential to go viral.

Instead, what if we made it simpler. Post a picture of yourself hugging someone from a different race or ethnicity and challenging your friends to do the same, and then perhaps attending some sort of undoing racism training or contributing to an organization aimed at undoing racism.

I realize it isn’t much of an ask, and I can imagine some of my racist friends who talk about how even one of their best friends is black, might participate to convince themselves they aren’t racist, but it is small enough and simple enough to be doable.


My Mom and the Ice Bucket Challenge

When my mother died two years ago, the obituary ended with “In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the International Essential Tremors Foundation.” I don’t remember how many people donated to the IETF in memory of my mother but for the next month the letters I received from IEFT when another person donated proved to be an important point of joy during my grief.

Recently, a friend’s grandson died. “Memorial contributions may be made to the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation.” I shared a link to the obituary and to the PKDF. Another friend lost her nephew at just about the same time. “Donations in his memory may be made to Ron’s Run for the Roses, The Ron Foley Foundation,”

If more people donated to the battles against essential tremors, polycystic kidney disease, or pancreatic cancer, we could make great progress. Yet these, and so many other diseases get so little attention.

I work in health care communications. I know how hard it is to get anyone’s attention these days. You send out an email and get 10% of the people to open the email, 1% to click on the link and even less than that to do anything. You post something on a Facebook page and get several hundred people to see it, a few to like it, maybe one or two to share it, and almost no one to act on it.

I know, working for a non-profit, and having been very involved in politics, how difficult it is to get people to contribute to anything. For most of us, money is very tight these days and writing a check for $100 can be a big challenge. So, what if we encouraged people who are tight on cash, to contribute what they can in different ways? What if we asked people to contribute $100 to an organization, but if they can’t spare the hundred bucks, they contribute their social capital in spreading the word and asking others to contribute? What if they used something that would get people’s attention to result in a higher conversion rate?

That’s what the Ice Bucket Challenge has done brilliantly. An article in the Sacarmento Bee on August 15th wrote:

Since July 29, the association has received $9.5 million in donations compared to $1.6 million during the same time period last year. The donations were from existing donors and 184,812 new donors.

A friend of mine died from ALS. My daughter, Fiona was challenged by her friends to take the Ice Bucket Challenge. She’s made her video and has shared it.

Yet, there is the expected backlash. Why waste clean water when so many people go without? How about sending the money you spent on ice to the charity instead of wasting the ice? Maybe if the people who protest so much would share the contribution acknowledgement letter they received it would be a little bit more persuasive.

Me? My wife and I both work for nonprofits. Money is tight. We get by. We’re not food insecure, and if things get really bad, we’ve got friends and relatives that can help out. We’ve been paying down our debts and my wife just got a raise, so perhaps someday soon, we’ll be able to contribute more to causes that matter to us. Until then, we’re going to use our social capital however we can.

So please, don’t let the naysayers distract you. Give what you can to organizations like the ALS Association, the International Essential Tremors Foundation, the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation, or The Ron Foley Foundation, even if it is just a little bit of your social capital.

The Social Constructed Digital Native

One of the sessions at Podcamp Western Mass a few weeks ago was about social media and education. It was an open discussion hitting a lot of different points, and I found myself approaching it from a contrarian viewpoint that ultimately led me to start considering the idea of the socially constructed digital native.

One of the first people to speak was a college student, who was studying social media, and was frustrated that the courses focused on technical basics of using one social media platform or another, without getting into more important topics like search engine optimization. There was a discussion about how much social media is changing and how some of the social media tools that were discussed may not last more than a couple more years.

Personally, while I recognize some value of search engine optimization, I tend to view much of it as snake oil. I suggested that what is really needed is focusing on skills like understanding the audience and storytelling, because these skills matter, no matter what media is being used.

Others talked about cyber safety issues for kids or social skills like making eye contact, or giving someone your undivided attention. I trotted out Marc Prensky’s idea of the digital native and the digital immigrant and pushed the concept a little further. How much of the ideas that people were talking about were ideas from digital immigrants and how digital natives should live in a digital world?

Are kids without access to social media today viewed the way kids without television were viewed and treated forty years ago? Do we, or should we, value continuous partial attention? How much are these expectations socially constructed? And to the extent that they are socially constructed, how much are digital immigrants trying to maintain old world, analog ways of interacting in a digital world? How much are digital immigrants trying to get their digital native kids to behave as if they still live in the old analog world?

This is not to say that there isn’t value in certain old ways of interacting. The value of understanding your audience remains, whether it is a digital native audience, a digital immigrant audience, or some mixture.

Yet, perhaps, as we talk with people about how to behave digitally, we should take the opportunity to question which actions are really beneficial, as opposed to which actions are done, because that is the way things were always done in the old analog world. Perhaps, instead of prescribing behavior, we should be teaching students how to understand social constructs, and generate new, more pertinent social constructs that can evolve with our evolving technology.

The Technology Adoption Lifecycle – @Nextdoor

So far, it’s been following a fairly predictable and familiar pattern. One person heard about the new site and asked others about it. In this case, the person received a postcard and asked about it in a Facebook group.

The new site is Nextdoor. The about page describes them as

the private social network for you, your neighbors and your community. It's the easiest way for you and your neighbors to talk online and make all of your lives better in the real world. And it's free.

Information was posted about it in a Facebook group focused on my local community. The responses were fairly predictable. One person wrote:

I've heard of it. A new start up. It's pretty much what this group already does. I for one don't need another social site to login to.

My response was to do research on the site and sign up. I later commented about this in the Facebook group. I referred to the Technology adoption lifecycle. I am an innovator/early adopter. I am the sort of person that, when I hear of something new, wants to go out and try it. According to the model, innovators/early adopters make up about 2.5% of the population.

With a population of around 9,000, this would put the number of innovator/early adopters in Woodbridge at about 225. It is worth noting that there are currently 230 members of the Woodbridge – Bethany Residents Forum. It would seem as if the forum still hasn’t crossed the chasm. Trying to attract people from this forum is likely to be challenging. So far, Nextdoor Woodbridge only has 25 members, and only seven have posted photos of themselves. It probably needs to at least double to reach critical mass.

When a new site comes along, those who are not innovators/early adopters start piling on about why it is going to fail. Given the success rates of startups, they are usually right, but when they are wrong, they are often spectacularly wrong. So, on Facebook, people are talking about why Nextdoor is going to fail. The argument typically ends up around what they already have is working fine and why would people want anything new. The standard story that fits in here is of companies missing the opportunity to get into the dry copying business because they didn’t understand the concept, or thought the market wouldn’t be big enough.

When a potential disruption comes along, some people don’t see the use cases for it, and figure it will not make it. Others go in and try to find unexpected use cases. It takes me back to the great old quote from George Bernard Shaw, “Some men see things as they are and say why - I dream things that never were and say why not.”

Back at the Facebook forum, “For those that have joined what is it that you can do there that you can't in this FB forum?” My response is, “not much”. For that matter, there’s not much on the Facebook forum that couldn’t be done at Woodbridge Gathering either.

Yet there are a few different things in Nextdoor that I find interesting. To get back to how the person mentioning it found out, Nextdoor gives uses the ability for users to send postcards to neighbors inviting them to join. This is something that has been used in political campaigns in the past, and has the potential to reach a different audience than Facebook.

This gets to a second thing that Nextdoor does that I find interesting. It has given me the ability to connect to a bunch of people that I don’t know in Woodbridge. Some people may feel that they know enough people in town. I always like to meet new people. Perhaps that too, is part of the innovator/early adopter mindset.

The site also provides a map, so you can contact people by their location. Again, this reminds me of some of the geomapping aspects of campaign sites.

Of course, this raises an issue. Members don’t want to be spammed. They way to know that the other members of their group are in fact from Woodbridge, or whatever neighborhood. Nextdoor provides verification functionality.

Will this be enough to gain critical mass, to make Nextdoor a success? It was listed in 43 of the best Android apps launched in 2013 by Next Web and it has already received $82 million in two funding rounds.

The questions remain, whether or not it will cross the chasm from the innovators and early adopters to the skeptical early majority, and whether or not it will become profitable. Or, will they have an exit strategy, like so many other startups, which includes cashing in before profitability.

It’s probably too early to say, but as an innovator/early adopter, I’ll play with Nextdoor as long as it keeps my interest.

Old Spice - Know Your Audience

Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook,

I'm confused... Is this going to make teenagers buy old spice? This is the strangest commercial I've ever seen....

Old Spice | Mom Song :60

I remember going to a digital advertising conference a few years ago in New York where one of the discussions was about Old Spice's success online.

Remembering some of the points from that, I added this comment to my friend's status update:

I think it is brilliant. One of the keys to Old Spice's advertising success has always been knowing its market. While other deodorant makers would have ads with sexy women trying to boost sales, Old Spice came to realize that it is women who buy the deodorant, not the men. (As an aside, Kim buys my deodorant. I didn't know what brand she buys, without walking into the bathroom and checking. It is Old Spice.

No, I don't think teens, or pre-teens will buy Old Spice because of that commercial, but I can think of a lot of moms, proud and frightened, and struggling with their little babies growing up and starting to need deodorant that will see that ad and it will resonate deep down in their core.

When they go shopping and pick up deodorant for their sons, they will think of that ad, perhaps smile, a bit wistfully, and pick up Old Spice for their baby boys who are now becoming men.

Know your audience, it may not always be what you think.

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