Social media and random acts of kindness

Image by LiminalMike via Flickr

Is the world becoming less friendly? Some people might lead you to think so. “People don’t help out their neighbours like they used to”, they might say, “I’d never ask a stranger to help me”. It might be true that in some areas, especially in highly urban communities, people are less engaged with people who live near them. Statistics might show that people are less likely to hitch a ride on a Highway than they were 50 years ago. But at the same time we are seeing people becoming much more ‘friendly’, helping out friends and strangers alike. They are just doing it in different ways.

Social media, and online communities in particular are all about people helping other people because of a shared interest, aim, goal or question. They might help people to find the answers they are looking for, share their own experiences or help people to sort their content and ideas so that the most relevant comes to the front.

In one of the online communities that we run at FreshNetworks, we see such examples on a regular basis. Over the summer there was a particular poignant one. A group of women on a community focused on anti-aging and beauty were blogging about their diets and lifestyles. Then one of the lady’s husbands was rushed into hospital. She blogged about this, going off topic but writing from the heart about what was happening in her life and her trips to the hospital every day. It was wonderful to see the rest of the community rally round, supporting her, giving her advice and looking after her. People who have never met each other offline giving each other real help and support.

The internet, and social media in particular, is designed to allow people to connect not because they know each other, or they happen to be in the same place at the same time, but because they share genuine interests and concerns. People connect around these bonds rather than the happenstance of location or time. This results in an environment where people empathise with people more, and more easily, and want to help them out. Random acts of kindness are becoming commonplace online and with the growth of social media will be more so.

Jonathan Zittrain recently spoke at TED Global on this very issue, about how the internet is made up of millions of random acts of kindness. The video of his talk is our Required Reading for the week.

Jonathan Zittrain: The Web as random acts of kindness

Simplicity sells

Image by ullrich.c via Flickr

Sometimes, if not most times, the best solution is also the simplest one. Why develop a complex device to connect two irregularly sized shapes when a bit of sellotape will do? Why ask people a series of complex questions about improving your product when what you really want to know is “how could we do things better”? And why provide complex levels of interactivity and engagement on your website when all you want is to get a few conversations going?

At FreshNetworks we are strong believers that simplicity sells. But, of course, simplicity is difficult. It is very easy to build a complex online community with many ways for people to engage and many ways for brands to talk to them. It is less easy to design and implement a simple site, one that is designed perfectly to get the benefits the brand wants but enables users to interact in a way that is simple and intuitive. Good design is important and good design is simple design. It’s the getting there that’s difficult.

This presentation from David Pogue (given at TED in 2006) looks at the value of simplicity in technology, and is our Required Reading for this week. It shows the value of simplicity (and perhaps also the value of a good song at the start of a presentation).

Are we in control of our own decisions?

ChaosImage by nickwheeleroz via Flickr

We posted last week about how customers sometimes do not know what they want. About how they cannot always articulate what they think, or how they are not always aware of what the opportunities and options might be. There is a third reason why it can be difficult to work with customers on co-creation - because they are not always aware of what decisions they make and why they make them. We are not, it turns out, as rational as we might think, or hope.

At FreshNetworks, we are fans of the work of Dan Ariely. There is a lot in his research in behavioural economics that has real resonance and application to online communities and co-creation. From incentivisation (and why paying people is a bad way to motivate them) to why we declare our preference for one product over another. There is much here for us to learn both about how people will behave in online communities, but also how we should design them to get the best and most useful set of insights for brands.

The video below is a great introduction to rationality and why our decisions are not always as much in our control as we might think. As Ariely says, we wake up in the morning and we feel that we make our decisions. But this is not true; in practice many of these decisions do not reside in us. So if you want to know why consumers behave as they do and how we can work with them in online communities then this is a good starting point.

Dan Ariely asks, Are we in control of our own decisions?

The video comes from the great series of TED videos. There are some other really great talks and presentations there that are worth watching.

Twitter’s spectacular growth is being driven by unexpected uses

There’s a lot of talk about Twitter at the moment in the press and across the web. From how brands should be using Twitter, to the impact that mass adoption is having. Twitter is the fastest growing social network, and as we have discussed before this growth is causing Twitter to change and evolve. As more people join they all develop their own ways of using the social media tool, this means that the tools itself changes and develops. Twitter will be very different by the end of this year, and it will be different because of the ways that new members use it.

Innovation is a good thing and social media and online communities are often a source of great and quite rapid innovation. That’s why, the Required Reading this week at FreshNetworks is this talk at TED from Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. He talks about the innovations we have seen in the use of Twitter, from it’s use as a tool to cover and gather information during live events to the use of hashtags to help share information (such as the impact of the snow in the UK earlier this year).

The importance of innovation in product development is known, and in most cases, the uses that people make of your products will be the greatest of all innovations. For a tool like Twitter it is easy for users to innovate, to co-create their own uses of the tool itself. This is one of the reasons it is so popular and one of the reasons for it’s growth. Different people use it in different ways, and each of these innovations improves the experience for all of us.

Subscribe to updates from the FreshNetworks Blog

  • Evan Williams Talking About Twitter at TED 2009 (
  • TED talk: Twitter & the power of the unexpected (
  • Loic Le Meur Blog: Evan Williams of Twitter Speaks at TED (
  • You Can’t Advise Clients on Social Media if You’re Not on Facebook and Twitter (
  • Evan Williams on listening to Twitter users | Video on (