Benny Evangelista, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle recently discussed user product reviews in the context of social networking. The sort of thing I keep relying on when buying a product on Amazon for instance, where I want to find out about the reliability and trustworthiness of private sellers – but currently I do miss the interactive bit and remain unable to spot friends or family among the hundreds of pseudonyms.
Brief comments, stars/ratings and ideally more in depth-analyses of a book I take into account when considering a purchase for study purposes. I would not necessarily look for friends and family’s opinion when it comes to study material, though. Rather, I am keen on finding a review that’s marked by critical and thorough summarising, not too poetic in language, not too abstract, strength and weaknesses in balance – and please not at essay-length. I would trust an academic friend’s opinion most in this case. This is different when I look for a camera, for instance, or some other electronic gadget I would be likely to search for on Amazon.
Now, social shopping is what Andy Floyd and his team at Fluid inc. have developed. Here is a taster of their tool
Fluid Social 2.0 that facilitates collaborative buying – which is promising fun, creativity, and interaction. The process is simple: you check out the item, below the photo of the product there is a Facebook application which, once pressed connects and allows users to publish comments, start a live instant message chat and helps to suggest amendments to the model etc.
Not a brand new idea itself but simply taking what we’ve got so far one step further. Amazon reviews are getting more in terms of quantit. Nice. But they do not necessarily make purchase decisions any easier. How do I evaluate 587 reviews and 4.5 out of 5 stars? What does it actually mean? I for one still look for the last critical comment, the last angry customer who awarded 1 out of 5 stars. He or she will tell me what possible problem I might have to expect with that specific supplier. If the problem appears to be based on communication or some minor issue and if it was handled well by the supplier, I go ahead. Usually I even award some mental extra points for such handling, it shows care and that means I trust. But this is not exactly what I think a useful, interactive system in the age of web 2.0. It still leaves the bulk of work/evaluation with me.
Seriously, I just wonder why it took so long to get to this point. Living in London means real life shopping experiences are marked by tiny fitting rooms (often with an umbrella in one hand, exposed to poorly working air conditions), limited selection of items on display (London is madly expensive, shops pay horrendous rents), hence limited sizes available, crowd-pushing, and a tendency towards reducing the shopping experience down to an as-fast-as-possible transaction. Get out here syndrome, I’d call it. In contrast, the last genuinely enjoyable purchasing moment I had was in a skater shop in Palo Alto, CA. A sun-flooded little paradise, full of awesome stuff, relaxed beyond hopes. No stressed out staff. I came out with a pair of Reef flip flops.
Let’s hope retailers pick this up quickly, and understand that shopping 2.0 during recession urgently requires a make-over, not just a glossy façade, piles of cheap items on sale noone really wants to waste their money on, but something innovate and interactive that does lead to customer feedback being taken into account in a collaborative manner. Something dynamic that promotes identification with a brand and customer loyalty the way the California Academy of Sciences (+ San Francisco Symphony, de Young Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, et al.) has shown what can be done by smart harnessing of Facebook, Flickr, Twitter etc. in relation to attracting audiences: making them truly understand what the services are about – and help them come back. I am not just a customer, I have also turned into a fan as you may have noticed.
This week two blogposts made me wonder whether we try to fix quickly by help of technology, more precisely social media, what is actually rooted in rather complex behavioural issues.
Harvard Digital Natives‘ site discussed the celebration of shared knowledge, while ethical issues in the context of plagiarism did not remain untouched. Is it OK to make use of the teacher’s resources if found accidentally on the web? Where are the boundaries of intellectual property being copied unacknowledged into an essay and what defines a novel intellectual product? What constitutes new anyway – and who defines it? ‘Sharing is caring’ in a mark-based competition-driven world? Does the generation Digital Natives really buy into this? And if not to the extent we would hope to see, then what can we do to improve the attitude?
Neville Hobson on the other hand looked at the findings analysed by Forrester Research which state that “corporate blogs rank at the bottom of the trust scale with only 16% of online US consumers who read them saying that they trust them”. Trust building and efficiency are corporate key aims in today’s shaky markets – but is anyone still wondering why they have gone lost in the first place? And when exactly did it happen?
It is not just financial institutions and governments which need to rebuild trust and seem to have little idea as to how to manage this. Students and pupils around the world might soon be among those who need to prove that they are trustworthy – if they don’t refrain from the temptation to copy&paste their works like a patchwork blanket in ‘the old days’, then who can trust them once they are tomorrow’s employees and managers of those institutions which we have just bailed out?
The risk/reward balance needs to be restored, rethinking the tendency towards blamegaming and secrecy are key to the development of policies, educational and economic systems that are sustainable. New social media can play a major role in exactly all this. But placing all trust into these technologies without distinguishing carefully between coherent knowledge production and pouring information bits onto the public 24/7 will cause an increase in ignorance, if not even more harmful practices.
Transparency contributes to the wider social benefit. Efficiency and trust-building measures post-crises must be informed by a sense of responsibility. Ethics need to be given a much more central role in curricula, they seem to linger in a corner where they gain dust rather than attractiveness. Ethics and social responsibility must become more than nice yet halfhearted labels in corporate PR-strategies.
Isn’t it time to ask what means we have to get back on track and find knowledge production in a holistic manner more rewarding than piecemeal bits of information, no matter how efficient the latter may appear in our hectic and profit-driven days? Isn’t it time to think about trust in a more cohesive way and produce comprehensive strategies that prove sustainable in more than one field? That would include pupils as tomorrow’s voting citizens as well as corporations as collective citizens within the wider public.
Applying for a job in Barack Obama’s new team forced every applicant to dig deep in their own past: those who aim at high-ranking roles faced a questionnaire including 63 questions. Among many personal questions the links to blogs and Facebook pages were required. You may think this is taking things way too far. Such an intrusive approach may be detrimental to a fruitful collaboration. A German friend working in Human Resources argued similarly: they would not google applicants for “we trust people”. And of course, you will need the resources to conduct such research: personnel who are skilled and know what to look for.
It does seem many organisations are not taking social media very seriously. My friend pointed towards the age of corporate decision-makers. This might be one aspect, others may be related to power, hierarchical structures and a lack of understanding communication as a 2-way process rather than the still widespread top-down trickle. Not to forget cultural practices – some of them unconsciously practices and reproduced.
Using social media in times of financial markets in turmoil, drastic policy changes, lay offs and plenty of rumours does not seem to loom large on companies’ to-do lists. Micro-/blogging is frowned upon in circles which have not even arrived at websites that offer more than carefully choreographed content and a simple contact form: banking is certainly among the least transparent and progressive industries in this regard. Information is money, has to be money – and profit has to be quantifiable. Or?
Whistleblower Cityboy managed to shake up things a little by breaking the Code of Silence strictly enforced in London’s financial district. His blogging activites in Fear and Loathing in the City provide great entertainment, raised eyebrows and a few voices – but he did not manage to bring about change to the long established culture of scarce flows of information.
Now in the era of bailing out banks – as if they were hostages – one may think things could change and transparency would be imposed by help of governmental bodies – and the public who paid a high price for a slice of all those toxic assets. But no, this is illusionary, as some of the stakeholders may well have changed now but the corporate culture remained the same. In this context, “YES, I CAN!” is not the banker’s mantra.
Net presence and staff activism, corporate blogging in a proactive attempt to manage and control change, shape opinion-making and bring about change in a way remotely echoing Obama’s extensive use of platforms and channels in the sphere of social media is something the banking sector is not even ready to think about. Dismissing social media as lacking a sound business model seems to be right if taking the short-term perspective.
On the long run though, social media offers opportunities to manage relationships with customers as well as staff which may well pay off: the worst in times of financial crises is to leave image and status management to traditional PR campaigns and the local papers. Generation Digital Native is mobile and targeted by those who don’t sleep, they might also be much less loyal to parties, corporations and brands than widely assumed. I can hear their “yes, we can”…