There is life outside the echo chamber
Humans are social animals. We’re wired for interactions with others. Our nature is to converse – to live in close proximity with other people. We thirst for the explicit approval of those around us – we are driven to conform, to be accepted. Anyone who’s completed Sociology 101 will tell you about the the fear of being ridiculed by the crowd – to be singled out as being “weird” or abnormal. Ask any military intelligence expert, or a prison warden, and they will attest to the effectiveness of separating an adversary from the community. Solitary confinement is indeed an efficient means of crushing the human spirit.
So given our native proclivity for immersion with others of our kind, there is little surprise in the popularity and explosive growth of social networks. In fact, some would argue that by tapping into the anonymity of being “social” on the Internet, these societies are even more popular than “real” life – those who are awkward in personal interaction can shine behind the shield of technology. And credit the technological geniuses for recognizing this basic human need and connecting the bits to the bytes to provide such a powerful medium for sharing thoughts and ideas and, hopefully, receiving some gratification. So yeah, social networks are hot – and important. We crave followers, re-tweets, likes, big Klout scores – the marks of acceptance by our virtual society. We want to be respected, admired, viewed as an integral part of the social fabric.
It is no surprise that businesses are exploiting the massive streams of commentary and sentiment on social networks and continually creating new ways to harness and exploit this rich medium. But as popular – and powerful – as the need for social acceptance is in both physical and virtual contexts, there is a downside. Consider, for example, trends. Let’s take Twitter. At this very moment, the top trending items on Twitter are: JJ Cale (sorry, wasn’t a fan), Korean War (hmm, that is intriguing), “asktommyrobinson” (well, I probably won’t), “5HFridayFollowSpree” (it’s Saturday already), and the always popular “O2Lfollowparty” (no idea, and hey, I’m no Luddite. I have three Twitter accounts). If you are a business leader – maybe a marketing professional looking to capture sentiment that may be able to help your business, there is not a lot to glean from this.
My point is that what is trending, or that which society – the net society in this case – considers important, may not be all that meaningful to your business. The “wisdom of the crowds” may be a bit of an oxymoron – unless your company is desperately anxious for the latest news on that “O2L Follow Party.” What is “hot” is often determined by personalities – by influential people who have large followings. Lady Gaga, for example, has nearly 40M followers on Twitter. Almost anything she tweets will have a massive ripple effect. Her most recent tweet (“We could be caught, were both convicted criminals of thought.” – Sex Dreams) was retweeted over 28,000 times and favorited by more than 13,000 people. So because of her massive following, Lady Gaga will set trends. Whether she tweets about music or fields where she has little expertise, say business, sports, or technology, her words will still be viewed by many as gems of knowledge and, yes, as trend-setters.
Our society is increasingly obsessed with brevity – the 140-character mentality – in which headlines matter and where long-form stories are most frequently left untouched. This can lead to a business blindly following trends embraced by the masses, threatening mass ignorance at a minimum or, worse, the real danger of using this medium to manipulate and control. The manipulation may, for example, come in the guise of one brand manipulating public sentiment about a competitor. In short, there is a very dark side of this echo chamber.
At Trapit, we love social networks. We love Facebook, and Twitter, and partner with both. In fact, Trapit runs over 200 topical accounts on Twitter – from @TheAppleTrap to @TheBigDataTrap or @TheSCOTUSTrap for fans of the Supreme Court, or @FutureTVTrap – and many, many more. For all of these Twitter topics, Trapit’s AI technology is tapping into the life-stream of the web, analyzing the millions of stories flowing through it, and sending the most relevant stories to the right Twitter accounts – whether it’s rumors about a new iPhone release or the latest on the high court’s position on gay marriage. Automatically. No human intervention required.
So why is this important? We believe that as much as your team may live, work, and even adore social networks, that your company is unique. Your business has a passion for information about topics that matter to your company, and especially to your customers. Even if the “crowd “ does not. No matter how broad or how obscure the topics that influence your business are, Trapit will discover them and deliver them to you. And as you dive deeper into those topics, it will learn more about your business objectives – what is relevant to your success – and deliver more of it. Because at the end of the day, while your company needs to understand the pulse of social networks, your business is not the crowd.