How do you know your best friend? School, neighbourhood, college, work? That’s how I know most but not all of my friends. With the fast rise of the Internet and the social aspects to it, more and more of the population are meeting and building friendships thanks to sites like Boards.ie, P45.net, Gaydar, Bebo, mySpace and all the various blogs out there. Of late it seems that Facebook and Twitter are the new social spaces to hang out on, such is the nature of trends.
Jyri Engestrom from Jaiku has done a good few talks now about the idea of “social objects” and how Flickr, mySpace have all done well from making their services very social. Flickr for example allows comments, allows you to comment and communicate with others and see the photos of others who comment on photos. Relationships and communities have formed as a result of Flickr making it easier for people to communicate and having Flickr as the talking point for the initial converations.
See, that’s the thing. We are communicators. It is in our DNA to communicate. From cave paintings to smoke signals to architecture, it’s all about communicating in the present or to future generations. It makes sense in a way to design a product that facilitates conversation and communication even if that is not the core function of your product.
Matt Webb presented his idea of “products are people too” at Reboot this year and I think he was spot on. Design a product as if it is a person and consider how it fits into the rest of the environment.
For a business, making your product a “friend” of people and not just an object could benefit you greatly. Think about those car enthusiast sites that are out there and all the meetups they have on a regular basis. All evangelists for your product and a nice cheap/free tech support and R&D division too. If you have a product, why not build a discussion forum around it, make a Bebo profile for it and a Facebook profile? Put it on Twitter and send announcements out via that service. Consider the Nokia 770 lemmingisation of Irish bloggers and Twitter users recently. About 25 Nokia 770s have been bought so far, all because of one person at a meeting where some very connected people were at. This device was trusted by one person, who happily showed it off, we trusted the person who trusted their review and communicated out to the world about it. While Nokia didn’t encourage us to communicate out about it, we did anyway because of the nature of bloggers, but they are a teeny tiny subset of net users. If you enabled everyone to communicate their liking for something, it’d be powerful. However Nokia do have support forums for the N770 and lend support to hobbyists doing all sorts of fun with the device.
Why buy advertising on Bebo and Facebook and even Google ads when instead you can pay nothing for a profile and have those connected to you generate some buzz or have a discussion forum around the product and create a community who become friends. Friends that consider your product as the mutual friend that built their friendship. Like conversation snippets like “Hey, isn’t your buddy an electrician? I’m looking to get some work done.” you might also start having conversations like “Hey, I see you are a member of the Electrolux Fridge Facebook group. I assume they’re good?” In fact even before asking, your friends will assume they are good and need persuading otherwise. I’m sure companies would kill to have their product thought of in that light.
Kind of on the same topic, the smoking ban could have been a great marketing moment for the tobacco companies if they were clever enough and made the outside smoking areas places to facilitate chatting with strangers and new people. Massive opportunity missed. More on smoking and marketing in a future blog post.
Anyways, while Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and so forth are “free” you still need a person to update them, the same way you need a sysadmin of some sort to look after open source software. The human touch is a good thing though. In regards to discussion forums, if you don’t want to build your own, you can always create one on a site like Boards.ie which already has a massive audience who all could become potential customers. Boards.ie offers “commerical interaction” forums which are a great way of interacting with your customers.
The big issue here is some idiot PR company (no I won’t link 🙂 ) will come along and offer to “Facebookise” a company or “Beboise” a company and convince the company that once the profile is set up, the work ends. Nopes. Same rule for blogs, you need to keep at it and on a regular basis. There seem to be some PR and morketing companies around in Ireland that try and convince companies that Second Life and Bebo is where it’s at and while free, there is no work involved. All these new social sites and ideas also mean more work. Course these are the same companies that create fake profiles on discussion forums and talk up new companies and services, pissing off everyone and instantly getting the sites negative publicity.
Anyways, in conclusion, making a product a social object and creating methods for people to talk about it or talking about what it has done (for example with Flickr, it hosts photos and the photos are the talking points) could be a fantastic way of building your brand and building trust. Having a product more like a friend or familiar stranger is one way of doing business.