Thesis 2: Social Media Tools Overcome Inertia

Note: This post is part of a series providing fuller discussion for my 35 Social Media Theses. I welcome your feedback and comments to challenge and improve them.

In Thesis 1, I discussed how social media really aren’t completely new, since air was the original social medium. This leads us, however, to what is new:

Thesis 2: Electronic tools merely facilitate broader and more efficient transmission by overcoming inertia and friction.

What these electronic tools like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter do is not different in kind from what has happened with word of mouth since the dawn of civilization.

They just make it a whole lot easier.

People have always talked with friends and family about their experiences, including those with merchants and service providers. From which blacksmith did the best job with horseshoes a century ago to which dentist is best able to prevent pain, a huge portion of our “purchase” decisions have been and remain significantly affected by word-of-mouth.

As I mentioned in Thesis 1, word of mouth from patients and their families has been the top source of information for people who prefer Mayo Clinic, and it’s been that way for more than a century.

Now that word just spreads a lot faster.

So when someone writes on our Mayo Clinic Facebook wall, it’s available for the world to see…

Shannon Swing

…but more importantly, it may show up in her friends’ news feeds.

Social tools just mean that people are sharing with a lot more people, with a lot less effort.

Offline word of mouth is still more prevalent and more powerful than online, even with the new tools. Hearing a friend talk in person about an experience makes a deeper impression. And if a person, let’s call him Bob, is telling his friend Carl about his mysterious illness and his frustration that it hasn’t been diagnosed, if Carl tells him right then, at the point of need, about his good experience and recommends that Bob try Mayo, that’s obviously going to have deeper impact than a wall posting on Facebook.

But social media can have a broader impact. In the example above, Shannon’s wall posting was potentially visible to 300 million Facebook users, and the sharing she did with her Facebook friends was effortless. The act of writing was the act of sharing.

Likewise, when Rhonda King told the story of bringing her son Trevor to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion on the Mayo Clinic YouTube channel:

…It was seen by many more people than she could have spoken with personally. As of this writing, in fact, it’s been viewed more than 4,400 times. And while nothing is as powerful as face-to-face dialogue, I would argue that the impression Brenda made via video is both broad and deep, for those who have taken time to listen to what she had to say.

So while social media really are as old as human speech, as Thesis 1 says, there is something new and exciting about the ease with which messages can spread with social tools.

I say “merely” in Thesis 2 to emphasize the continuity of social tools with offline word-of-mouth. But don’t think that “merely” minimizes their impact. As we will discuss in the next two theses, social media tools are revolutionary in what they are doing to the anomalous mass media era of the 20th century.

Nailing 35 Theses to the Wall

As I mentioned yesterday, it was 492 years ago today that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. The official title was “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” and its viral spread led to the Protestant Reformation that has had seismic effects in world culture for nearly five centuries, even though more Americans associate October 31 with goblins and overdosing on high fructose corn syrup than with theological and cultural revolutions.

Today I created a new page on SMUG on which I have posted my 35 Theses, entitled “Disputation of Chancellor Lee Aase on the Power and Efficacy of Social Media.” Instead of nailing them to the physical community bulletin board as Luther did, I’m posting them on the wall of a virtual university. And while Luther’s theses unintentionally sparked a revolution, mine have the goal of sparking discussion and disputation about a revolution that is already well underway.

The video I’m embedding below highlights the changes taking place in what it calls a Social Media Revolution:

I’ve seen several videos of this genre, but one thing I appreciate about this one (as opposed to the “Shift Happens” series) is that it focuses on what has already happened (which is amazing enough) instead of projecting things like “By 2049 a $1,000 computer will exceed the computing capabilities of the human race.” I also like this recent video, Did You Know 4.0…which only makes one really outlandish extrapolation at the end, but in that it was at least quoting someone.

So while the videos above provide support for Thesis #4Social Media are the third millennium’s defining communications trend — my 35 theses are more about describing the revolution than causing it.

What I do hope to accomplish, though, is to help health care organizations (and other risk-averse businesses and groups) understand that the social media revolution isn’t a fad, that it will affect them and — most importantly — that it can be immensely beneficial if they look for ways to take advantage of the opportunities inherent in social technologies.

I look forward to writing posts over the next month or so that will amplify and illustrate many of these theses, and to having others refine and improve them.

And since I only started with 35, there’s plenty of room for you to suggest more. We’ve got a long way to go to match Luther’s 95.

Let’s discuss!

Social Media Reformation

As I have been asked to keynote some conferences on social media in healthcare I have found it necessary, or at least desirable, to take a broader view of the topic instead of just describing our Mayo Clinic experience.

Don’t get me wrong: I actually think our Mayo Clinic experience in social media, and the story behind it, is probably the most important contribution I can make to the discussion. After all, philosophy is cheap. Anyone can pontificate on what “should” be done, but having a concrete story to tell of how social media have actually been implemented is more valuable.

But sometimes it’s helpful to also be able to generalize from the specific, to help elucidate underlying principles that the specific examples illustrate.

As I was preparing for Healthcamp Minnesota and that keynote, I was drawn to develop some basic principles for healthcare social media. And being of a Reformed Christian background, I couldn’t help noting that we’re coming up on Reformation Day, October 31 (other folks call that day “Halloween”), which is the 492nd anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenburg, Germany.


His “post” was entitled:

Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences

And it began as follows:

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

Because of a technology that had been developed relatively recently, the Gutenberg printing press, Luther’s theses went “viral” and changed the course of history. They were translated from Latin into German and spread throughout Germany within two weeks, and throughout Europe within two months.

So although I have no delusions about the relative import of my thinking compared with Luther’s, tomorrow I’m going to post my own set of theses relating to social media, and will invite your feedback and participation, or even disputation.

There won’t be 95 of them (but there will be more than the five I outlined at Healthcamp MN), and I’m confident the publication of these theses won’t require me to go into hiding in a castle in Germany (although, come to think of it, that wouldn’t be the worst thing!)

Just as technology gave viral reach to timeless truths as recovered by Luther, today’s social technology will enable these social media theses to spread rapidly (if they’re any good). It’s a testament to the advance of technology that within two days of publication (based on what I see in my Google Analytics), these theses will likely have been read on six continents.

Luther’s theses had eternal significance for people’s immortal souls. Mine might just help you better understand the communications and marketing landscape, and thereby achieve some of your more temporal goals.

Luther wanted to start a discussion or an argument, even though he was fairly convinced he was right. I likewise hope to spark discussion with my social media theses, and some of that will take place starting Monday in Las Vegas at the Healthcare Internet Conference. But to paraphrase Luther’s request, if you are unable to be present and debate orally with us, I hope you will do so by Tweet, comment or blog post.

Check back here tomorrow for discussion and disputation.

Strategy and the Social Media Pyramid

Last week I introduced the concept of the SMUG Social Media Pyramid as a helpful framework for considering how much is “enough” in social media. It was an attempt to answer the question, “Should we spread our efforts over lots of platforms, of just focus on one or two?”

I followed that post with a couple of more, on portions and serving sizes, as well as the need to serve through your servings, and I appreciate all the supportive comments and re-tweets, as having an analogy to the balanced physical diet seemed to resonate with many people. Just as you have different “food groups” that contribute to overall health, various categories of social media tools meet different needs in communications.

But I wanted to spend a little time discussing one of the comments that, while supportive of the concept, raised an interesting issue:

I have to say, however, that from my perspective, none of what you describe constitutes strategy. It comes across like a hardware salesperson from the Snap-On Tool Company laying out tools, and telling us what tools are most important…WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT THE TOOLS WILL BE USED FOR!

In other words, the tools will be ranked very differently in order of importance if I’m working on a car engine than if I’m working on a water main. In the networked world, the operations we perform, the needs we express, vary immensely. From breaking a new music act to the bonding of parents with hydrocephalic children, to (as one of the commentors above mentions, connecting with old classmates.)

Not being negative here, Lee, just constructively critical. Here’s another thing to consider in ranking the relevance of the various social media platforms:

Existing content.

If, for example you’ve got a vault of video related to your subject, or if there’s some incredibly emotional and compelling content available on video, then You Tube (or Vimeo or Hulu or Veoh– each has its own strengths, and merits its own ranking-within-ranking) can become the foundational platform, and the other platforms will be implemented to drive awareness and patronage.

I don’t really disagree with much of what Bonifer had to say, except that what I’m presenting in the Social Media Pyramid is a “well-balanced diet” — or since it’s about production instead of consumption — a well-balanced menu. I’m not ranking the tools any more than the USDA is saying Breads, Cereal, Pasta and Rice are more important than Fruits or Vegetables.

I would say, however, that in most cases your program won’t reach its peak potential without a blog. Most of the content can be embedded video, or you may want to use primarily text-based posts. But a blog, like the one Bonifer mentioned, can be the hub to tie various tools together. And the blog he cited is actually a really good example of text, photos, a Twitter widget and embedded video. A blog gives you the potential for depth that you don’t have with other platforms.

The other good point Bonifer makes is that within each category of the pyramid, there are various options. In social networks, for example, you probably don’t need to have a major presence in Facebook and MySpace and LinkedIn and Orkut. You’ll probably pick just one, based on where members of the community you’re gathering spend their time. Or you may try to create your own special-purpose network with Ning or some other service.

And that relates back to the question that originally prompted me to publish the pyramid paradigm (I just can’t avoid alliteration), as to whether organizations should focus on one or two platforms or spread themselves over several. I suggest picking a primary platform in each level of the pyramid, and that in most cases the popular, general-purpose platforms are going to be the best places to start.

Take advantage of the critical mass that is already building instead of trying to start from nothing and getting people to sign onto your special-purpose, standalone network. If you have passionate fans or community members who define themselves significantly by their association with your organization, maybe a standalone network would be useful. And there could be some cases in which a more exclusive, members-only networking site would make sense.

But if a big part of your goal is outreach, or spreading word-of-mouth, it’s important to be in places where that can happen. That’s why general-purpose networks make sense: your fans’ enthusiasm can infect others. In a standalone social network, you’re interacting with the proverbial choir (not “preaching” to them!), but you’re not recruiting new members. In a general-purpose network like Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn, your community members’ friends and contacts can discover you.

So certainly, there’s a place for strategy, and you should give thought to what particular platforms make the most sense for you and for your organization.

But I would argue (in fact, I already have), that social media tools are the postmodern equivalents of the telephone and the fax. No one asks (unless you’re a telemarketing firm) what your telephone strategy is, at least in the sense of whether you should use the telephone. It’s just a basic way of communicating.

You may have strategic decisions to make, such as whether you will use automated voice mail or have a real human answer every call, but almost every company will have a phone number. Some may, as strategy to cut costs, emphasize online service options and make the phone number hard to find, but in a way that just proves my point. They are likely using digital tools, such as online communities, to provide product support more cost-effectively than even a call center in Bangalore.

If you’re not taking advantage of social media tools to help you accomplish your organization’s work more efficiently and cost-effectively, you’re missing a significant opportunity.

That’s not a good strategy.

Social Media Pyramid “Servings” need to Serve

In my post on the SMUG Social Media Pyramid and the follow-up on servings and portion sizes, I recommended a basic level of each of the four basic social media “food groups” which are represented in this graphic submitted by Valeri Gungor (click to enlarge):


This led to some interesting discussion in the comments, which deserves fuller attention. Here were some of the themes:

  • Isn’t this just a “maintenance” plan? If you really want your social media influence to grow, shouldn’t you be beefing up with a lot more than what’s recommended here? Or on the other extreme…
  • Doesn’t 6-11 servings a day of Twitter encourage the kind of inane celebrity updates on personal minute-by-minute activities that give Twitter a bad name?
  • This seems like a tool-centric tactical approach, not a strategic tailoring of the tools to the particular objectives of the organization’s social media program.

So here’s some amplification of what a “serving” means.

To qualify as a serving your tweet, status update, video or blog post needs to…serve. Others, not just you. Any “servings” that don’t serve are actually subtracted from your total…they’re the social media equivalent of what Mom used to call “empty calories.” No nutritional value whatsoever.

In the food pyramid a serving is something you consume. In the Social Media Pyramid a serving is something you produce. It has to be of value to others to qualify. Otherwise it’s a negative. Five good tweets plus two pointless, self-promotional or “spammy” ones gives you a net of three servings, not seven. And some might even say a bad tweet is worth -2.

So in answer to the first two questions, I would say that the more real, valuable servings you provide, the more your influence will grow. And the more garbage you post, the more likely your Twitter followers leave, your Facebook friends and fans bail on you and you lose subscribers to your YouTube videos or your blog posts.

The third point, about strategy vs. tool-time tactics, I’ll tackle in the next post. And maybe I’ll expand on the serving scoring system.

Does this “net servings” guide make sense to you? How would you change it?