conversations dont scale

You follow me I follow you back?

Don’t be fooled.

If somebody that’s following you on Twitter follows 10,000 other people, don’t expect to have a meaningful tete-a-tete with them. And if you’re following 1,000 people on Twitter, don’t even pretend that you will notice half the stuff they are saying.

Social media is full of misconceptions, confusion and unexamined clichés. That social media is about conversations is one of these. Yes, conversations are part of social media, but this fixation with conversation misses the one core element that makes it truly different from other media.

In truth, the basic rules of media and messaging have not changed at all.

  • It’s still perfectly possible for one media outlet to speak to thousands of people;
  • We also know that people have a limited attention span;
  • And we know that we can’t have a two way conversation with many people at the same time. When I worked for Lycos for instance, celebrities like Natalie Imbruglia were invited to do chats with fans. These chats never really took off. The stars could only reply to one person at a time, leaving many chatters frustrated.

None of these things have been altered by social media.

What has changed is that technologies have dropped the entry-level for publishing or talking. The barriers have dropped so low, that everybody can potentially be a media outlet of both the conversational and broadcast kind. Often whether they become conversationalists or broadcasters depend on their talent.

As we explained in a previous post social media is not new. In the past we also had forms of so called interactive or two-way media; your phone is a good example of two-way media.
Still, conference calls, with its potential for multi-way communication, only form a minute part of telecommunications. That’s because conversations don’t scale well.

But why then the success of Facebook, who just surpassed Google in the US in terms of usage? Because conversations are only a part of Facebook’s picture.

Technology has allowed companies like Flickr, Facebook and Youtube to provide services where users can share stuff. Facebook has been particularly good in turning even the smallest bit of activity on its platform into content, i.e. its Personal News Feed. I ‘friend’ somebody, you find out about it because you’re my friend.

Jeff Jarvis calls it ‘the wisdom of my crowd’. Sam Leith calls it ‘the Reuters of inanity’. Fact is that the stronger the bonds of friendship, the more likely I am to engage with your ‘content’. And like conversations, friendships don’t scale.

Still, everybody has friends – and the most inane thing a friend has done is often more interesting to them than Gordon Brown’s bullying.
This is one of the key differences between Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is asymmetrical. There is no requirement of mutual friending. And the result is that Twitter allows for broadcasting, on top of ‘conversations’. Facebook is now trying to change its feed to be more Twitter-like, with mixed success.

This difference explains why Twitter is not as big as Facebook. Like with blogs, only a small percentage of the population have the drive to say something ánd make it so interesting that it goes down with a faceless audience. As Tom Anderson, founder of MySpace said, if you have a thousand friends, you’re broadcasting, you’re an entertainer.

The problem for broadcasters, and with I mean all broadcasters, is that, unless we’re talking mass live events, their ‘content’ will rarely match a person’s love to natter with their buddies. AT&T is still a much larger company than Google or Time Warner in terms of revenue. The world’s big telco companies dwarf the media, computer and entertainment companies in terms of revenue. Simply because people spend a huge amount of money on their phones.

Which brings me back to my original point. I rarely follow people on Facebook I don’t know or want to know. I don’t normally expect people I follow on Twitter to follow me back. I rarely follow people on Twitter that follow more people than they have following them (I immediately think they don’t have much of interest to say). I don’t get excited if somebody follows me on Twitter that follows a 1000+ other people? What’s the chance they’ll see what I’m Tweeting? What’s the chance I’ll be retweeted?

That’s why for me, the perfect follower follows 300 people while 10,000 follows them. I.e. they get little input but puts out to a lot of people.

There are a number of tools that measure your value on Twitter, like Edelman’s Tweetlevel. Tweetlevel says it measures an individual’s importance on:

  • Influence – what you say is interesting and many people listen to it. This is the primary ranking metric.
  • Popularity – how many people follow you
  • Engagement – you actively participate within your community
  • Trust – people believe what you say

Note: It does not take into account the difference between your input and output. Klout is in my opinion the superior tool for discovering valuable Twitter users because it uses the principles I explain above.

Klout says it looks for:

  • True Reach – our count of the number of followers we believe actually read and are impacted by the majority of your tweets.
  • Network score – Measurement of the weighted influence of the people who have retweeted, @ mentioned, followed and listed your account.
  • The Amplification Score – a 0 to 100 number representing a person’s ability to generate actions like retweets, @ replies, clicks, etc from their content.

Take this Twitter user. He has more followers than me (1,662 Following 1,819 Followers), yet his Klout score is 26. Mine is 37, I follow 308 and am followed by 540. This Twitter user almost beats me with a score of 35 but as is the habit with the conversation tribe, she is following 6,963 and has 6,867 followers. Jeff Jarvis’s Klout is 74.

Now Klout might not be perfect in its determination of Twitter influence, but it seems to be a lot closer to those that blindly count followers.

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The simple answer is no. Social media is not new.

In 1892 in Budapest, a certain Tividar Puskas launched an exciting new service that used telephones to deliver radio programs to an audience. Initially he had 60 subscribers. Puskas thought telephones would make a great way to distribute information and entertainment, i.e. a great broadcast medium.

A stentor reading the day's news to 6200 subscribers - An image depicting the stentor of Telefon Hirmondó - April 1901

It was not to be. His service did manage to garner 15,000 subscribers by 1907, but died because we found a use for phones that is vastly more lucrative and valuable – namely talking to each other. One-to-one communication.

Since then one-to-one telephony has become one of the biggest industries around. The world’s largest telephone company AT&T is still much larger than Microsoft, Times Warner, or Google in terms of revenue. And there are much more telcos than there are large internet portals or entertainment companies.

But well before the telephone and the telegraph we already had forms of media that were interactive, conversational, one-to-one.

The town square, where people could meet and exchange information, was an old form of social interaction. The town hall speech, its one-to-many equivalent, was ‘broadcast’.

We have had one-to-one letters for hundreds of years, and more recently we had pamphlets (today’s flyers) through which to ‘broadcast’ our messages.

So what is different now? According to Clay Shirky it’s the technological changes of recent that have accelerated social interaction. Things that used to be hard to coordinate because they took time and were expensive to organise have become easier to do.

In other words, social media is not new, but what is new is that social technologies have lowered the cost and the barriers for entry. Now, everybody can be a media outlet.

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There’s a lot of good creative campaign stuff coming out of Sweden these days.

Yesterday I was quite impressed by the Samsung Shakedown website. To prove how resistant their new phone model is, they set up an ‘interactive’ installation that you could follow live through 4 webcams. The aim was to try and vibrate 1 of 70 phones off a table by calling a certain number. If a phone fell because of your call, you won it. The installation is closed now, but you can still see the demo here.
Smart, experiential, online, live, fun. Ticks quite a few boxes. And I’m sure it wasn’t too expensive either. Hats off to whoever who did it.

And this morning I saw Draft FCB Sweden‘s interactive video page for the Swedish Broadcasting fee. When you go on the page, you can make a ‘Thank you Movie’ by upload a picture of yourself or a friend. You don’t get too much info. Once you’ve done that, it starts playing a short film and soon you realise your picture has been integrated into the story.

Not sure the narrative of the film always fits the message of persuading the fine people of Sweden to pay their license fee (are there Swedish people that don’t? Shock horror!), but there’s something quite hilarious of seeing your friends appear in a high-production value film (some scenes have a Johan Renck quality). Especially if it’s this well done.

When illustrator Hidden Eloise wrote a blogpost yesterday about how she felt her work was copied by paper and stationery shop Paperchase, the Twitter masses picked up on it and it has become a trending topic as we speak.

At this moment, it’s not even clear whether they or their PR agency actually know that this is happening. But even if they did, they don’t have the (Social Media) tools to respond.
Paperchase doesn’t have a blog nor a Twitter account, so they can’t immediately react. Needless to say that’s a mistake.

To make a point, I thought it would be interesting to visualise a little crisis like that. So below is a screengrab of Twitter Trends half an hour ago. Quite powerful actually: to see what such a stream of bad PR looks like.


Today if you search for ‘paperchase’ this is what you get. That just goes to show that even though paperchase has responded via a press release and on their site (see below), their is still a very damaging link just below their own site.

Paperchase's search engine problem - Hidden Eloise - not so hidden

Paperchase claims they did respond to Hidden Eloise:

“The illustrator who is making the allegation made us aware of her concerns in November 2009 and we duly responded to her in early December, since when we had heard nothing … until today. Back in November 2009, we spoke at length to the design studio in question and they categorically denied any plagiarism.”

“It is worrying that such an allegation can create such reaction and again, Paperchase apologises for any ill-feeling caused.”

Regardless of the sequence of events, Paperchase should have been monitoring what’s being said about it online. Most free tools would have done the trick. And since the allegation was public, they needed to respond online and in public to it. That is where it matters. My bet is if they had, the story would have gone nowhere.

Now that the damage is done, Paperchase has tried to communicate by adapting their site’s contact page (see below). Once again, if they had some blogging functionality, they could at least have had a separate link. That would have shown their version of the story more prominently if somebody searched for them. They could have left a comment in Hidden Eloise blog and have had a track back.

The Paperchase contact page after crisis

Is it just me? Or is the world of book publishing, from all the creative industries, slow to innovate and adapt to the changing media?

I know of Scott Sigler, who got a book deal after he created a community around his sci-fi books by releasing them as podcasts, read by himself (he did different voices for his characters).

I know of people publishing books in progress and I know of Dutch Social Media dude Erwin Blom, who convinced the publishers of his book about Communities to also set up a website. That was used to crowdsource information on online tools and case studies that put his community theories into practice.

And sure, there’s the Kindle, soon the iPad and other e-readers. But so far they mainly focus on changing the distribution and hasn’t had a big impact on the promotion of books, let alone the way stories are being told. Yet.

But then I found this particularly interesting use of augmented reality. It augments exactly what books are all about, telling stories.
Camille Scherrer, a media and interaction design student, created a book that seamlessly integrates Augmented Reality. It’s called ‘Le Monde des Montagnes’ and, well, it’s a book. But the difference is that, once you activate the AR layer (through a lamp!), it superimposes a layer of animation on top of the book that re-interprets and adds to the narrative.


Die Antwoord (The Answer) is an assault on your senses and sensibilities. Die Antwoord is all over Twitter now and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they become a trending topic this weekend. Die Antwoord is an Afrikaans zef rap-rave band from South Africa.

You heard that right. Afrikaans Zef Rap Rave. That is not the best known musical genre. As Vice magazine queried in October when they interviewed Ninja, the lead singer of Die Antwoord:

“…nobody from South Africa ever really makes it overseas. You do realise that?”

Die Antwoord would have none of that. Ninja spurns those assertions in their track ‘Enter The Ninja’:

Fuck you all who said I wouldn’t make it
Who said I was a loser
Who said I was a no-one
But look at me now
All up on the interweb
World-wide, 2009 Futuriste

Die Antwoord have come from what is often (wrongly) seen as a cultural backwater to be the music sensation of 2010. They have overcome the stereotypes about Afrikaans (the baddies in ‘Lethal Weapon 2’ anyone?).

But theirs is a marketing storm that money can’t buy. How did they do it?

They have been bubbling under the radar for a while, before this week’s explosion. I know, because I am one of the lucky ones to have been following them since their inception. I’m Afrikaans myself and one my guilty pleasures is reading Watkykjy, the legendary Zef Afrikaans blog that became Die Antwoord’s home.

Die Antwoord on Google trends

Watkykjy has been going since 2000 and regularly attracts about 100,000 unique users per month. But it’s much more than that. Watkykjy is home to an identity. The home of Zef. As such they have been organising events and parties as well.

Die Antwoord got their own little buitekammerttjie (little outside room) on the Watkykjy site about 10 months ago, where they had a number of tracks available for free download. Watkykjy also regularly plugged the band to their fanatical audience. Die Antwoord became headline acts at Watkykjy jols (parties). Die Antwoord even made a song Wat kyk jy! Still, these were parties inside a small subculture. How did it break out?

Die Antwoord aren’t loaded (not yet anyway). But around them gathered a bunch of talented individuals who loved them and saw their potential. People like Rodger Ballen, an American Photographer who lives in South Africa and who has shot the cover for their $O$ album. Leon Botha, an artist, Hip Hop DJ Solarize and the world’s longest surviving Progeria, opened their sets. People like The Wedding DJ’s.

As someone who knows them intimately said:

They don’t have huge budgets. Just friends with a passion for what they do. Sean (photographer and the guy that shot the Zef Side video) is a case in point.

He’s a young guy who’s friends with Ninja and Yo-landi and just understands what they are trying to do.

Still, the video had Die Antwoord‘s signature all over it.

If you look at the work he’s done for Die Antwoord you’ll notice how it’s completely different to some of the other shots he’s done for other South African bands. That’s Ninja’s next-level influence.

The video made a difference. For impact (awareness), little packs a punch as a good video. It is very well produced and high quality (just like the Enter the Ninja video above – the artwork of which was made drawn & painted Ninja himself), and importantly full of Die Antwoord’s quirkiness. Still, this was done on a low budget.

The video by Sean and Die Antwoord

This is what Forrester spoke about in their Groundswell book when they talk of Energizing your crowd. Die Antwoord has support and a platform for take off.

Die Antwoord simply released their videos online, on YouTube and Vimeo. They started a Facebook Fan page. Next they built a good looking website (that nobody on an iPad will see), but through which you could listen to all their tracks for free. (Note to all you SEO heads, it’s Flash so technically not good for SEO – still the content is so good – it doesn’t matter – this reeks of Linkbait.)

Screengrab from Die Antwoord's website

The most important thing

And that brings me to my last point. Yes, Die Antwoord had the backing of Watkykjy and a few other fans with blogs like me. But what really matters is their talent on several fronts. The music is tight, the hooks catchy, the look disturbingly cool. And they have a narrative (brand if you like).

Besides their sound, their Zef look, their accents, where they’re from, all of this is loaded with meaning. They disturb, they delight, they smash stereo types, they’re sexy. It’s remarkable.

This is the first lesson of social media. If your product is a dud, forget it. Buy advertising, that’s your tax for being boring as they say.

If it’s good, you’ll have an army of crazed advertisers to support you at a very low cost.

Leon Botha - DJ Solarise - Die Antwoord

History of Die Antwoord on the Interwebs

April 2009 – Die Antwoord gets a Buitekammertjie on the Watkykjy site featuring 4 free tracks to download.

May – December – A number of South African blogs write about Die Antwoord, more free tracks appear on Watkykjy.

October 5 – Vice magazine writes about Die Antwoord saying that No band from South Africa ever makes it

November – the notorious video in the Taxi appears on Vimeo.

December – Zef side Video appears on Watkykjy and YouTube

January – 13 th, 14th Enter the Ninja appears on Watkykjy and YouTube, and new Website launches with entire album free to stream

January 29ths feature on the Vivalavinyl message board and message board. Possibly also the 4schan message board.

January 31st – discussion begins on the Hipopinion message board
Feb 1st – The Antwoord reaches tipping point. Web searches increase dramatically, Twitter as well. 15:00 The UK Guardian music blog writes about Die Antwoord. Boing Boing writes a first article on Die Antwoord at 10pm US Eastern time.

Feb 5 – Griffin – who runs Watkykjy – reports that he already had over 2 terabytes of data served on the 3rd of Feb alone for the Die Antwoord website.

1-5 Feb – 106k visits 80k unique users.

Die Antwoord is simply poescool.

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