• May 9, 2019
  • In The New York Times the other day, Kara Swisher was doing a pretty good impression of a woman at her wits end over social media’s part in recent killings such as in Sri Lanka over the weekend and in New Zealand a few weeks ago.

    She wrote in part, “[S]ocial media has blown the lids off controls that have kept society in check. These platforms give voice to everyone, but some of those voices are false or, worse, malevolent, and the companies continue to struggle with how to deal with them.”

    Indeed, the social media community seems tied up in knots over what to do about all the abuse happening within their communities but if you look elsewhere you might see signs of solutions that could solve some fundamental problems.

    There’s been a chorus of calls from all corners for social media regulation from pundits like me to the halls of congress and even Mark Zuckerberg himself. A few weeks ago, Zuckerberg penned an editorial in The Washington Post saying that the first things we should work on or regulate include, “harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.”

    But a quick look at the CRM industry and its use of social media coupled with analytics far outpaces anything Zuckerberg’s company is even dreaming about. The solution that works well in CRM occurs almost by accident and companies like Salesforce are bringing solutions to market based implicitly on a few ideas that the greater social media community could emulate.

    Salesforce’s accidental model

    Last week I covered some Salesforce announcements and two that stick out are the Einstein Prediction Builder which enables admins and developers to build AI models for apps running on the Salesforce Platform and the other, Einstein Predictions Service enables admins to embed Einstein AI analytics into third-party systems. Here’s what’s interesting about them.

    The salesforce customer organization owns its data which is stored in Salesforce and it is discriminate about who gets to access it. Each organization manages a minimal set of rules about who can use its data, what it can be used for, and things like frequency of use. It also tracks who uses the data and for what purpose up to the point of providing reports on customer responses. These are some of the elements of a broader and more professionalized use of social media that could be implemented without a lot of fanfare.

    The essence of regulation in our society is that it is bottom up not top down. We just finished tax season and very few of us ever had to consult with a government official or agent who told us what to do and how to file. Instead some of us might file by ourselves and a growing number of tax preparation professionals and software firms handle the rest of the load.

    We don’t take our taxes to the barbershop, we take them to people who are certified to do taxes either through specialized training in a tax course or who are trained accountants and lawyers. Also, if you don’t calculate your own taxes the person who did is supposed to sign the form too. That’s everything we should expect in finding solutions to the current social media mess.


    And it isn’t only tax filing that operates this way. Consider plumbing and electrical work. You are welcome to do it yourself and many people do but for most people and more complicated jobs we’ll gladly hire professionals because they have the right tools and experience. They also have licenses administered by the state which enables them to get a building permit whenever the need to. A job without a permit is liable to be shut down by your municipality for good reasons. Safety and zoning laws are enforced by permits and they help the community to maintain standards and prevent wildcats from doing funky things with the plumbing infrastructure or electric grid.

    But there’s a glaring exception when it comes to social media. What was once seen as an elaborate email system has grown to become a world-girding data gathering and analysis effort to help customers gain insights into people’s actions and motivations. By the way, a customer is, as always, the one who pays the bill and for most social media users that’s not you. You’re another category called product.

    A humble proposal

    Zuckerberg might have a few good points, but he proposes a top down approach when bottom up is much more effective. Top down approaches are often derided as bureaucratic and they are because they require laws to cover all contingencies. In a bottom up world, individuals with a good amount of training make the calls which might not be a perfect situation either but applying local facts to decision-making beats a blizzard of rules.

    So, here’s the pitch. If we had a two or three tier approach to social media certification, we could solve a lot of problems. Uncertified do-it-yourselfers could still operate on a personal level but possibly with some restrictions on number of contacts. By analogy you can mess up your own plumbing but not your neighbor’s. A do-it-yourselfer named Mad Dog shouldn’t be able to blast to the world if you recall the purpose of social media is keeping up with personal relationships.

    Professional users ought to be required to have as much knowledge as a hair stylist to get a certification and mad dogs need not apply. Real names please. Professionals should be required to put their names or license numbers on their work just like an electrician pulling a building permit.

    My two bits

    I am under no delusions that these suggestions would change everything about the social media landscape and perhaps that’s a good thing. Social is successful because it’s spontaneous and it fills a need for maintaining human contact. People beyond the age of reason don’t like being told what to do so any regulation needs to be handled with a light touch. Placing responsibility with the actor fosters a sense of agency, a powerful tool for spreading and sharing responsibility. It works in a lot of places. We should try it in social.



    Published: 4 years ago

    Disruptive innovations drive the economy. First there’s nothing, then something appears in the market and we all realize we’ve been missing the product or service our whole lives. We rush to buy it but soon the market is flooded, copycat products emerge, price erosion commences and the disruption becomes so commonplace that we ignore it. Important disruptions have a chance to become managed utilities, oligarchies with restraints. How can you tell where you are on this wild ride? A few pointers below.

    1. The market is suddenly full of low cost competitors that only do part of what your product does.
    2. The plain vanilla version is no longer enough. Customers want variety.
    3. You can’t keep up with enhancement requests and your service function is overloaded. Customers are getting grouchy.
    4. The glowing articles about you that once filled the media are being replaced by stories about product deficiencies and unhappy customers.
    5. Customers are delaying new orders until a product issue is fixed. Maybe they’re auditioning a competitor.
    6. Various governments want to invent ways to regulate you. None can agree on a common approach and you run the risk of becoming the little Dutch boy with his fingers in the dyke.
    7. Meanwhile your company is trying to automate the product as much as it can and to reduce the need for service. This makes customers happier and reduces overhead so that you can compete in a low margin world.

    There are more issues but you get the idea. The bloom is off the rose as the poets might say. The plain fact is that nothing is “wrong” markets do this. Say’s Law (the Law of Supply and Demand) says, “Supply creates its own demand.” But what they never tell you is that’s only true in new markets. There’s such a thing as oversupply and when that happens prices drop. Your success breeds competition which breeds commoditization, and downward price pressure.

    You might not see all of the symptoms in the short list above because products differ. For example, if you’re lucky enough to have invented something that the world, or a good part of it, can’t live without and it’s so successful that it discourages competition, your customers might not boycott or refuse to reorder. Instead they might take their complaints public.

    That’s a particularly nasty problem for social media companies and other tech vendors today as customers are rethinking their use. Ten years ago social media was hailed as a great new thing that could link people around the world and offer new possibilities for business and even world peace. Today not so much.

    Last week the New York Times ran a story about technologists dismayed by their creations. In “Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built” reporter Nellie Bowles writes,

    A group of Silicon Valley technologists who were early employees at Facebook and Google, alarmed over the ill effects of social networks and smartphones, are banding together to challenge the companies they helped build.

    They’ve organized the Center for Humane Technology http://humanetech.com whose home page says the group aims at “Reversing the digital attention crisis and realigning technology with humanity’s best interests.”

    This isn’t the first time people deeply involved in tech have sounded a warning and introduced course corrections. Many like Gabe Zichermann have attributed our uneasy relationship with modern tech to what Zicherman calls the addiction economy, an outgrowth of the attention economy. Gabe Zichermann is the cofounder and CEO of Onward, a mobile app that uses machine learning to help people strike a balance in how often they use technology.

    A decade ago, before social media really got going, frustrated customers would find creative ways to pillory vendors. One popular approach was to start a website with the company’s name and “sucks” appended to it. The gods of the internet naturally collated those sites last in searches but if you knew what to look for you could find untold horror stories told from the customer’s point of view.

    It got so bad that I invented a metric, the Sucks Score and I wrote about it in a book. It was a simple calculation of the number of hits you got when searching. I haven’t looked for those signs and symptoms in years simply because social media has taken all of the (minimal) work out of the process. Today we can flame anyone on social media and it takes no special skill. Even a septuagenarian businessman can effectively leverage the technology.

    But what happens when the go-to technology of social interaction becomes the disfavored and disrespected? That’s when you really know that your 15 minutes are almost up. What to do about it?

    First, take a breath, then another. Knowing this kind of thing happens all the time is no help when it’s happening to you. But things could be worse—your brainchild could have been bought and chopped up. Time to take a look at your business model. If it’s the same one you started the business with, think again. A recent article in the MIT Sloan Business Review points out that some of the most successful models involve incorporating partners and their capital into a grander scheme of entrepreneurship. Business models are coming back into vogue and there will be more in a future post.



    Published: 6 years ago