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New arrivals at Ellis Island. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Changing social platforms is like moving to live in a new country.

How do I know?  Because I have done the latter three times and met the same hurdles to a settled existence as I now detect in moving to a new platform on social media.

The largest of those hurdles is collateral.  When I came to live in the US, for example, I had no credit rating, because there was no record stateside of my economic conduct.  I had no guarantors other than my employer because friends and family lived in Europe.  Slowly I established myself, connecting with the economy and communities until my rating facilitated the more desirable loan rates.

The second of the major hurdles is equity or net worth.  Equity comprises assets, liquid and fixed.  Liquidity or cash is necessary for every day living, the small transactions that allow us to commute, feed ourselves and be entertained. Fixed assets are a little more problematic, because they are usually hard to convert to liquid status.  Furthermore they tend to be anchored in the environment from which you have departed, and have little value in the new environment.  Owning a house in Europe has no weight when trying to buy a house in the US, and vice versa.

The same holds true when one considers investing effort in an additional or alternate social platform.  While you may have a generic social score aggregated across active platforms, your credit rating on a new, or seldom used platform is non-existent.  Collateral in this case is not about your financial credit rating, it is your trustworthiness as a social participant.  Just as in immigration that rating has to be built gradually  and cannot be transferred from the old to the new.

The analogy is consistent for equity as well.  Equity in social terms is the value of contributions.  These most commonly are the status updates, messages, tweets, replies, mentions that make up the social media conversations of each second, hour and day of our lives.  It is also the knowledge base and territorial familiarity of that platform, knowing who does or knows what, where expertise lies, or when particular events occur, or what time is best to capture the attention of your networking collaborators.

All this is platform equity.  Not surprisingly very little, if any, of that equity is transferable.  Those contacts, the followers and those followed, like the friends and relations in the old world, belong and remain on that platform.  Those contributions and the manner in which you supplied them is also tied to the platform.  Unlike property or disposable assets these cannot be liquidated into cash.

The new platform requires new equity and collateral, it cannot easily be bought, at least not without compromising trustworthiness. The only alternative is to invest a similar amount of time and effort in building equity on the new platform, thus forcing a decision on whether to build and then maintain multiple platform equity and collateral.  That factorial investment might be too high a price to pay, especially for those individuals whose roles do not include 100%  social engagement.

There is one positive to this situation and it is somewhat paradoxical in the fact that the fixed social equity  is more versatile than the liquid.  I refer to blogs.  The platform that best supports communicating complexity, rationale and clarification.  Blog posts like this one allow ideas and insights to be expanded, formatted and packaged for distribution through any social media platform.   However they do only offer the foundational piece; the interactions, connections and short communications still have to be performed.

There are several implications of the above, especially as we consider scale:

Consistency: Equity and collateral are both affected by inconsistency.  And we all know that consistency is more than desirable in social media, it is almost obligatory.  However context can vary and what might be considered consistent in one platform could be seen as inconsistent even contradictory in another.  Furthermore maintaining dialogues and connections across multiple platforms can easily foster miscommunications, especially if the connections themselves participate on multiple platforms.  Since we cannot easily store our contributions, we cannot easily reference our interlocutors’ or our own previous conversations.  The more platforms we engage with the higher the likelihood of miscommunication and inconsistency.

Social Marketing Investment: It would be fair to assume that few social-media active consumers will engage heavily on a large number of platforms and will more likely inhabit and contribute on a manageable handful (2-4).  It is also unlikely that consumers of specific brands will inhabit the same platforms.   This is not dissimilar to the position industry faced with the proliferation of television channels in the latter part of last century.  The answer then as now is to promote on the most popular channels or platforms. Unlike television however marketing organizations would be cautioned against abandoning platforms that drop in popularity, since their collateral and equity will remain, albeit diminished over time.  The danger is of course that the least attended platform then becomes the greatest liability.  Such platforms are more prone to negative activity that could fester unaddressed.

Social Collaboration:  Perhaps the biggest challenge for industry will be in the requirements for and selection of collaborative services, especially if the components and resources have preferred social platforms of participation that are different. Ideally a common platform solves this problem, one where context integrity is assured.  Multiple platforms dilute that integrity unless all contributors and contributions are consistent across all platforms, though such purity would inevitably be  strained by diversity of geography and culture.  This suggests that established collaborative groups and activities will be more conservative and less exploratory of new platforms.  It also suggests that new collaborative groups and activities can explore new platforms, especially those that offer better functionality or efficiencies.  But these organizations also warrant caution in deciding for a new platform, for it may well exclude them from collaborating  with resources and communities on the older platforms.

I am sure there are many other points to consider, but one thing is certain: adding or moving to a new social platform is a non-trivial event, and one that demands a lot of adjustment and effort.  This post is my attempt to bridge the increasing number of platforms to which I contribute as I will distribute it on all. Hopefully it will spark further discussions on the challenges as well as progress on removing the walled garden barriers to the preferred open environment.

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Twitter Updates

  • RT @ScottEganhouse: A7 Interesting question, If I made less mistakes I'd be a lot dumber #printchat 6 days ago
  • A7 start pushing open source/standards sooner, more achievable in collaboration than competition. Collective vs individual smarts #printchat 6 days ago
  • A6 most businesses r intellectual silos well versed in own disciplines. Learning their language is only 1 of print's disciplines #printchat 6 days ago
  • + Swiftest RT @davekrawczuk Being the "smartest" isn't always the best. Be a good team player. Teams make the biggest changes. #printchat 6 days ago
  • A5 Emphasizes the 6 degrees of separation rule, even suggests it might be smaller. We're all interconnected, directly/indirectly #printchat 6 days ago