Barriers to Twitter Adoption: Unlocking a new Communication Paradigm

Some people believe, as I do, that Twitter has the power to fundamentally enhance our ability to communicate, accelerating access to both people and information. By most definitions that would make it a paradigm shift. Others, perhaps the majority, remain skeptical.

Let’s dive a bit deeper, to see what we might learn.

Twitter simplifies communication, removing barriers of time and place. Without the overhead of email, conversations can spark around the globe. Every contact can be a source of inspiration, a new collaborator, a potential customer.

Where else can you message the world and get answers?

Many have seen the potential of Twitter and are running with it. From custom news feeds to social activism, from blog promotion to chats and book clubs, from corporate promotion to a new era of participative journalism. Access to people and information appears to be accelerating.

So what’s the problem?

No issue, for the brave. On the surface, it seems easy, and it can be. If you’re able to multitask across dozens of threads. If you have unlimited free time. If you know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish during all your waking hours. Ambitious? More like impossible. Not enough caffeine in my latte for all of that. Control of the world’s information feeds is NOT the goal. Our families like to see us from time to time, and there’s this useful notion called ‘sleep’.

Still, my instincts tell me we’re leaving significant value on the table. The fundamental question for me remains:

What are the true barriers for adoption of the evolving Twitter and social media paradigms, and what can we do to unlock new levels of collaboration?

On WEDS 12/15 at 1pET, #SMCHAT will be joined by Laura Fitton, aka @Pistachio, CEO of oneforty.com and co-author of Twitter for Dummies. It’s part of her sweep of Twitter Chat’s for the TFD #BookTour. A true ‘early adopter’ herself w/ +70,000 followers, Laura has been at it longer than the rest of us. Let’s ask her to join us in brainstorming our hardest open questions:

  • Q1. Engagement. New rules include need for authenticity, clarity of intent, agreed semantics, less broadcasting & more listening. What else?
  • Q2. Influence. CW says numbers don’t matter, but marketers know eyeballs equal hits. What are dynamics of smart social network building?
  • Q3. Saturation. With so much info streaming in, Tweetdeck can barely keep up. Hashtags are imperfect. How do we manage the deluge of ideas & when is enough, enough?
  • Q4. Convergence. Apps & options keep proliferating, adding to the confusion. Should there be convergence to fewer tools, or is integration a better path?
  • Q5. Upside. Time for your crystal ball. Will twitter growth plateau, or will there be mass market adoption? What role does culture play?

The New Year is approaching. What better time reflect on the “State of the Social Network?” Let’s use the 90 minutes with Laura to good advantage. They’ll go fast.

Bring your questions and ideas, and join the conversation. It promises to be a good one. (click here at the appointed time)

Help me plan our time. Which of the topics above resonate the most for you? In which dimension(s) do the most significant barriers lie? Leave a comment, let’s discuss it.

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Web 2.0′s “Broadcast” problem: The case for Meaningful Engagement

For the commercial web’s first decade, people communicated the old fashioned way: broadcasting their messages to anyone who would listen. It was a simple, easy extension of traditional advertising, public relations, politics and academic publishing. E-mail, also cutting edge at the time, modeled the same broadcast mentality. It was yet another easy way to lob messages to large audiences.

Prevalence of the “broadcast model” has limited people’s view of how the internet can be used to deliver messages. Many still don’t realize that the new internet (Web 2.0) offers a radically different proposition: collaborating with others via an open, multi-party exchange.

Engagement is communication at a different level

If communicating via email was passive and routine, the connections possible with engagement are active and dynamic. True engagement is more work. It requires time, energy and active listening. But the resulting flow of information brings rich rewards. Insights begin to accumulate and multiply. Ideas get validated and enhanced in several directions at once. And as the value of the idea exchange increases, personal relationships begin to form around them.

Meaningful, high-value connections like these are at the core of the Twitter chat phenomenon that’s spawned successful, ongoing communities like #smchat and #blogchat and social innovation teams like #ecosys.

And yet engagement rates among the masses remain critically low. Try to talk about social media with the average person, and you can see the resistance in their eyes, as if to say, “I know better, I’ve heard that one before, you can’t fool me.”

That makes building social teams and virtual communities much harder than it needs to be.

Why so much resistance?

I find the Web 1.0 mindset serves as a filter to the possibilities, reinforced by a culture that has grown cynical and distrusting. Unfortunately, those old habits and opinions die hard.

Thought leadership in this space goes back 50 years. Concepts like Thomas Kuhn’s “paradigm” (1962), Charles Handy’s “organizational culture” (1976), and Peter Senge’s “mental models” (1990) all build on the theme of the filters we use when we perceive the world around us. It seems we’ve advanced our understanding, but have moved too little to act on what we’ve learned.

The idea of “getting outside the box” was clearly spawned from this line of thinking. Far too many remain safely inside those boxes.

Here’s a key takeaway, unvarnished:

Mental filters (influenced by culture, formal education and our past life experiences) shape how we perceive the world around us, blinding us to new perspectives and blocking us from making deep connections with others.

Can we take this problem on, unlocking engagement in the virtual space? I say yes. Getting past our mental filters may be the first hurdle, but there are more. I’ve posted thoughts on the specifics of meaningful engagement over at Talent Culture.

There’s a world full of complex problems out there. Embracing broad, meaningful collaborative engagement on a much larger scale is critical if we hope to solve them.

Solving for ‘Social Media’? Why Context Matters

It’s common these days to see conversations or workshops with the premise: “here’s how you achieve success in social media.”

To be fair, in our weekly SMCHAT discussions, we’ve been exploring some similar questions .. though we’d claim it’s been with rigor, applying energy to frame specifics, and to vet our takeaways. But let’s face it. Lots of people are trying to get their hands around the new technology. The answers are needed.

No harm, no foul.

What we’ve learned, however, is that ‘solving for SM’ can’t be reduced to a simple formula.

Sure, it’s fundamental to engage, and to be authentic. Those are universal basics. But there’s also a variety of usage scenarios that cross a range of organizational contexts. The dynamics of using social technologies can vary quite a bit .. all the way down to selecting the best tools and metaphors .. depending on these scenarios. To illustrate the point, here’s a quick snapshot of the results from our brainstorming over the last several weeks.

For more viewable detail, check out the SM Usage Scenarios in pdf format.

Like everything we do at SMCHAT, we’re going to attack the problem head on, to try and wrestle it down. But this one may be our nemesis. With a quick glance, it’s clear: there are many contexts to consider, a range of content types, and (as shown in the PDF) a diverse set of audiences. The many to many to many mapping can get a bit crazy. Welcome to social media. Or in some quarters, its now ‘new media’ .. more proof of the variability of requirements across venues.

The semantics of “2.0” can be a daunting exercise, no?

We’re going to use charts like these to get our bearings, as we plan the scope and scale for SMCHAT in 2010, already in progress. But if there’s one thing we CAN take away from this analysis already, it’s this.

The correct answer to “How should you handle ‘social media’ .. ?”

It depends.

Unraveling Complexity (the Missing Link): A new approach for solving problems in Social Ecosystems

For months I’ve been reaching out to colleagues to explore barriers to collaboration, a key tool in the social innovator’s toolbox. Among those queried (and in spite of diverse backgrounds), virtually all had experienced significant barriers to collaboration over the years including silo-thinking, dated and inefficient problem solving models, cultures of control, and a strong, prevailing lack of trust.

Consensus? The barriers to innovation seem to be as universal as they are frustrating.

So something is broken. What is the root cause?

Beth Noveck and David Johnson have published important research on how new Social Media collaboration technologies can change the game. Their perspective on a New Science of Complexity is summarized in this People & Place blog post and explained further in an excerpt from their research. Their focus was the U.S. EPA (including the Federal process for environmental research and legislation) but their conclusion, which I agree with strongly, is that the principles are applicable in business (#e20) and broader social venues (#gov20) as well.

My primary takeaway?  I now believe that INNOVATION IN COMPLEX ECOSYSTEMS will depend on an improved collaboration process – a new middle ground for problem solving – that balances large-scale central organizational approach with grass-roots contributions by individuals. It is about finding the “sweet spot” between rigid structure and adaptive, organic sourcing of ideas. In a new and somewhat uncharted public collaboration space, it means that the forces of organizational scale and leverage can be networked – connected – with discrete centers (or hubs) for contribution to produce more rigorous solutions.

At the core of this thinking? A realization that traditional large-scale organizations (with their central thinking, hierarchical layers, and silos of functional experts) are generally ineffective when dealing with complex situations. Quite literally, they are too rigid. Without the ability to adapt to new variables or to coordinate across silos, grid-lock ensues. And complex social ecosystems are impacted, since “sending in experts” is how we tend to attack these issues. On the list? The well known structural challenges in energy, sustainable food and water sources, public education and healthcare.

What’s needed is an outright paradigm shift in problem solving models that are fundamentally more interactive and cross-functional. And focusing on complexity theory is key, because it begins to unlock some new doors. For one, there must be an organic aspect that allows solution teams to learn, self-correct and grow. And to meet the requirement of connecting people more dynamically, Social Media is the ideal technology. Some examples? Think about experts engaged in live chat. Acceleration of thought synergies. Tools to merge and re-mix knowledge. Ability to leverage and extend dynamic repositories.

With focus and coordination, we can work to find the elusive “sweet spot”.

In terms of naming and framing the problem, the above research makes significant strides. The next step is critical as well, and is just as exciting: in pockets across the internet, the new collaboration is already starting to appear.

Are you seeing it too? Let’s talk, I’ll show you where and how.

DoD Query: Web2.0 Integration aka the Portability Gap

Wouldn’t it be great if Social Media tools could talk to each other, and share basic profile information about you, your interests and your network?

The Federal Goverment (DoD) is working on that very question, and has requested public input (DoD Guidance Forum).

In spite of XML, which was invented to facilitate software talking to software, it remains a complex problem.  Many vendors are in the mix (eg., Twitter, Google, Facebook, Linked-In) and social media culture tends to say ‘no’ to standards and control.  Where can we draw useful boundaries on Web 2.0 integration issues, and how do we make our profile and social network information “portable”?

Here’s what I’m thinking.  These comments and a few more are now cross posted as DoD’s blog comments:

WEB 2.0 DEFINITION. Connecting people and content in more intuitive ways through adoption of social technologies; this drives enhanced user experience and interaction capabilities, with benefits that include: (a.) expanded user personalization, choice, and content filtering, (b.) propagation of rich, more intuitive multi-media, (c.) facilitation of all aspects of community building and interaction, and (d.) empowerment of local contribution on a global scale.

PORTABILITY is a significant gap in today’s Web2.0/SM space. The need is for a common, single-source entry with multi-vendor re-use for personalization data (profile data about the user and their preferences) as well as social network data (who the users is connected to, and importantly, why, defined by tags).  The gap is the ability and willingness of stakeholders — including vendors, users, developers, large stakeholder coalitions (eg., government) — to organize around a minimal, practical set of common guidelines. I believe an open source consortium for Web2.0/SM Data (Personal & Social Network) Portability Guidelines is needed. A ‘meeting in the middle’ to achieve a shared approach for ‘top down’ and ‘bottom-up’ data exchange would be ideal. The faster this gets done, the more quickly portability gets solved, which will lead to accelerated adoption of Web 2.0/SM.

WEB 2.0 IMPACT ON BUSINESS PROCESS (“Enterprise 2.0”). Social media and Web 2.0 are ultimately about connecting people and content in more intuitive ways, so the business processes impacted are those involving human interaction and content messaging. Examples:

  1. Collaborative Research.
  2. Customer Service (1:1 PR).
  3. Software Development.
  4. Marketing & Media Communication (1:n PR).
  5. Collaborative Solutions (Knowledge Management). [enhances capability/value of 1-4 above]
  6. HR Talent Acquisition & Supplier Sourcing.

AUTHORITATIVE REFERENCE. “Wikinomics” by Don Tapscott (2006).

What needs to happen to make this work?

“For adoption in business, government or academic organizations, Web2.0/SM requires cultures of trust & empowerment, with team environments that encourage knowledge sharing and collaboration.”

Feel free to comment, here or on the DoD site, as the spirit moves you.  These are key issues.  I’d like to know what you’re thinking.

Chris (@SourcePOV)