Category Archives: Social Media

Stop listening to your customers–The power of observe + ask

I just read a really great article in Harvard Business Review by Steve Martin (not that Steve Martin) titled, Stop Listening to Your Customers. I got this from one of my colleagues here at Philips Laurens Massee via our internal social network.

The point is that people often report is that we’re not always very good at talking about causality of what we do or predicting whether we will do something in the future. From the article:

Not only are we pretty poor at recognizing what will influence our future behavior, we’re not that great at recognizing what persuaded us after the event either. In one well-known study conducted at a busy New York City subway station, after counting the percentage of commuters who donated to a street musician as they walked past him, researchers made one small change to the situation: Immediately before an approaching commuter reached the musician, another person (who was in on the act) would drop a few coins into the musician’s hat. The result? An eight-fold increase in donations. When interviewed afterwards, those who donated universally failed to attribute their actions to the fact they had seen someone else give money first, preferring instead to provide alternate (and incorrect) justification for their actions. “I liked the song he was playing”; “I’m a generous person”; and “I felt sorry for the guy.”

What I have to say is that

if all we do is ask & listen then we’re getting very poor data. Asking, especially survey work needs to be tempered and based on observation. Observation and getting people involved with actually buying, unpacking, and using our products and then asking them questions will yield yield much better data that can be used in powerful ways. This is not a quant vs. qual thing, it’s as my colleague Laurens says, the right tools for the right things.

In general organization have become over reliant on what is perceived to be cheap, easy to gather, often quantitative measures. This has to stop.

One last topic that we need to address is who does the studies. The article recommends small field trials. Who should conduct these? I suggest the use of outside agencies to help stage them and do recruiting as needed, but we actually conduct them by people inside the organizatoin, by someone who is on the team that will use the results, or someone trained to do them who is in-house who can then share them with the team. This way the knowledge of how to do them and the accumulated knowledge from study to study builds up inside the organization and not outside of it.

This is the power of both observing and asking. Doing just one or the other will not give you the best data.

What ration of observe to ask is appropriate though…. what do you think?

It’s the conversation that counts

Let me say it again: It’s the conversation that counts.  I’m talking about social media and some people are looking at at the title and saying, “duh! of course it is.”  I’ve read some interesting blog posts recently and with the advent of Google Buzz we’re starting to see how conversation is put much more into focus.  I’ve noticed often if it is a very long blog post I’ll often skim the first part and then just go right down to the comments and see what people are saying about it.  In Twitter I see replies to things (even those directed at me) and I have to go back and look at what we were talking about.  This happens especially after a weekend when I’m online a lot less.   I want to see what people were talking about. I’ve also been using Yammer on the Philips network over the last while and been happy to see that when people reply to others it’s possible in the client and on the website you can click thread and see the whole conversation.  Facebook has become much more conversational with commenting not just on pictures (as it used to be) but you can comment or like just about anything in people’s activity stream.  It’s not just about what you’re doing, what you think, and what you are writing, but talking about it to others that is important.

Well as those who’ve seen it already google buzz seems to be putting the conversation part of the whole social media experience front and center.  As people comment on things it appears in your inbox.  Te me this is a bit what I was hoping for with google wave.  I think there are a couple reasons why Google buzz is much more likely to succeed than some of the other efforts out there in this space.  Fortune has a good little article about how Microsoft and Yahoo were quick to point out they’ve been doing this “for a very long time” i.e. since 2008 which in the internet reality distortion field is really is a long time.  The reason why I think this is so is how the conversation becomes so important to the level that one is notified in their inbox about new comments.

Is it a good thing?

Do you really want to be notified every time someone comments on something?  Well I suppose it all depends on if you’re an email & social media junkie.  I personally am moving away from having my email on a constant IV drip into my system distracting me from some of the other things that are so important to my work that require longer periods of distraction free time.  For those who are already obsessively in their gmail inbox, I suspect that they will grow even more obsessed and glued to the screen.  Is this a good thing?  It will be for the individual to decide, but personally I like the more conversation centric thing, and since I’m already well on my way to practicing moderation in my email checking habits, it won’t bother me at all to have it mixed in there.

techno-feteshism & techno-utopianism

I noticed again that I don’t know any person in the HCI community who doesn’t use one or more of the following email providers:

  1. University email
  2. gmail
  3. Their own domain email
  4. An organization email (like or other collective, it usually forwards to another account though)

It should be noted that some universities like IU are now turning to gmail or hotmail for student use at least.  Many people who have email at their own domain look to gmail/google apps to power their email.  I’m very hard pressed to name anyone that I’ve worked with closely that doesn’t use either university provided email and/or gmail.  Almost every person I’ve interacted with on twitter does the same.

Yet once you slip out of the technorati and the realm of students I hang with (though certainly not the student body at large) gmail is less common.  Strangely so many of the technorati are independents, or at least insist on using their own emails instead of a corporate account.  Whether this is because they’ve moved around enough that they know they don’t want to lose their email address when they change jobs, or they simply refuse to have corporate email systems foisted upon them I do not know.

Am I delusional and detecting patterns here that simply do not exist?  Perhaps they are not as widespread as I think, but there is a pattern there.

What does it mean? Well I think it may be an indication of those who care about technology and they care about how they look to others in terms of what technologies they use.  I think that often those who think that they are “in the know” as far as technology is concerned may also judge those who are not.  I know that I do sometimes.

Here’s an example: If I see a business that posts and email addess I assume they have no idea what it means to work with technology and what they try and do with technology will be second rate.  I will try avoid that person and business if I can.

I, and I assume at least some others, are at least to some extent technofetishists and/or techno-utopians.  We love our technology, we think it will solve our problems and that one day things will be like Star Trek (the latest movie of which is coming out tomorrow, can’t wait).  So why does this matter at all?

For those who are working on design, and espeically designs that are supposed to innovate and/or create social change, this can be a dangerous thing.  We tend towards technical solutions, or emphasizing the technical in the design of systems.  “Technology will save us, it must, because what else will?” seems to be the thought there.  I must admit that this kind of thinking is part of the problem in my opinion.  This kind of thinking has the tendency to marginalize the human.  So if we are trying to practice human-centered design, should we always be looking for technology to solve a problem?  Perhaps it is the driving need to be able to scale something, make it duplicable, and homogenous/systematized that we so often look for in business and science.  If we are truly to practice something that is human-centered, something that is more than just reductionistic do we need to leave our technofetishism and utopianism at the door? Maybe, or at least we need to box it up and set it aside from time to time, or at least a lot more often.

Is this a dichotomy? No I don’t think so, but it is something to be aware of.

How to twitter Part 2 What not to do

This is part of an ongoing series, see part 1

Twitter is a newish medium, and it is still growing and changing very rapidly.  I could go on and on about how in the last year alone twitter has grown by 10 times, how the simple convention of “@ replies” and hashtags (a word preceded with a #) were developed independently by users and now @ replies are part of the official twitter interface and program.  As such many, many surprising things are happening on twitter.  One of the twitter founders even gave a TED talk about it. So yes there is a lot happening there, but that doesn’t mean anything goes.

Just today I had someone follow me on twitter.  They were very good about customizing their twitter page, added a bio, a real name, even a location.  They didn’t choose to show their face, but rather an image they felt conveyed the image they were trying to project, that is OK, but still not what I wold recommend.  They even customized the background image of the page and the colors of the fonts etc.  It actually looks quite good.  They made a few mistakes though:

  1. They followed over ONE THOUSAND people in a short period of time
  2. They haven’t updated their status AT ALL.
  3. They crammed too much in and used all caps.

Let’s run it down by the numbers.  You can’t possibly interact with that many people that quickly in any meaningful way.  IF you hoped to just drive a few hits to your website and you don’t really plan on participating on twitter you are essentially a spammer.  You are not welcome, go away, no one wants that. This is like inviting 1000 people you don’t know to a party, but it’s at a public park and all you have there is a sign telling people to go somewhere else. The party metaphor is a powerful one, I recommend reading this if you are interested.  In what twitter calls a “one line bio” they tried to add way too much information, and then half of it is in all capital letters.  This is akin to shouting, and most people think shouting is rude. So essentially if you are being genuine in your efforts and are not a spammer you’ve sent way too many people to no where, been rude to them, and add no value at all to their lives.

Next up we’ll talk about what to twitter.

How to twitter Part 1, the how

Unlike what is claimed above twitter  isn’t exactly that, and there are lots of good reasons to join twitter, but more importantly how do you get started?  There have been some attempts by others that explain how to twitter, including some by twitter themselves.  You can certainly google it, and you’ll find some decent things, but a lot of that is about the why.

First go to and sign up. It looks just like the image above, click get started–Join.  Your username will be important, so choose one you like, most people use some variation of their name or nickname, I recommend something like mine (houssian) or my good friend Kevin Makice (kmakice).  Once you have signed up, in order for anyone to take you seriously you need to add some information to your profile, I’ll talk more about why in a later part. To do this:

  1. Click on settings (this is near your name/picture on your twitter home page)
  2. Fill in a location, city and state is what most people use, I recommend this, or just the state.
  3. Fill in a one line bio, something short and to the point.
  4. Click save
  5. Click on picture
  6. click browse and select a picture of yourself from your computer (I recommend something that shows your face or if you’re shy, some image that is clear and works in a small format.
  7. Click save
  8. From your twitter homepage put in your first update, if you don’t know what to say, try a variation of: trying out twitter for the first time.  Or something funny like: I am a future twitter-holic, you may need to plan an intervention now.

Now you are credible to others, you have joined a community and by doing those things described you have shown you have a minimum level of fitting in.  I’ll write more about the theories behind why this is true, but for the moment trust me that all this is a vital part of it all.
So you joined, now add people you know on twitter (follow them).
To do that you can either go to their twitter page ( and then click the follow button up top below their name and pic, or type into the update box “follow username” without the quotes of course.

Once you start following people you can visit your twitter page and see what they are saying and doing.  If something interesting is happening you can respond to it. You do that by starting your message with @username of the person you are responding to.  The web is a good way to start with twitter, but almost all twitter users download and use a program to access twitter.  There are lots of them, I personally would recommend twitterific to Mac users, and for PC users I would recommend thwirl.  A client program is easier to use unless you like going back to the twitter web page regularly.  The nice part about many programs is that new tweets (that’s what messages are called) appear and then fade away.

So now you need to find people you know already on twitter.  There are a number of tools to help you do that, the most effective of which is the email finder, you give up your login info for a webmail account and it searches for your contacts, or you can upload a contact list.  Alternately you can search for things that interest you at  I work in the intersection of several fields so I search for those terms and then add the people who are talking about those things (so I search for HCI usability user experience etc). Alternately there are people who twitter about hobbies and religioun and everything else in between, if you blog about something regularly, search for people already talking about those things.
Once you have started following people, you can click on their profile page and see who they are following, you may find even more people to follow that are interesting.

You can respond to something someone says or just send a public message to someone by starting your message with @username, so for me you would write @houssian why did you bother writing a how-to? I need help.
Wade in, see what’s happening, and try updating a few times over the next few days.

Now one of the reasons I’m writing this is my mom-in-law saw that Fox News had a twitter feed where you could ask questions.  To do that, you need to direct a question to them with one of the at replies I mentioned before.  So when they are on the air and say twitter us your questions, then type in @Foxnewsusername (I don’t know what it is and I don’t watch Fox) then your question.

I will continue this series with what to do after your first few days, how you can get twitter and Facebook to play nice, and some of the why of twitter, as well as some of the theories behind why I told you to do those things and why I think people use twitter.

EDIT March 13th: Chris Brogan has an interesting piece I just read. I’ll get there I think.

Here’s part 2.