Is Social Media Technology Really a Commodity?

An analyst told me recently that social media technology was a commodity and it was "people based strategic services" that make the difference.  While I agree that vendors need to provide strategic services to clients, I have to throw a flag on the "technology is a commodity" call.  Web 2.0 means that change is rapid and technology could define how nimble you respond to change.

First, lots of clients are doing "point implementations". By that I mean they might be focussing on one aspect of social media.  Maybe its a support community, some executive blogs, dabbling in profiles, or a UGC (User Generated Content) Campaign.  Its almost always a foray into what they expect to be a larger initiative. When the clients sees success in these areas they will expand their initiatives.  At this point a mis-step in what platform they choose could leave them at a dead end.  The last thing you want is to have to change platforms just because you think bigger.  That's probably why a number of Awareness clients who are doing UCG campaigns pick our platform.  IF the campaign is wildly successful and it proves out that the campaign could grow into a community, it should be a next phase...not a "do-over".

A good first start is to stop treating the possible list of features as a yes/no question, and dig deep into it
each. Let me give you a few examples to illustrate this.

Almost any decent social media platform would answer "yes" to the feature of "voting and
rating".  In many cases that means they could turn on a feature that says "rate this post". While this may seem like a nice feature, it is actually fundamental to giving members an easy way to contribute.  Think strategically how you might want to exploit this feature and dig deeper. For instance can you (the client) define various voting topics?  "Rate this post" is a little vague and really rates popularity. If the client can defines specific voting questions for specific areas of  the site, they could create more relevant questions like "rate this idea for its cost savings value" or "Did this answer your question". If voting was used on a category of products, perhaps more than one question is required.  "Is this product appropriate for a beginner", "Is this product valuable to an expert".  Only by giving voting topics a strong context, can you truly use it to re-purpose the content and present it in relevant ways.  Imagine offering those results as a listing of content like "Best Posts for Beginners"

Lets go even deeper.  Is each vote saved individually?  It may sound very tactical, but many platforms just keep an aggregate total for the votes.  Essentially a score.  However, voting is a huge social indicator and we need to be able to draw the results out by content, by voter, and by the author being voted on.  Voting is strategic.  From voting we can learn about the person who cast the vote, we can learn what categories the member is engaged in.  Casting a vote is a better indicator than "page-views" since the member actually took action.  The other example Iuse is "mark this as a favorite".  This is just a use-case of voting.  We could present the users votes as a list of content in their profile.   We could  create a  reputation metric based on how the community votes on that users content.
 
This isn't about voting, its the depth of features and how they play into your strategy.  Lets cover profiles in our example now.  Can the client add/remove profile questions on the fly? Can the client force the new profile questions to be asked next log in?  Can they ask profile questions in interesting ways? Many platforms just let the members edit their profile and that is the only vehicle for learning more about the member. One Awareness client presents a new profile question as a "Quick Poll" question.  The member does not have to edit their profile, they can simply answer the poll that is part of the site. Profiling is a lot like voting. It adds new context to content.  Can the content be pulled out based on the authors profile responses?  Could the platform show you all content written by people in a geographic area?  How about looking at content by how the author answered their "political party" question?  I can make up hundreds of hypothetical ways to look at the content, and they increase as you prove your first step successful.

Regardless of how small you are starting, think big when you choose a platform or you may go from leading edge to dinosaur quicker than you think.

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