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Business - Written by on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 10:04 - 6 Comments

Nick Vitalari
The Conversation Prism: Making Sense of Social Media

Surprise. Not all social media is the same. Brian Solis and JESS3 break new ground with an illustrative taxonomy that unravels some of the mystery concerning the use of social media. The power of their contribution lies in the distinctions implicit in the categories found in The Conversation Prism (click the diagram below).

Each category around the “wheel” represents a different type of conversation. By implication, each type of conversation serves a distinctive business purpose. Solis and JESS3 did the hard work. For each type of conversation they mapped the appropriate collections of social media tools. According to the “Prism”, Facebook and Linked-in serve different types of conversations. Facebook, MySpace and Friendster are Social Networks. Linked-In, Plaxo, Ning and others are Interest and Curated Networks. Most of us lump all of them into the same category.

As one moves around the wheel, other helpful distinctions become apparent. Forums, Reviews and Ratings (e.g. yelp, Epinions, Amazon), SMS/Voice, Lifestreams, Twitter Ecosystems, Micromedia (e.g. Twitter, Yammer), Blog Communities, Blog Platforms, Blogs/Conversations, Crowdsourced Content, etc serve different objectives and different types of conversations. Each conversation has a different collection of social media tools. One readily gets the idea. It immediately makes sense. Each of the twenty-four different types of conversation requires a different type of social media.

The taxonomy also marks a key milestone in the evolution of social media. A key indicator of the maturity of a discipline is the ability to create a meaningful typology. While the creators developed the Conversation Prism from a marketing perspective, the taxonomy applies to many other disciplines and contexts.

Here are some thoughts on how to use The Conversation Prism:

Marketing. Everyone is interested in getting more customer mindshare, establishing meaningful conversations and developing hot communities around products. But how? Distinguishing among the different types of conversations and tools helps to focus effort. Sean Moffitt, one of the key thought leaders in nGenera’s Marketing 2.0 program notes that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flikr are key conversation forums, but one has to also match the conversation to the marketing objectives and the product or service. The Conversation Prism provides a way to rethink which types of conversation reach the best audience and achieve the right message and customer experience.

Enterprise Strategy. I’ve lost count of the many conversation with executives who simply dismiss social media as an irrelevant pastime or an “Extra-curricular” activity. Many think Facebook and MySpace are the sum total of social media when they are not. And often, social media is dismissed out of hand, to the detriment of an organization’s strategy, because everything is lumped together. The Conversation Prism cuts through the clutter and buzz and assigns the role and place of various types of social media. Use this taxonomy liberally for internal business strategy discussions, social media strategy, and most importantly, our soapbox – collaborative enterprise management.

Finance. Yes, finance. What does social media have to do with finance? Take a look at the wheel again. Armed with the taxonomy, the CFO or the controller for that matter can begin to think about where various tools might add value in conveying and explaining financial concepts, policies and performance. For example, quick relay of confidential financial information to small group would use a different set of social media than information disseminated to institutional investors, or retail investors. What type of conversation provides the best result for each constituency?

Information Technology. Increasingly, various groups expect the IT organization to recommend the right social media tool for the right problem. On what basis should these decisions be made? The Conversation Prism enables IT professional to understand the landscape and make recommendations based on desired business outcomes, not simply technical features. Bandwidth, storage, API’s, architectures, apps, widgets, gadgets and price vary by social media type. Some tools require internal infrastructure, other operate as SaaS in the Cloud.

Human Resources. Conversations and social media involve people. Duh. However, employees should understand appropriate use. Often, social media gets a bad name, or experiments fail, because the wrong tool is applied to the wrong circumstance. Ever consider using a text message for a performance review. Some have. Use “the wheel” to teach appropriate use.

The Conversation Prism provides a welcome tool as social media moves into its second stage of development. It surveys and maps the social media landscape. Perhaps other destinations will be added. However, in the mean time, The Conversation Prism, a simple framework, provides self-evident guidance to those who wish to profit from the social media revolution.


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John Marshall Roberts
Oct 27, 2009 20:20

What an excellent concept! I can’t wait to check it out.
Since the publication of “The ClueTrain Manifesto” in the late 90′s the concept of ‘markets as conversations’ has finally caught on, and come to life through the social media sphere.

In addition to classifying conversations, I believe the next step is to develop a deeper understanding of the psychographic categories (core worldviews and values) that populate the social media sphere. This will come a long way towards helping oldschool business thinkers get results on this often unfamiliar (and uncomfortable, counterintuitive) business landscape.

Nick Vitalari
Oct 28, 2009 12:30

Thanks John. Great point. We have also been doing some work on emotion mining and sentiment analysis to understand its role in collaboration and social media. I took a quick look at your site and it looks like you have broken some new ground in using underlying psychographic categories to improve conversations and social interaction. We also believe that as social media grows, the opportunity to harness new insights and spur productive conversations, even under the most intractable situations, will increase. I have also found Rita J. King and Joshua Fout’s work with virtual worlds, http://www.cceia.org/people/data/rita__j_king.html, indicates that the use of novel types of social media has the potential to broach sensitive topics and promote conversation.

Alpesh Doshi
Nov 24, 2009 15:58

Great Observations, and insight. This clear explanation will hopefully give executives a view that Social Media is not a fad, and needs serious business attention.

Nick Vitalari
Nov 25, 2009 13:45

Thanks Alpesh. Yes, the framework helps quite a bit in executive discussions and can also be used to examine how current practices might be modified or adjusted to fit market strategy.

Alpesh Doshi
Nov 25, 2009 13:51

As with you, we work around working with Executives to enable them to understand Social Media and how they could leverage the social web for marketing and communications, reach audiences. It’s ultimately about creating business models around engagement and interaction, with a feedback loop around measuring and monitoring.

Doug Garnett
Dec 21, 2009 21:40

No wonder the consumer is lost in the vast wash of software innovation. This excellent illustration doesn’t help anything (IMHO), because there really aren’t good handles for acting and creating response.

But it’s a GREAT visualization of the complete CHAOS of the web and social media. This is the problem we face in today’s communication — the increasing tendency for communication impact to be microscopic — although we’re told that an infinite number of microscopic communications add up to consumer impact. Hmmm.

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