Designing For Networks

May 18, 2010

If you  only use the internet in order to raise awareness, and perhaps to influence perception, then you are missing out on what the web was made for: to enable large networks of people to come together for effective purposes through sharing, cooperating, and organizing collective action.

Next Thursday, May 27th, I’ll be speaking at AdBite in Bend, OR (get info and tix here).

The subject of my talk will be Designing for Networks. In a digital world, the effectiveness of your marketing efforts is dependent on your ability to engage and empower a network of individuals connected by a shared interest.

It is time for marketers to stop thinking of consumers simply as groups of individuals, and to start thinking of the people they hope to connect with as a powerful network tied together by shared goals and aspirations. It is the marketers job to figure out how the brand can support and work together with this human organization to create an experience that is mutually beneficial to both the brand’s business objectives and the desires of the network.

Throughout the history of traditional advertising all most marketers could hope to accomplish was to capture a consumer’s attention. If you were particularly lucky or talented you might persuade a consumer to favorably consider the product or service you were trying to sell. These accomplishments, necessary as they may be, were limited by the capabilities of the media used to deliver the messages. As marketers transitioned their practices to the Internet, they brought all of their same assumptions and limited vision with them to this revolutionary new medium. For over a decade now, most marketers have yet to see beyond the boundaries of traditional advertising, and have only focused their online efforts on capturing attention, influencing perception, and occasionally gathering especially loyal customers.

During the same time period, digital technology has invaded every corner of our lives. It has become an integral aspect of how we access information, how we communicate, how we entertain ourselves, how we document our lives, and how we organize collective action. The Internet has fundamentally altered not only how we behave, but even how we see ourselves as a society. As Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks, said at MIT’s Futures of Entertainment Conference in November 2008, “the increasingly widespread practice of people coming together for effective purposes” is changing how audiences or crowds perceive themselves and what they’re capable of. Consider how a generation of people who have grown up taking Google, Linux, and Wikipedia for granted see themselves differently. They recognize the power in many people coming together, each making small contributions, and the potential of their collective work adding up to something huge and meaningful.

In his 2008 book Here Comes EverybodyClay Shirky argues that while more familiar technological advances like the printing press, telephones, radio and TV enabled revolutions in one-to-one and one-to-many communication, digital technology has created a revolution in many-to-many communication. This means that groups of individuals are coming together to share, cooperate, and even to organize collective action in ways we’ve never imagined before.

Consider this a call to action, and a strong warning. Getting consumers’ attention, changing opinion, and even managing relationships is only the tip of the iceberg. Digital technology has created an incredible opportunity: the ability to collaborate with a powerful legion of people waiting for the tools to empower them to realize a shared vision.

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5 Responses to “Designing For Networks”

  1. @ecogordo Says:

    “groups of individuals are coming together to share, cooperate, and even to organize collective action in ways we’ve never imagined before.” This is true. The question is just how productive these groups as towards reaching their goals. Certainly group action in situations like aid for Haiti can produce impressive results in the short term.

    For instance, I follow about 100 local groups on my Facebook page. How do I allocate my time to support these groups? Is anyone measuring the effectiveness of technology to help make these groups be successful? There is no doubt that the opportunity that tech offers is there, but I am seeing more hipe than hard examples of success.

  2. Matt Daniels Says:

    Nice summary of your POV. Are there any good examples of why the idea of sharing, cooperation is so important for brands?

    Also, has the web ever been a strong brand building mechanism? Who’s thinking about online as an awareness channel? Search, and to some extent banners are drivers of purchase intent and bottom of the funnel activity.

    And your notion of consumers as a powerful network sounds a hell of a lot like customer segments. Any similarities?


  3. […] more detail in Mike’s two posts on the subject, Designing For Networks: In a digital world, the effectiveness of your marketing efforts is dependent on your ability to […]


  4. […] more detail in Mike’s two posts on the subject, Designing For Networks: In a digital world, the effectiveness of your marketing efforts is dependent on your ability to […]


  5. […] more detail in Mike’s two posts on the subject, Designing For Networks: In a digital world, the effectiveness of your marketing efforts is dependent on your ability to […]


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