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Business - Written by on Monday, August 4, 2008 15:42 - 15 Comments

Denis Hancock
Social Media for the Anti-Social

I’ve been trying to immerse myself in the world of social media over the last few months, and it has been quite an eye-opening experience. As I’ve navigated this remarkably inter-connected little world I’ve probably read several thousand blog posts on the topic, and most of these – predictably – seem to focus on the people Malcolm Gladwell would call the “mavens” and “connectors”.

For the six of you that may not have read his book, “mavens” are the intense gatherers of information and impressions that are most likely to pick up on new trends, and “connectors” are people with a broad network of acquaintances that trust their opinion. Whether the actual term used is “trend setter”, “nfluencer”, “bzzagent”, or any of the many of the others you are likely to come across in the social media blogosphere, the focus seems to primarily be on how these two types of people are using new social media tools.

Seeing this led me to ponder a simple question – what about everyone else? What about that staggeringly large group of people that are neither mavens nor connectors (and particularly those one might call anti–social) – are their social media appetites distinctly different, and if so what are the implications for companies pursuing a social media strategy? More pointedly, will this great mass of people slowly get in line with the adoption curve that mavens and connectors are setting in social media, or might they do something totally different – something that would put some of the prevailing theories regarding cohort behavior into question? To begin looking into this issue, I wanted to start with a particular application where I sense line is being drawn in the sand – Twitter.

The mavens discovered Twitter quite a long time ago, and the connectors were quick to jump in as well – what better way to influence an extended network of people than through micro-blogging your thoughts throughout the day? However, based on a very unscientific poll of people that I know, I’ve found that a lot of people that are typically quick adopters of new technology have reactions to Twitter ranging from hesitation to downright loathing. In short, they don’t want to open themselves up to the constant stream of thoughts that seem to pour out of Twitter– even if it’s from people who’s opinion has (whether they admit it or not) been influential to them in the past.

Stating again that this is just a hunch I have and it may be totally off base, my sense is that this new platform that is quite adored by connector-types in particular is not necessarily a way that a large proportion of people want to be connected with – which to me raises some interesting questions about the adoption curves of certain social media tools and applications, particularly for companies looking to move some of their marketing spend in this direction. I’ll also note that, based on what I’ve been reading, someone that says they’re “in” to social media, but doesn’t like Twitter, is similar to someone saying they’re “in” to the Red Sox, but doesn’t like Manny Ramirez David Ortiz.

So the question goes out to wikinomics readers – is anyone else seeing this? And whether the answer is yes or no, does the topic of “social media for the anti-social” seem like an interesting idea to pursue? Could the interests and behaviors of people outside the network of mavens and connectors be pointing towards an outcome few are expecting? Will the “anti-social” group just avoid social media all together, simply opt to use it in a different way – or are they going to grudgingly “come around”?



15 Comments

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Avinash
Aug 4, 2008 15:55

Denis,
Social media is only as good as its users. Anti-social people are by their very nature hostile to these sort of developments and probably won’t be able to leverage their ideas into social media concepts.

Technology can only change so much of who we are.

Daniel J. Pritchett
Aug 4, 2008 16:24

Denis,

As avid blog readers and writers I think everyone here at Wikinomics is either a maven or a connector. I think you can probably look to friends who might only be on one or two social networks rather than greedily slurping up dozens or hundreds of them like you or I.

Many of my friends and family use Facebook and little else to stay connected online, and so I’m rebroadcasting my blog on Facebook in an effort to get them engaged. More on that in my recent post: http://www.sharingatwork.com/2008/08/facebook-devourer-of-sites.html

As for as anti-social Web 2.0 users, we can’t expect every tool to “click” for every net-savvy media maven. I have tried, abandoned, and revisited countless tools as their communities expanded and the value inherent in using them exploded. Have you ever known someone to start an account, ignore it for a year or two, and then pick it back to contribute at full steam upon realizing that all of their other contacts are using it daily? That usage pattern can easily be misread as symptomatic of a larger disinterest when in reality the new tool in question just isn’t filling a need for everyone just yet.

Mike Nutt
Aug 4, 2008 16:35

Interesting, but I think there are other factors at play that preclude participation in some social media. To use your example, Twitter requires two things of early adopters 1) money (in the form of a text plan that can accommodate the large number of texts, and 2) free time to monitor that information stream. These two things are deterrents for people who would like to be “connectors” but don’t have the extra money and/or time. I don’t think that makes them anti-social.

For example, with regards to 1 – I am not a luddite, but I don’t text because I think my cell plan is plenty expensive enough and I don’t need that functionality. I’m sure many feel the same way. As for number 2, I have a hard enough time keeping up with my feeds, and I don’t need more messages of less substance to go through. I simply don’t have the time.

The cost/benefit of the time I’d lose twittering doesn’t justify participation! For someone like Robert Scoble, who makes his living off this kind of stuff, it’s justified. For a social software to be successful, it will have to come out on the good side of a cost/benefit analysis.

Denis Hancock
Aug 5, 2008 7:51

Excellent comments thus far… which are going to help lead into another post I’ll be doing soon!

Picking up on Daniel’s point, there is this notion that most of us heavily engaged with the blogosphere are connectors – but is it useful to think about “what” these people were before blogs game them an outlet for connectivity? I could see an argument where it was through the adoption of this particular social media tool that a large number of people who may previously have been viewed as “anti-social” morphed into connector. This notion would tie back to (and partially refute) part of Avinash’s comment – rather than being hostile to blogs (and perhaps wikis, etc.), “anti-social” people could be eager adopters of technologies that allow them to connect in a way that’s comfortable to them. More on this in my next post.

The cost/benefit analysis Mike brings up is particularly interesting in comparing blogs to twitter feeds. I would argue the former carriers a HIGHER cost in terms of time required to create or digest the contents of blog posts… but the benefit is much higher (in being able to better articulate ideas, or see them explained more fully).

Gilbert Halcrow
Aug 5, 2008 9:35

Social media, like beer comes in many flavours and a resistance to Twitter (an app for people with no internal monologue) is more indicative of product differentiation than general distain for social media.
I think social media for the anti-social is a bit of an oxymoron? At one end of the spectrum you may have a sociophobic catatonically shy and dysfunctional, and at the other end the social ‘hub’ with more Facebook friends than sense. But short of autistic tendencies there would be a social network for everyone. In fact social ineptitude may well be the basis of the network!
Gladwell’s thesis contends that the power of the ‘connectors and mavens’ is that they give their advice ‘without agenda’. While they may constitute early adopters it is the third group he identifies ‘the salesmen’ that really get a ‘trend’ into the main stream.
While we realize we are being sold something (Soap powder or a social network) the persuasiveness of the salesman and their campaigns means we buy. When a business model for social networks emerges then the salesmen will get involved and things will never be the same again.
Even the most anti-social will be login on and if the network makes them feel good then they’ll stay. Of course their ability to interact effectively with others will determine their success and certain online scenarios may well reinforce social insecurities.
I think the brief history of the Internet has proven other wise – the anonymity you can maintain and the low social cost of adopting one group, dropping them and discovering another, while developing their social repertoire as you go; is an opportunity no other generation of social misfits has had before.
As far as I can see the anti-social are more catered for than ever before

Gilbert Halcrow
Aug 5, 2008 9:40

PS
It is also important to differentiate the anti-social from the anti-technological or technologically disenfranchised – thats a Twitter

Dwayne Phillips
Aug 5, 2008 11:03

I believe that we are misusing the term “anti-social” here. See for example, the Wikipedia article on “anti-social.”

An anti-social person is one who disregards the rules or social norms. All the rules of society are nice, but they are for other people. I have a nephew who is a classic anti-social person. He always works around society’s rules. He has landed in jail a few times.

He is also classic anti-social in that he is a charming person. (some would call him a con artist) He is constantly on his cell phone, on Twitter, and other social media because they allow him to make connections with other people who know how to work around society’s rules.

I prefer the term “anti-society” to “anti-social” but the American Psychiatric Association grabbed the term “anti-social” years ago.

I believe Gilbert H. expresses the thought better with the term “anti-technological.” Better yet, use the phrase “a person who prefers little if any social contact with other people.”

Dan Thornton
Aug 5, 2008 11:44

The main gap for me is between seeing a new platform and appreciating the technology – and figuring out how to best implement it for mainstream users.

Most people don’t chat about RSS, but they download a BBC News Ticker, powered by RSS.

And in the same way, most people won’t be heavy Twitter users, but there are ways to use the service to help users.

Craig McEldowney
Aug 5, 2008 12:20

I think you’re touching on an interesting point, Denis. I recently blogged on the degree of community engagement, and I think this ties in pretty directly.

Apps like Twitter lower the initial investment threshold to get someone out, online and contributing. Does it do it at the cost of quality? I dunno. I’m an early adopter on many things, but I haven’t seen the use yet of receiving a myriad of “I’m at the store thinking about bread pudding” texts over the course of the day.

I do know that it can be overwhelming to new users to put themselves out there. I’ll have to read up on Malcolm’s categorizations, but it seems that there are plenty of folks that may have things to contribute, and/or connections to help make, but haven’t found their “voice” yet in terms of a technology platform or medium.

I do think that there will be more social media-lite success stories in the future. Applications/platforms that help users get past that first hurdle of creating/aggregating content and get them out and contributing without having to throw themselves out there. In my opinion, there’s a lot of wallflowers that just need to be invited into the dance.

Jude Fiorillo
Aug 5, 2008 12:22

As Dwayne brought up, the question is, what characterizes being anti-social? Many of the people we consider to be influencers online, are actually anti-social offline. The geeks have, from a technical and trend setting perspective, inherited the Internet, but how connected are the geeks in the physical world, and how much influence do the ‘real world’s cool’ have through online channels.

Gilbert Halcrow
Aug 5, 2008 12:41

Dwayne has lucidly defined the point I was trying to make with his clear differentiation of antisocial/society.
There are many individuals who choose to be anti-society who have indeed found a new voice by connecting to disparate minorities of like-minded people via social networks.
Then the are those who may lack the social competency or desire to engage in social activities on-line, while that group may include individuals who also do not engage in F2F socializing – I think it also includes a lot of very social people who are yet to access the technology.
This group is where I see the ‘salesman’ coming in big time.

Evan
Aug 5, 2008 18:56

Very interesting point about the Twitter “line in the sand”. I would say it’s probably true, but it will be a while before we can verify it.

The reason I think it’s true is that I am somewhat into social media, plugged into mySpace, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Technorati, etc, read many blogs and even have my own. But I have no intention of using Twitter. It’s not just becuase almost no one in my social circle is on Twitter, but because I don’t really want a constant stream of my friends tweets and doubt they want mine. It’s just too much. Too micro. Occasional Facebook status updates seem to be plenty, and individual blog posts or image galleries with real content are much more valuable. I don’t consider myself or my large network of friends “anti-social” and some outright qualify as “connectors” and “mavens”, but we have little interest in Twitter.

The reason I think it’s too early to say for sure about the Twitter line is because of awareness. I know the blogosphere is all over Twitter, but I know many social networkers who use Facebook (or mySpace, youTube, etc) daily, but do not know what Twitter is. Again, these people are not “anti-social” by any means. They post comments and pictures every day and have hundreds of “friends”. But they only look at each others vacation pictures – and don’t read TechCrunch – so they don’t know about Twitter.

As a final note, I think the way to view the place of the “anti-social” in social media is as the pure consumer. Somewhat akin to a “lurker”. This person doesn’t have an account where they don’t need one (you an anonymously browse Digg or youTube, for instance), and where they do need accounts to get the service (StumbleUpon, maybe) they don’t build up friends and utilize all of the features, participating only with their general usage statistics.

Note: I of course mean “anti-social” like Denis did – not the true medical meaning.

Tracey
Aug 10, 2008 11:15

While I haven’t tried it yet, my impression is that Twitter is for people who “think out loud”.

As an introvert with a strong internal filter, I don’t think I’d care for a constant feed of unfiltered musings.

I’m a pretty strong early adopter and highly technical, but so far, I haven’t felt any desire to twit or to be twitted.

Will ‘the best athletes make the worst coaches’ apply to social media (and twitter in particular)? « Exploring where economics, marketing, and new technologies collide
Jan 5, 2009 10:36

[...] “Introvert” thinkers. As Tracey commented on my related August 8th post (Social Media for the anti-social), Twitter is particularly attractive to those that like to “think out loud.” Many other people [...]

Charlie Spencer (Palmetto)
Mar 24, 2009 15:57

Oddly enough, I found this web log entry when I Googled ‘social media for the anti-social’. I realize this post is over six months old, but some responses addressed what I’m looking for.

I’m not active in social media at all. I just don’t get it, although I don’t think I’m clinically ‘anti-social’. I don’t feel the need to remain connected to people who have moved out of my immediate life – co-workers from former jobs, high school or college classmates, etc. If I don’t see a person on a regular basis (at least quarterly), I tend to forget their face and name fairly quickly. Tools like Facebook have no appeal for me because the people behind the faces don’t appeal to me. Twitter strikes me as an absolute waste of time and electrons. Maybe it’s because I don’t think anyone I know would care what I had for lunch or what movie I saw, so I don’t care about those details for total strangers. Perhaps it’s because while I may respect someone’s body of work as an author or athlete, I recognize that doesn’t automatically mean I will enjoy eating what they eat or listening to their favorite musician.

I’m trying to determine if I’m missing something in all this e-interaction, or if it just doesn’t suit my life style. Someone earlier mentioned inviting the anti-social wallflowers to the dance. It doesn’t do any good if this particular wallflower doesn’t know how to dance in the first place. But it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one asking the question.

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