How Can Social Media Scale?

In a discussion with a friend recently about how to scale up social media I was reminded of some similarities between a trend from the turn of the century and techniques for developing social media evangelists today.

My friend and I were discussing how to scale social media relationship marketing. My contention is that no matter what businesses do, Customer 2.0 is currently more influenced by friends’ – or even strange but real people – recommendation than almost any other single buying decision input. If the old ways of marketing and advertising go the way of the buggy whip or the bookstore (see this article), how can social media scale to take its place?

That topic is actually the subject of a future post. During the discussion of social media scaling, I recalled the post below, whimsically entitled A POX on P2P and realized that the central concept of my proposed solution – the identification of key influencers, called cool seeking – is not a new concept at all.

I wrote an online newsletter back in the day (August, 2001) and one of my topics at the time was peer-to-peer (P2P) computing. The buzz at the time concerned P2P music sharing services like Napster and Limewire, and also efforts to combine the computing power of hundreds of computers to solve a problem, like finding extraterrestrial life (the SETI@Home screensaver project and modern protein folding projects).

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Some rights reserved by Keng Susumpow

Below is a slightly edited version of that 10-year-old post. We’ll continue the “can social media scale” discussion in a future post.

Once again consumers may lead a technology revolution that will advance technology that can be used by business. Many analysts have recognized that peer-to-peer (P2P) computing and wireless technology is a match made in heaven. You’ve got all these devices out there in people’s pockets. What if they could communicate directly with one another? [remember, this was before universal text messaging; way back last decade, you might be able to text, but only to others on the same phone service as you.]The possibilities are endless. I particularly can’t wait for a wireless application to help me find kindred contacts at business networking meetings and conferences, for example. [I actually had to wait only a year, when a Twin Cities-based company released such an app, which failed because it was way before its time.]

Now it’s looking like gaming may be the killer app for wireless P2P. Alert SNS Reader Andrew Hargreave sends along an item on toymaker Hasbro’s efforts to market their new peer-to-peer handheld game, POX. In a twist to the tired cliché, “viral marketing,” Hasbro operatives hit the playgrounds of Chicago asking kids, “Who’s the coolest kid you know?” They then found the cool kids in question, and asked them the same question. They continued in this way until they found a kid who replied, “Me.” (Is it just me, or is this kind of a creepy way to do marketing? Do you want strange adults asking these questions of your kids?)

About 1,600 of these so-called alpha pups were corralled in small groups and given the pitch for the POX game (which Alert SNS Reader Deb Ellsworth says should be referred to as a “game platform.” [Although a technophobe, my wife’s wicked smaht.]) Playing POX involves creating alien warriors, called Infectors, to use to fight other players and collect their body parts. The game contains a radio frequency unit that allows players within 30 feet to play, even through walls. Each alpha pup was given 10 of the $25 units to give out to their friends. The characters the players create can be set to do battle automatically with any fellow player who walks by, even while the unit sits in a school locker.

In other infectious news, 10,000 middle-school-aged students in Detroit, Miami, and Union City, New Jersey, are testing a program called “Cooties” on donated and pre-owned Palm PDAs. The University of Michigan’s Center for Highly Interactive Computing developed the classroom learning program, backed by a $16 million Palm and National Science Foundation grant, with the aim of teaching kids about the ways diseases spread. To spread Cooties, teachers beam a fictitious virus to selected Palms. Students break into smaller groups and map how the virus spreads throughout the class. Palm obviously hopes the project will show teachers that teaching using Palms is easier than using personal computers.

[ . . . ]

Despite the fact that businesses are ordinarily not too concerned about games (except when they impair productivity), enterprises should keep an eye on the wireless P2P gaming arena, as it will probably generate several innovations that can be put into practice in business computing. Besides, knowing this stuff helps you look cool (OK, somewhat more cool) to your kids.

OK, that’s an oldie but goldie post from a decade ago. How does this apply to scaling social media to replace the fading effect of traditional marketing?

That’s the topic for the next post in this series, How to Scale Social Media, and if you’d like to weigh in on the conversation, reply below and perhaps I’ll incorporate your ideas in the next post.