Thursday, 3 March 2011

Big Rethink: the Social Individual


  I may not have got much out of the Connectivity session, but there was plenty of good stuff on this topic in the mixed presentations & panel session which followed, ‘why new ideas are needed to engage changing customers’.  But the real focus was on the importance of the individual.

And actually, although although I didn’t feel it was such a strong theme as connectivity, there had been some key references to the importance of the individual earlier on.

In particular, Julie Meyer had talked about the growing importance of what she calls individual capitalism:


Iqbal Quadir had also talked about the growing focus on individuals rather than government, with a corresponding move to a bottom-up vs top-down governance model.


And I think part of Cory Doctorow’s rant was about the growing focus on individual rather than companies.  (Someone tweeted that they expected Ayn Rand to do the next presentation!)

But in this new session, there’s been much more focus on the individual, within the connected environment I reviewed in my last post.


First was Arthur Potts Dawson from the People’s Supermarket.  This is a shop with a difference, based on Arthur’s belief that organisations need to have a soul and stick to their principles.  The People’s Supermarket focus is about the need for people to think more about their food – which is difficult because people find it difficult to think differently.

The way the People’s Supermarket has made this happen is by establishing a system of membership where people from the local community provide their time free to the organisation, but in return receive a share in the profits.

When Arthur asks people why they shop a the supermarket, they don’t say the usual things.  It’s not because of convenience, and it’s not because of price.  It’s because they have real people and a community.

And the thing that has really driven this sense of community has been getting people talking about themselves and understanding their personalities.  And then really listening to them – as even if they’re only sharing problems, the same people usually have the solutions too.  And getting people listening to each other too.

It’s the sense of community that’s the key to the People’s Supermarket – when individuals become collectives, they become powerful.


Christian Hernandez at Facebook then talked about putting people first in the digital world.

He first reminded us that people are social at the core, also suggesting that the reason Facebook has been successful while other systems have failed is that Facebook has taken the effort to ensure peoples’ profiles are based upon their true identities.  And the main change in the development of the web into the social web has been the way it enables word of mouth at scale (allowing people to find information based upon their friends’ recommendations etc).  This means that the social experiences we used to have in small environments can now be expanded out.

The key has been putting people first on the web, and using people to drive discovery.


So in many ways, it’s the same idea, regardless of whether we think about the social individual in a face-to-face or a digital context.  My own belief is that there are huge opportunities to do both:

-   Very, very few organisations have the same sense of humanity in their traditional,face-to-face relationships as the People’s Supermarket.

-   But very few use social media effectively either.


Paul Lewis from the EIU provided some evidence of this (from new research on ‘redefining corporate value for the social web’:

-   Just 22% of companies have completed a process of redefining customer value, thinking strategically about incorporating social networking and social media into the way they deal with customers.

-   A similar low 22% say that social media has changed the way they think about customers.

-   Over 50% aren’t using technology adequately – preferring to use face-to-face and telephone communication to deal with customers – and only 5% say social media is their main method of interaction with customers.


But we’re clearly at a stage where companies are starting to think strategically about using social media to communicate with the social individual.  Paul suggested thinking about:

-   How do you create conversations with customers using social media?

-   How do you get different departments working together, sharing and analysing data on customers?

-   How do organisations effect change given strong organisational inertia to do nothing?


I’d add the main point about non-digital conversation back in here as well, ie how do organisations maintain and increase the level of humanity expressed through their behaviour when communicating through social media as well as in traditional settings.


And the other key point from Paul was not to wait.  Most organisations don’t know what to do, partly because the tools for channelling and analysing information on customers are not properly developed.  But if you decide to wait you’ll get left behind.  So maybe just track referrals in a small area – but do something!


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