Mar 25, 2012

Prosumerism Has Come to Fruition

Source: Euro RSCG

When Alvin Toffler coined the word ‘prosumer’ in his prophetic work ‘The Third Wave’ in 1980, there certainly wasn’t any effective means to communicate with mass consumers. So, once businesses noticed there were opportunities for ‘free lunch’, some took the advantage behind consumers’ back. This was accelerated by the advent of World Wide Web, and now it’s in full swing from governments telling us to fill any sorts of online application to grocery stores asking customers for self-checkout.

It appears that some of them have managed to communicate with their customers while others even don’t have such an intention. In New Zealand examples, a supermarket Pak’n Save has successfully conveyed a message to and gained an approval from customers about why doing ‘self-s’. Massey university, on the other hand, has recently rolled out a new online enrollment system that forces students to submit and maintain our enrollment with more steps, explanation, declaration and so on. I haven’t found, to say the least, any enhanced benefits at all. And there was obviously no communication prior to the launch but the annual tuition increase, of course! I’m here at such a university trying to understand the concept of “Markets as Conversation” –The Cluetrain Manifesto. Ironic enough?

30 years after, in the age of social media, I think ‘prosumer’ is still a valid term. Although Bruns (2009) claimed that:
it remains firmly grounded in the mass media age: the prosumer is clearly not the self-motivated creative originator and developer of new content… to expect Toffler’s 1970s model of the prosumer to describe these 21st-century phenomena was always an unrealistic expectation
and promoted the use of ‘produser’, it’s a bit misleading and we don’t need to add one to oceans of new jargons. Of course, it’s not grounded on the explosion in social media; however, as seen in the definition of The Third Wave – ‘Information Age’, the term was expected to cover such activities as creating digital contents. Besides, Toffler himself expanded the concept and proved its validity in Revolutionary Wealth (2006) mentioning those the self-motivated creative originators such as bloggers.

Prosumerism is rather becoming more relevant due to social media, with which we continuously interact, produce & consume. It is not at all only among traditional consumers, amateurs or hobbyists; but also happening between corporates and their markets. In Don Tapscott’s words, technology and the business environment have finally caught up with predetermined ‘The New Organization’ era proposed by Peter Drucker. In which talents are actively exchanged and innovations are made happen. While Drucker’s point might have been restricted to the exchange between only corporates, there’s no point in excluding hidden talents outside thanks to social media and ‘porous membrane’ again. Who knows those outside corporate walls are more gifted and passionate about their products? This is the reason I argued incorporating Twitter straightaway into business is the most effective way of fully taking advantage of this opportunity and promoting these exchanges & innovations.

As a number of thinkers pointed out, the boundary between professional and amateur practices has become really blurred; hence, many of us are no longer pure consumers. It’s finally time for prosumerism to come true and be fully understood & utilized in order to push the human race forward. Prosumerism is one of the simplest way to see the world that is being drastically changed by social media.

Mar 23, 2012

Outdated Approach – 4Cs

Let’s face it. For those who read “Enterprise 2.0” –Niall Cook, how useful is his 4Cs approach? He classified social software according to the ‘actions’ involved or primary ‘functions’ that facilitate those actions. If you ask me, this didn't do the job very well. And it is particularly irrelevant when it comes to up-to-date social networking service like Facebook or Twitter, which are becoming synonymous with social media.

Take Twitter. Although Twitter is relatively simple social software, it has ‘functions’ of Follow (subscription), @Replies & Mentions (comments & trackback), #hashtag (tag), DM (instant messaging), photo & video sharing, yet sometimes itself called microblogging service. And actions involved are really up to users: blogging, social bookmarking, chatting, syndicating or social presence which Cook categorized Twitter into. Who knows which one is Twitter’s ‘primary’ function and action?

His taxonomy alone is too rigid to deal with such a dynamic and revolutionary phenomenon. As he himself appreciated, classification of social software belongs to the realm of folksonomies, allowing a dynamic categorization as time goes by.

Cook’s effort was probably for encouraging businesses to introduce or experiment social software by oversimplifying the nature of it. But, I really don’t think an implementation of social software according to what they do will be successful. Look at Google’s continuous failure in social media. They have been at the cutting edge of these technology and trying to feed us with state-of-the-art social experience. But they kept flopping.

Why is that? To me, social media is all about literally society. People have already found, networked, lived in and empowered by their own societies, in which objective functionality itself is far less important than experience & knowledge shared with their citizen. They don’t want a revolution. It’s a totally different age from the time The Beatles shouted so.

Cook set the scene – “the membrane that separates your staff from the outside world is getting thinner every day and most of them are already operating outside the firewall anyway.” So, if businesses want to truly benefit from Twitter inside the organizations, they should introduce not Twitter functionality, not Twitter inside the firewall, Twitter itself which comes with existing societies out there. Otherwise, as Cook said, “You’re probably better sticking with existing clunky enterprise systems”, which are functional enough. As cited in the book, Dennis Moore gave a reason – “People are bringing from home an expectation of how computing should be.” Nowadays, “how computing should be” is Communicating, Cooperating, Collaborating & Connecting on Facebook & Twitter.

To be fair, I don’t know how relevant it was when the book was published in 2008. But where the term ‘social media’ has evolved and begun to indicate Facebook, Twitter and the alike coming, the approach of focusing on functionality is outdated. What do you have to say about Cook’s 4Cs approach? Please let me discuss with you.

Mar 16, 2012

Next-door Jennifer Grows My Tomato

Souce: lovefood

It’s fair to say that some of you, if not many, wouldn’t choose shiny red but hopelessly tasteless tomatoes from a crowded supermarket on the way home, if those fully ripe with stunning taste were ready to be ordered by mobile from your couch. …Hey wait, it’s not a scam or la-la land story. It’s real. Because, thanks to social media, this is exactly what I did.

I’m not assuming global tomato trade here, of course. Physical distance is restricted within say 30km radius in order to make it a realistic option for any growers. So, in the past what had made it difficult to provide tomato directly from a grower to consumers? The answer is found by looking at what intermediaries do. Basically, they provide various utilities such as place, possession, transaction and time, which are ultimately achieved by coordinating supply chain. Let’s have a look at each of these in the context of local food.

Place: It’s over there. Vicinity is the fundamental definition of local food.

Possession: Actually, no one needs to possess fresh produce; rather their fields and trees can do the job, which are better than controlled atmosphere storage (fancy name!) powered by electricity.

Transaction: This is broken into information search, matching, and exchange. And this is where social media comes in. As Andrew McAfee explained with an acronym – SLATES, information search and matching farmers supply & consumers demand are achieved at a far more advanced level. Both sides can easily express their product availability and requests anytime – Authoring. Even they don’t have to search them – Signals. And this leads to another time utility.

Time: Farmers may not be able to have as long business hours as supermarkets. But there’s another time utility – responsiveness. Since consumers and farmers are directly connected, following requests will be made happen.
“I need young soft spinach for salad.” “I love to eat a bit overly ripe, sweeeeet peach.”
In the conventional supply chain, over-ripe peach isn’t available because it’ll be too soft to be handled and transported in a large quantity. So, they know their requests are special, hence willing to pay more.

To sum up, in the local food system, farmers don’t have to coordinate such a complex supply chain to provide their products to consumers. Of course, they still need farm supply delivered through traditional routes. But, no need for the part between farmers and consumers. Most of utilities are completed as functionally, if not more, as by social media. And ironically enough, those digital social media are more humanized than shrewd middlemen.

These are just an example of replacing conventional intermediaries by social media. The real fruits of local food facilitated by social media are product quality (not availability), business sustainability and enjoyment. In the example of my farming days, I set up a website to sell, communicate and sometimes cooperate with customers through a blog form. They were able to comment not only on blog posts but also on each product. Direct communication with consumers was so fun and very encouraging. Direct feedbacks were ultimately useful and priceless. Furthermore, strong intimate relationship made it possible to cooperate such as customers ß-testing a new mobile website with a wide range of their devices or selecting varieties for a next season. The relationship was so solid that they didn’t go away as long as I kept showing right efforts, not results; hence, the wheels kept turning.

I personally believe this is the future of fresh produce. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could enjoy real fresh produce each season with authentic taste and make it sustainable by giving money back to growers?

Here's an example from U.K. – Sustaination

Mar 10, 2012

1984 Never Comes

Source: 3 News

I think “important points are always made sotto voce” as tweeted before.

Let me explain it. When people try to persuade or perhaps manipulate others, they tend to go to extremes with loud voice both physically and metaphorically. Such exaggeration is an effective gimmick and can mostly work well. But never ever any truth is there. For those who seek some authenticity or sincerity, it's just falling into an object of ridicule. If it's gone too far, oversimplification goes beyond ridicule and always becomes a nice joke, like “four legs good, two legs bad” from Animal Farm.

When it comes to political or sales campaign, the reason is simply due to the innate inability of old media to effectively reach the mass audience, who are originally diverse individuals. Therefore, as I mentioned in the last post, it had been more or less the only approach to make up a new category and throw in prospective targets, instead of respecting our individuality. This is the most ominous and heart of Orwell’s message. Simon Mainwaring, author of We First, put this more gentle way. “In advertising, we fabricate the relationship between the brand and its customers. In social media, you let it happen organically.”

Yes, social media ensures the means to reach diverse audience without distorting our nature, and customers are keen to help business – sounds promising. But, let’s look at a bigger picture. In We First, Mainwaring explained why “the private sector can be the third pillar of social change to help out government and philanthropy”. To me, this is far more natural and realistic a solution to make the world a better place, lying between purely benevolent and greedy organizations or philanthropic and government practices. Thanks to social media, if each of us consumers wants to do some social good we don’t have to take lots of risks but just ask our favorite brands. Because now businesses should know that “one of the most powerful ways to be meaningful to your customers’ lives is to demonstrate a concern for something greater than yourself” said Mainwaring.

Social media not only figuratively democratized our consumer relationship but literally did our society. Governments don’t need to manipulate citizens for their nations. People don’t need to stand up to a revolution for their lives. Now we can talk. But furthermore and more importantly, we don’t need to be allergic to pursuing profits when we want to do something ethically good for the world because that’s how social good can be done. This is a real individualism and revolution.

So, is the future brighter than 1984? I firmly believe so, and this is the fundamental motive for studying social media.

How Brands Are Solving Social Issues With Social Media

Mar 6, 2012

The Future Belongs to Women

It’s been the norm that women like social media more than men do, illustrated by data from comScore. Even when it comes to Pinterest, women make up about 82% of active users according to Curt Finch. Why is this? Helen Nowicka explains it’s simply an intrinsic difference that women are more social than men. For most of us, this comes naturally doesn’t it? Look at your campus, guys are munching hotdogs alone while girls are chatting in a circle. Aileen Lee gives another more specific phenomenon that women tend to adopt new social media technology faster than men.

I think this trend will be accelerated or at least persist. So, if social media is truly revolutionary and becoming a primary communication means which is dominated by women, are women going to dominate the society? I would say it’s probable in a sense and pragmatically it’s not that bad. Although some men must go crazy to keep the reins, I personally wouldn't mind at all as I don’t/won’t have any! Let’s think about this from the marketing point of view.

Nowadays, no one denies the importance of marketing in almost any public activity. And in which considered segmentation is one of the key elements of success. However, as Johanna Blakley told us at TED talks, there’s a pitfall in the conventional marketing tactic where great emphasis is placed on demographical segmentation.

It used to work quite well not because consumers actually fit in one of those segments, rather because traditional media pushed a square peg in a round hole and created such fallacious notions. But now the landscape is completely changing. As Boyd pointed out “Social Media has released us, freed us”, now we don't have to be presumed in a rigid category and it’s much easier to get out of those demographic boxes. “We can also connect with people based on our very specific interests. We don’t need a media company to help do this for us.” Johanna said.

Those connections and communities are very wide-raging & dynamic. Therefore if marketers try to synthesize them in a functional way, a set of new skills and instincts are definitely required. In that case, women’s better ability of grasping such a social environment will be much more appreciated than ever. I don’t think we guys should keep our eyes on Karl Marx with a frown, but give way and do whatever we better at in social media sphere.

Am I being overly feminist? Please share your position on this.

Johanna Blakley: Social media and the end of gender

Mar 2, 2012

Customers are Keen to Help Business

As I tweeted on 1 Mar, Frugal Dad posted an infographic about a series of “social consumer victories” that were recently brought about via Twitter. These are good examples of what’s happening in the relationship between business and consumer. In the era of social media, consumers are empowered by them and able to form a unified message, which exactly cooperations have been doing for decades. Customers are now as powerful as other stakeholders, if not more, to influence business decisions.

This is absolutely phenomenal; however, I still have some hesitation in calling them consumer “victories” because benefits should be mutual, not unilateral at the expense of firms. Although Armani & Versace case seemed to be deliberately unethical decisions, the rest of them were, they thought, rational. They just failed to communicate with their customers and made wrong moves. So, those who were still fond of, or at least interested in, the products were kind enough to take the initiatives and tell the businesses that they were not happy with the decisions and would abandon the relationships.

These are clear indications that in reality some top managements still struggle to understand how to make decisions from customer’s viewpoint even though it’s been a while since marketing departments realized customers sat at the heart of their businesses. And they are right. Customers are those who exchange not only monetary value, but also invaluable information.

Now the door is open and customers are keen to help business for a win-win relationship. I believe that being sincere & ethical in business will financially pay off. Therefore, why not “engage in real two-way discussion with their markets, listening to their questions and concerns and responding openly and honestly” —Niall Cook?