Social Media, Marketing, and the Vitality of the Network. (Part 2/2)

It is useful to think through what other ways corporate and interest voices might speak in social spaces….it’s an interesting conundrum and a minefield for any interest (corporate or otherwise) and/or author. For me its interesting once we understand the corporate as just another form of interest voice – what I am saying here applies to any interest that would employ social networks to develop their own social graph. For me this is now more than simply a question of the commercialisation of the social (although that is a big reason I entered the discussion) – its about how we connect and communicate in this new space effectively and how we might build vital cultures within these spaces.

In addition to what I’ve written on Mark’s blog and posted above.:

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While I may rather that advertising just kept away from my social space – the questions posed by this ‘debate’ are too juicy to leave alone. They also impact on a much wider sphere than simply commercial interest. I think its clear that the future of advertising and marketing will depend on it being useful/instrumental for the consumer as much to producer – As a producer you want me to ‘buy in’ to the ‘culture’ around a product, you want me to invest my attention in a vital culture surrounding your device or product. First you need a vital culture – seeding such a vitality is notoriously difficult. This is clear to anyone who has worked on the network for any length of time – Even in education (where we have a motivated/captive (apparently) audience and all the architecture available to us) the active and generous participation that signifies a vital culture is an elusive goal. Indeed for many of us the very attempt to engage such a vitality seems to contradict its achievement – almost by definition. I barely keep the faith in the potential to seed a vital culture. I barely believe that so far we simply haven’t quite worked out the right strategies – something my research/theory is working towards. I would argue Telstra have tried to route around this problem by the time-honoured strategy of harnessing the vitality of existing networks in a way that prompts a lot of interesting questions. The problem i have with this approach is that it is parasitical rather than productive.

It is clear from the description (very generously) added by Telstra to Mark’s comment stream that this was a well planned and executed move to safely instrumentalise a certain type and style of voice in the social media space. While I’ve been accused of, reducing the agency of the networkers, figuring Telstra as the puppet master and the networkers the unsuspecting puppets – its clear that Telstra has looked very carefully at which voices in the social space they were entering could be effectively and ‘safely’ made instrumental in the promotion of the product (although I do suspect they may have bitten off more than they can chew). It is true of course that the phone, Telstra, is also being instrumentalised by the ‘social reviewers’ – ‘Agency’, as it stands ,is negotiated. There are no puppets here – and there are no puppet masters – that last point is perhaps the most crucial one for any Corporate or Interest voice entering the social media space – As Mark has commented 25 social reviewers of their particular ‘social graph’ could probably cause Telstra and their HTC Desire service a great deal of damage – of course the damage to those attempting to commercialise their social graph will probably be just as great if such an attack was executed: Agency is negotiated – ‘social graph professionals’ have a vested perhaps ‘professional’ interest in ensuring this kind of program runs smoothly – who will be on the ‘team’ next time, for the next product, for the next concern? Of course their value as ‘social graph professionals’ also depends on their ability to command attention of a particular quality and quantity – I imagine we will continue to see a proliferation of ‘social graph strategies’ that perhaps indicate different forms of emergent professionalism in the social media space. A close reading of these emergent professionalisms is probably about due and would perhaps help us move beyond the often tedious accounts of ‘soft-labour’ on the network where the agency of network players is often completely erased.

I would postulate that a more effective strategy for an ‘interest’ voice in the social media space would in aim to become instrumental – rather than to instrumentalise – to encourage a vitality rather than harness it. Telstra’s program actually illustrates how fine a line this can be – the elements of competition and an abandon to the (yes!) agency of the reviewers is placed in juxtaposition to Telstra’s desire, determination, and calculation to piggy back into my social space on the backs of commentators I didn’t anticipate (perhaps naively) as ‘hosts’. The former represent interesting strategies for the development of a positive presence in the social space – the latter represents the disavowal of those strategies in the service of control

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In a third post I’ll tease out what I think might work as strategies for seeding a culture of vital and stylish play.

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Perhaps its worth thinking about the elements competition which promote a positive engagement of the the player/customer and the relation between the game, the play it promotes, and how particular degrees of control impact on that play. I’m going to assert that play is akin to the vitality that the corporation operating in the social space would like to encourage. A great vital game depends on players pushing against the laws of the game to achieve a goal – the goals can be various including, in this space, the goal of maintaining a ‘following’. Massumi, in his wonderful reading of Football/Soccer identifies these players as expressing an element of style. Style is the bees knees of vital play. A good game is an exercise in encouraging play/abandon within a framework of ‘reassuring certitude and fundamental immobility’. You want a great game you find stylish players and give them a ball that plays freely within the boundaries of the gamespace (which includes the stated and declared laws of the game). Keeping people playing within those boundaries may requires a referee – but he/she can only be seen to patrol the boundaries and in doing so defend that reassuring certitude provided by the declared laws.

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Here’s the rub: Any other engagement that attempts to control the outcome or direction of the play will undermine the vitality of the game. The game becomes increasingly theatrical -by which I mean scripted – and the potential for the spontaneous exercise of stylish and vital play is lost (although there is a dangerous slippage in metaphor here- the implications of which I’ll choose to ignore for now). Your engagement of those stylish players is completely undermined because although they look ‘the shit’ – they will no longer be able to exercise the style that you employed them to engage.

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There are a number of ways that an interest might try to control the direction of the play…so I guess that’ll be part 3.

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