The “Splinternet” is Bad News, and I blame Apple

Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research has written a must-read post on the splintering of the Web, saying that the golden days of the standardized, open-source Web are over. He says we should prepare ourselves for a world in which platforms function well enough within their ecosystems, but are deaf to the rest of the universe around them.

Mobile devices and online networks are the most obvious examples. iPhone apps don’t work on a Blackberry, and vice versa. Facebook apps only work on Facebook. LinkedIn exists by itself in a corner of the world. Their citizens seem quite happy with this state of affairs.

I say it’s bad news, and Apple shares a large part of the blame.

From its beginnings, Apple has refused to play the open source game. It almost died in the 1990s when its closed-end desktop system nearly became irrelevant (except to graphic designers and school systems), but it saved itself by introducing a game-changing, closed-source music ecosystem, then by launching its closed-source, category-killing smartphone. See a pattern?

The irony is that Apple fan boys, who used to demonize Microsoft for its all-Windows-all-the-time dreams of world domination, look the other way when Apple rips pages from the same playbook. Apple will play with you, but only on its terms. Arrogance, anyone? (The same applies to RIM, Facebook and all the rest.)

But Apple’s shareholder value is through the roof, so others are emulating it. Those of us in marketing and communications must now develop on dozens of platforms, each mute to its neighbor, just to engage a critical mass of our markets or communities. Apple didn’t invent this trend, but the turtle-neck wearing guy from Cupertino made it not only acceptable, but admirable.

This is a betrayal of the ideals that made the Web such a revolutionary force – connectivity and community. Instead, these new platforms behave like toddlers on a play date – engaged in their own activities, unaware of the kid next to them. You can’t blame toddlers; their minds haven’t developed enough. Parallel play is all they can do. But these technology companies know better.

You might argue that this development is only the next stage in the 40-year-old fragmentation of communication platforms, but it’s worse than that. It’s a huge step backward for the information economy, isolating people from information and each other, and foisting exorbitant new development costs on to business. These rising costs can only exert a downward pressure on economic growth and prosperity. (Please: Don’t even try to sell me on the idea that the iPhone’s elegance is an excuse for this betrayal.)

Bernoff says it’s too late; that we can’t ask for a return of the standardized, interoperable web. I’m not willing to give up yet. If closed-source efforts at world domination were bad coming from Redmond, why are they so virtuous coming from Cupertino?


Forrester Updates its Social Technographics Model

Forrester Research (of which I am a fan) has just updated its Social Technographics Ladder, its model for measuring an audience’s engagement with social media tools.

Josh Bernoff and his team have added a group called “conversationalists,” people who update their social networking site or their Twitter status at least once a week.

Here’s the cool thing – their initial number puts the figure at 33% of all online adults in the U.S.  As Phil Rizzuto would say, holy cow!

When I get some time [ha!], I’ll dig into our raw data and try to get a sense of where our members were, when we did our last Social Technographics survey of our members seven months ago. We did ask about Twitter usage (barely 10%), but I would be willing to bet that the numbers have moved a lot since then.

Forrester: Social Media Is Now Mainstream Media

Photo by Matthew Field, via FlickrForrester Research today released its third annual social technographics profile of online adults around the world, and there’s only one possible conclusion: Social media is now in the mainstream – at least the consumption of social media.

Social technographics is Forrester’s lens through which it analyzes what people do with social media. Do they read it or look at it, do they create it, do they share it, or are they doing something else?

In the latest survey, 73% of all US adults are “spectators,” which means they read it, or look at it, at least once a month. Half of adults are “joiners,” which means they participate in a social network like Facebook. This is double the percentage from just two years ago.

Curiously, the number of people who regularly write blogs, upload video and music, or otherwise create content remains at 24%, compared to 18% in 2007. This does not disprove the importance of social media. To the contrary, it ratifies a hypothesis of Clay Shirky’s, which is that inside any collaborative effort, there is always a tiny group of people running the engine.

These findings echo the recent social technographic survey my association conducted on our members, Massachusetts physicians, around the same time that Forrester was in the field with its survey. Even among our members – median age around 50 – social media is a regular part of their existence.

Shel Holz wrote earlier today that NOW is the time to get into the online conversation with your communities. Couldn’t agree more.

But be careful. There is still much wisdom in the notion that you must start small, get it right, attract a following , and then grow.

As Shirky told the ASAE and the Center ‘s annual meeting last week, it’s a lot easier to start small, get good and get bigger, than to start large, be bad at it, and then try to make it better.

I would add, it’s not only easier, but probably a lot faster, too.

Social Network Usage Among Physicians is Soaring

Photo by TwOsE, via FlickrA year ago, our medical society was one of the first associations to privately license Forrester Research’s survey tool to determine the social technographics profile of our membership, physicians in Massachusetts. Review last year’s findings here.

A key takeaway last year was that physicians are definitely part of the social media world. They weren’t leading the pack by any means, but they use social media tools at least as frequently as their peers in their group – and sometimes more often.

Given the explosion of social media tools in the past year, we thought it was already time to refresh the data and invest in another survey using Forrester’s tool. In late June, we sent an e-mail survey to a large cross section of our membership. This year’s sample was much more robust, with nearly 800 members responding, compared to the 522 who answered the same survey a year ago.

Key takeaways

  • Our physicians are still strong consumers of social media content, even relative to the general public. “Spectators” account for 74% of our membership, almost exactly equal to the proportion of the US adult population.
  • “Creators” are still under-represented among our members, even among our younger physicians. “Creators” are the people who write blogs, upload photos and videos, and so forth. In the general US population, the creating class comes from the young. But only 12% of our members 25 to 34 were “creators,” compared to 19% of US adults in the same age group. A year ago, I speculated that the chief reason was time – the lack of it. I still think that’s true. Our young members age 25 to 34 are medical students and residents, and are among most time-starved of any young professional group. But they do consume the content by the bushel — only 5% of this group is considered “inactive.”
  • Physicians’ use of social networks – as a specific social media tool – is growing very, very fast. Thirty-two percent of members were classified as joiners – those who use Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks. That is just a shade under the US adult population of 35%. Last year, 21% were Joiners. (Learn the definitions of Forrester’s social technographic “ladder” in an online slide show.)
  • The percentage of those who visit social networks rose 50%. Among physicians age 45 to 54, 26% visit social networks at least once a month, triple the number from a year ago.
  • The number of those who maintain a social network site rose 60% for all members, doubled among physicians 35 to 44 and tripled for those 45 to 54.


A year ago, the case for focusing on social networks rested mostly on our younger members. This year, there’s a critical mass for online networks among every age group, even those over 55. Given Facebook’s growth since last summer, this may not be surprising. But until we did this survey, it wasn’t clear that this applied to our members. Now, we know that it does.

There is still a strong case for developing RSS feeds, tagging, ratings, reviews, blogs, widgets for portals (iGoogle), video and podcasts. It’s no longer a question of whether there are fish in those ponds – we know there are. Now it’s a question of business and marketing strategy – not if we fish there, but where and when.

One final note

I asked Forrester to add one more question – whether our members use Twitter. Four percent of our total sample uses Twitter regularly – about 8% among those age 25 to 34. Forrester didn’t use the answers to calculate social technographic profiles, but it is a good baseline number for the future nonetheless.

Digital Now 2009: What Will You Do on Monday?

Digital Now logoDigital Now’s annual conference last week, as always, wonderfully captured the spirit of the association community, and its love/hate affair with technology. There was no need to persuade people that social media will be the media of the future, nor of the idea that social media is the modern expression of the association’s core purpose. That’s been done.

Instead, what arose were two things: The eyewitness experience of the potential of microblogs, and a quiet determination to do social media right.

Let’s rewind a bit.

At Digital Now three years ago, social media was just beginning to leak into the association world. It was intriguing and enticing.

Two years ago, many speakers were singing the praises of blogs, online communities, Second Life, and more. The cool tools were the drug of the day.

A year ago, there was palpable disillusionment. Memorably, one guy said, “We started a social network last year, and the crickets are chirping.”

Clay ShirkyThis year, with the euphoria gone and the hangover eased, there was a new spirit – we have to get this right. Clay Shirky, the keynote speaker on the first day, said that the public doesn’t find technology useful, until it’s technically boring. It’s not about the tools, dude.

He also began the main theme of the weekend when he said that it’s much easier to start small with a good system, and let it grow, than to start with a bad system and try to fix it.

That’s what theme of the weekend was: Go simple. It was repeated again, and again, and again.

For me this has always been difficult. I always want to do things with a splash. I like the idea of the big bang, the serial atta-boys, and so forth. But as I shared with about a dozen attendees at the small session I led, the big bang approach got us a few crickets, some bruises, and the possibility of many lessons learned. One observed, “Sometimes, it comes down to ego.”

He’s right. So simple it will be.

At the same time, the conference created a trap for the attendees. Twitter is the phenomenon of the year, right? This was the weekend that Oprah went into rapture with her first tweet, and singlehandedly slowed Twitter to a frustrating crawl.

Twitter was the wow technology of Digital Now. About a quarter of attendees (including me) tweeted throughout the conference, using #dn09 and #digitalnow. Reading back on the tweets, it’s like reading the transcript of a good baseball game: Long stretches of ordinariness and tedium, punctuated by spontaneous outbursts of spectacular brilliance.

As a whole, Twitter got the job done. Its power to create a community was plainly visible. But the trap is that it creates the temptation run home and recreate this for the folks at home. Wrong. OK, no technology could be simpler. But if you build it, they won’t come – not even for Twitter.

Charlene LiSo how does this become like the “air” of the association? On the final day, the soft-spoken and wise Charlene Li, the co-author of the great social media book “Groundswell,” wrapped it all up.

Her talk was a little about strategy, but mostly about implementation. As she said, this has to relate back to your corporate strategy. She said that when she works with a company, the first things she asks for is the company’s strategic plan. Without that link, social media is a waste of time.

Her four parting points:

1-    Find your revolutionaries, and cultivate the “realist/optimists;” the people who will eagerly try new things but never lose sight of the pragmatic impulse. These people will be your most effective at promoting adoption throughout the organization.
2-    Start really small.
3-    Measure the right things. She didn’t talk about visits, or links, or such. She talked about “net promoter scores,” and “lifetime value” of each of your customers. These get closer to the strategic heart of your business than any clickstream could ever do.
4-    Embrace failure, because it’s a guarantee that you will fail (whew!). Relationships are hard to do right 100% of the time. She pointed out that Walmart failed spectacularly three times before hitting the right note with its blog for merchandise buyers.

Charlene ended with a simple question: “What will you do on Monday?” This brought it all home. Pick one thing to start on Monday, and act on it. This started about 25 different small group discussions that could have lasted for an hour.

The conversation continues. One speaker, Peter Hirshberg of Technorati, reminded us of how recent this whole social media thing is. It was only five years ago that blogs dethroned CBS News. Yet today, as he demonstrated in a video, social media is the air that 12 and 13 years olds breathe. TV is so … old.

It will be like air for associations, too, and soon – if we get it right before our competitors do.

Four Books that Made a Difference in 2008

Too many good books, too little time.

Many of the books I read are eventually forgettable, but some endure. Here are four business books I read this year that have remained with me.

By Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
These two folks from Forrester Research (Charlene has since moved on to a solo life) wrote the defining social technology strategy book for the year.

Their methods for developing your strategic intent and your audience or organizational readiness are amazing. My copy is already dog-eared. We licensed their survey tool in July, and it provided critical information to developing our approach.

Their fundamental contribution to the world is the Social Technographics Ladder, which identifies peoples’ behavior in their use of social technology better than any before.

It provides far more openings for action than the 90-9-1 rule. Once you have nailed your strategy and your audience’s places in the ladder, then you can define your implementation plan – but only then. Technology choices come LAST.

While this has dozens of great case studies, it is not a detailed how-to book. But after digesting its wisdom, you won’t need them to tell you what to do. You’ll know.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
By Clay Shirky
Like Groundswell, this book is indispensable to those puzzling through the strategic and contextual questions of social technologies. But it also provides compelling specific examples of how social technologies are changing life today.
Plus, it has the single most mind-blowing line of the year: “Every web page is a latent community.”

Secrets of Social Media Marketing
By Paul Gillin
A great tactical book. I finished it only recently, and I suspect it will be dog-eared by the spring. Paul understands the interplay between the social technologies and traditional media.

Perhaps his wisest words are early in the book, where he asserts that social media is not right for every job. And then he explains why. That’s only the start.

By Seth Godin
I understand that Seth isn’t for everybody, but I am definitely a fan. I first consumed this book on my iPod, then ran out to get the paper copy because it is so freaking wise. It inspires, it directs, it cajoles.

To paraphrase one amazing passage:
–    If I don’t persuade you
–    If you don’t learn from me
–    If you do not follow me …

… it’s not your fault. It’s mine.

It might feel better to blame the other guy for the above, but at the end of the day, it makes you a victim and robs you of your power. If you assume from the start that you are responsible for your own life, you can learn from anything – especially failure.

What books made a difference for you this year?

New Forrester Report: Social Media Adoption Explodes

Social Technographics Ladder, from Forrester Research

Forrester Research has updated the fabulous Social Technographics study that was the star of the recent book Groundswell, and results are amazing.

Forrester found that the percentage of US online adults who are “spectators” has grown from 48% to 69%. The number of “inactives” has fallen sharply – from 44% to 25%. Joiners, Collectors and  Critics were all significantly higher.

The bottom line: Proof that “social content is going mainstream,” writes Josh Bernoff of Forrester. The fastest growing group of adopters is adults between the ages of 35 and 44.

All of this matches up quite nicely with the survey we did of the members of our own Massachusetts Medical Society in June of this year.

This could be written off as a “dog bites man” kind of story, but from where I sit, these are HUGE jumps.

Something interesting, though: Forrester found that Creators, the people who write blogs, upload  video or music, etc., remain a small section of online adults. Last year, they were 18% of adults, and this year they’re still only 21%.

Josh Bernoff of Forrester, who announced the findings in his blog today, has some theories.

What do you think?

Are Your Members Ready for Social Technologies? Maybe More Than You Think!

My team at the Massachusetts Medical Society has been working on social media technologies for more than two years. In March ’07, we launched our own social network, for members only.

Our results have been OK, but have not matched our hopes. So when we started to do a re-set of our social media strategy and program, we wondered: Were our shortcomings rooted in our strategy, our execution, or our markets? It may be a combination of all three, but which combination? How should we focus our work?

When the book Groundswell unveiled a smart, simple planning model this past spring, we jumped all over it. Authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff say you need to start by learning if your markets (members) are actually using social media. In other words, are there any fish in the pond where you want to fish?

We bought a license for a one-time use of Forrester’s survey instrument to learn where our people are playing in the social media world. Forrester’s people studied the results and scored our members on their social technographic profile ladder (see image). Here’s what we learned.

These percentages reflect the MMS members who engage in the activities in those profiles at least once a month.

Now, look at how they compare to Forrester’s survey of all US adults in 2007 (see chart).

This was mind blowing! This survey obliterated most preconceptions we had of a technophobic, conservative membership. Our members use the social media tools at least as frequently as the general public. While these percentages are relatively small in an absolute sense, they have been robust enough to fuel the worldwide social technology engine today.

Below the top line numbers in our survey, there were even more interesting findings:

Members from 25 to 34 are “creators” 38% less frequently than US adults in the same age group. This was a shock. While it could be sampling error, we didn’t think so. We suspect this is because medical students and residents have almost no free time, compared to others in their age group. Residents, for example, average about 80 hours per week on the job. Not many young professionals toil under that kind of workload.

This could be a challenge for us, because folks under 40 are the great engine of the social media world. They create most of the content. So that could be a problem for our efforts.

However, we also learned that our 25-34 year old members are very active in social networks. They are “joiners” 50% more frequently than their peers among the general public. So that’s how they use social media, and that’s where we should fish. We will focus on our social technology efforts on young physicians in online communities.

Next observation: Though smaller in numbers, older physicians are much more willing to experiment in the social media space than other 45+ adults in the US. That’s important, because our median member age is about 50. There is one important exception to this finding – online communities. Starting at age 40, our members’ use of online communities falls off the cliff (see chart). But as Facebook grows, that distinction may also change.

Two more areas where our members participate much more frequently than the average US adult:

  • RSS feeds. They use iGoogle, MyYahoo and other widgets, a lot. So we will exploit the living daylights out of inbound and outbound RSS when we launch our new website early next year.
  • Ratings and reviews. They read and post ratings and reviews well above national averages. In Forrester’s strategy model, ratings and review could help drive our sales of online education courses, because everyone trusts their peers’ judgment.

It’s clear. Social media technologies can help MMS achieve our objectives and fulfill our mission. Now it’s up to us to plan it right, promote it well, and manage it smartly. (No more excuses. Gulp.)

So I wonder: If our conservative, cautious doctors are ready for it, maybe your people are ready too.

ASAE Annual Meeting – So Social

(My first post!)

OK, the ASAE annual meeting ended almost a week ago … but I was on the beach in SD, so cut me a little slack, OK?

Social media continues to be the major theme at these association meetings. Everyone – not just the techies – is trying to figure out how to do it right. But who really knows for sure? But as a speaker at last year’s ASAE conference said wisely, “Relax. We’re all learning about this together.”

The best we have are good, reasonable models for getting going.

Full disclosure: Our own social media program has been neither a slam dunk nor an utter disaster. Our effort, MMS eCommunities, is available only to our members. Some areas have done OK, and others have not. More on that at another time.

Yet because we started this stuff two years ago, we have more bruises than most. So I think we’re qualified to share something about what we’ve learned.

1. Strategy matters. A LOT. I thought we had it figured out 2 years ago, but not well enough. We need to go back to our purpose over and over and over and over again. Still working on it.

2. Know your audience. REALLY. The genius of Groundswell is that Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff nailed a great method to get that done. We licensed their survey tool and got three results. One, it  validated some things we thought we were true. Two, it debunked others. Three, it blew us away with the unexpected.

One of my personal contributions to the ASAE meeting was sharing the results of our Forrester survey with some folks. Lindy Dreyer interviewed me onsite to talk about the basic findings. (I’ll share more of it with you, real soon. If it helps you think through some things, great.)

3. Execution matters. In retrospect, we may have messed up a few things in the execution of MMS eCommunities (member ID needed). The user experience may be confusing. And maybe we made a big mistake giving it an entirely different visual design from our main website. I think we — no, I — got carried away with the “hey this is new and cool and you gotta use it” thing. I wasn’t the first, nor will I be the last.

So now while we’re upgrading our entire website – from the basement to the attic – we’ve been thinking about how it will use social media. Haven’t yet figured it out … I think we’re getting there.

So let’s learn together.

(Yes – the meeting was lots of fun, too. I think I can say with some accuracy that I was mostly able to keep up with the YAPs.)