On conversations: From tribes to ecosystems

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The other day I came across a blog post on the subject of tribal co-creation via the #Blogg100 challenge running in Sweden. Written by museum professional Kajsa Hartig (Nordiska Museet), it posed the question – how does the heritage sector engage digital tribes that aggregate around varied interests?

The post also references the thinking of Niclas Johansson (another #Blogg100 participant) who suggests that individuals ‘want to co-create and share content in tribes rather than crowds.’

I don’t yet fully understand the concept of tribes from a digital communications perspective. But the logic appeals to me because it suggests that one approach to create engagement is to provide information in such a manner that others can easily attach their own layer of meaning to it and pass it onto their networks.

Information + Individual Meaning = Collective Action

This little puzzle has been my area of focus for the past two years. I work with practitioners from the culture, health-care and education sectors to figure out how to provide specialist information in a format that can be easily understood and widely circulated. And occasionally, can also be used to create collective action using mechanisms like crowdsourcing and co-production.

It is quite interesting to work across these sectors, because effectively, they all face a similar set of problems. For example – using social media to generate intelligent meta-data to design new kinds of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems. The end result can be applied to build patient trust (health-care) as well as find new audiences (heritage).

The solution will obviously have a strong technology focus related to development of software, interface or even physical artefact. But when the ultimate goal is to create a thriving digital ecosystem of conversations, there has to be a strong communications focus, which should be resolved alongside the development of the technology.

The notion of creating a piece of tech that is so sexy that people will have no choice but to use it, is a fallacy. And many a platform (whether a start-up or established organisation) has succumbed to this. Remember Google Wave?

Rapid Prototyping + Conversations = Digital Ecosystems

I believe we can apply some key principles of technological development to solve the communications conundrum as well. This includes rapid-prototyping of voice and tone to identify the most accessible context in which to present information so as to start a conversation.

For example, many museums are keen to collect personal reflections around individual objects and artefacts to create a new kinds of narratives for their collections. So how would you introduce the digital archives in social spaces, in a manner that encourages visitors to share their experiences?

The big picture or central idea here is for museums to re-define their relationship with the public. We need to deconstruct this in such a way, that many people can take something away from it and then either join in conversation or even better, take a particular action. Which in this case, it is to share their association with a physical object.

Firstly, don’t start a conversation with a fully formed idea in place. To be a bit harsh, your target audience might not care unless it is relevant to them. So at the end of the day, you just might spend spend a lot of time explaining your version of the bigger picture to others, which is time consuming and can easily create misconceptions.

Secondly, don’t hard-wire participation based on assumptions when trying to create engagement online. Instead, join existing conversations. Figure out the expectations and vocabulary within niche interests groups, and then apply these ‘rules’ (in a manner of speaking) to introduce your information and influence others to take action.

The age old programming principle of GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) applies to interaction on social media platforms as well. If you put rubbish out there, you will end up crowdsourcing nonsense!

Taking the first step…

From an organisational perspective, such an approach requires digital engagement to be devolved across teams, departments and so on. It is the specialists who need to be online in order to improvise. The social-digital space is also awash with the white noise of a million different conversations, and it is very easy to get lost in the crowd. So it is important to define a value-based framework right at the outset. And I will define these with a couple of practical examples in a separate post.

In the meanwhile, if you have arrived at this post via the #Blogg100 challenge, do leave a comment and let’s keep the discussion going!

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On May 31, 2013
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