Networks as “Organic Behavior in a Technical Matrix”

Think of Bees

Photo Credits: justus.thane

Photo Credits: justus.thane

In this Saturday’s class, Brent Friedman went over the details of his online creation, Valemont. What is most intriguing about this was, based on the premise of the story he was able to build a community of people so engaged in this world who were willing to put their time into building alternate personalities and creating relationships with other people doing the same thing. He created a network around this show. And, what was so interesting was the show was also based on a network – a physical network of cellphones hosted on Verizon and an abstract network of people connected to one common event, the death of a main character.

The success of Valemont was not the show alone, but the ability to create a community of invested individuals. This is an obvious point, though. What is less obvious is what made it so attractive to the demographic? What need did it fill for these people?

“The only factor becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention.” -Kevin Kelly

This is the secret sauce. And one that needs to be constantly reevaluated. Today it might be Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and cell phones. Next year it might be Tablets, smart gear and social network that we haven’t discovered or a new way to use one we already have.  There is no durable mutation on the Internet. This is where “organic behavior” really takes effect on a “technical matrix.” Ultimately, the networks we target are made of people, and people are finicky, bored easily, and distracted by the dimmest of bright lights. Catching this changing mob is like trying to contain a swarm of bees, not only would it be almost impossible to do, they get really angry when they realize what is going on.

But bees are also probably one of the most organized networks in nature and can be highly predictable when equipped with the right knowledge and tools. This is how a networker and communicator must think of their audience.

We know they are changing, we know they are suspicious, we know they have needs and are more than willing to engage when given the right set of ingredients. But we must not allow ourselves to ease into assumptions of what they will do or what they want, and to ensure that we don’t we must listen, even more that we communicate or produce content, we must listen to what the networks are telling us.

The Whole Point

In this blog, I wish to post the first assignment for the University of Washington Graduate Program I am in titled Masters in Communication in Digital Media, or MCDM. This assignment was to outline our “Terms of Engagement.” Why are we here? What do we want to become? What do you want to be when you grow up? This is the whole point, right?

Well, maybe in one fraction of my life, this is the whole point. This is the whole point of my professional goals. And I have to admit that there isn’t much I wouldn’t give up to pursue these as far as they can go.

At the end of the quarter we need to rewrite them to see if we have learned something about the program, industry, ourselves, our writing, our communication. One piece of feedback I do believe was very justified by the leader of the program, Hanson Hosein, was that I need to consider the idea that the digital and the real are no longer separate, the barriers are melding together. Digital is so present in real life that is has become our real life. Touche Hanson, perhaps I already have one edit for the end of the year.

Technology is changing at a ridiculous pace. Ridiculous in that it looks ridiculous if you step back and watch – like shoppers on Black Friday crawling and scrabbling over each other in attempt to be the first one to grab the item of the year.  As a communicator within the raging river of technological development, I must take into account not only how the medium changes but how the audience’s relationship with each medium adjusts. It has been noted that with the evolution of social media, consumers who previously had little power, now easily voice their responses to an equally large audience. Now, potential consumers talk, yell, praise and most importantly, listen to other consumers. This is not a river that cannot be navigated. With experience, observation, preparation and creativity even the rapids can be successfully crossed. I would like to be recognized for this ability to navigate the changing organization-consumer relationship and develop strategies that bridge this ever shifting gap.

Ultimately, the organization is still a public speaker proposing an idea to the masses with hopes of influencing individuals to take some action. In this way, I need to master communication as an artful address, or, in other words, by using the Rhetorical Tradition defined in Em Griffin’s “A First Look at Communication Theory.” Using this tradition as a foundation for developing the skills I will need to be successful, I will learn to evoke emotion through storytelling and micro-stories. I will learn to create a voice of expertise, empathy and problem solving that will build a relationship with the audience just as Aristotle emphasized replicating friendship bonds between speaker and audience.

However, this specific tradition does not fully encompass the current organization-consumer relationship. As previously mentioned the audience now responds without hesitation and without regard for the speaker. Therefore, I will need to expand this theory to include elements of the Phenomenological Tradition, also referenced in Griffin’s book. This theory is defined as “communication as the experience of self and others through dialogue.” Social networks, because of their existence primarily in digital form, present unique challenges to communication unfamiliar to a speaker in a public setting with a live audience sitting before him. There is constant and high danger of misunderstanding in digital communication. After all, how often have we received a text message from a friend that we have severely misunderstood due to lack of contextual clues? Therefore, the communication between organization and consumer over digital platforms must not only rely on one-way messaging but strongly on those responses from the audience in order to learn and understand their perspectives. This mastery is depicted well in Hanson Hosein’s “Storyteller Uprising: Trust and Persuasion in the Digital Age” in an example the final section of the book when he references the U.S. Army’s campaign “Army Strong Stories.” As Hosein describes, this organization was able to allow the audience powerful voice while still staying in command of the overall message sent to the masses. I imagine, based on this description as well as personal experience, this campaign not only affected people while online, but also inspired action in real life, including changing opinions on the organization as a whole, changing option of the members of the army as individuals and shifting potential soldiers away from hesitations and towards passionate enlisting.

This brings me to my personal Action Idea for my time in MCDM. Online Social Networks are generally underutilized for their greater potential to impact real life. I want to develop an understanding of communication and storytelling strategies to become a recognized innovator in building social graph connections to drive inspired engagement that affects the audience beyond the digital world in a positive or revealing way.

 

Thoughts on what else I should consider before my time is up in this first quarter?