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Social semantics

Much semantic confusion around the new world of ubiquitous omindirectional communication, especially in the business/marketing world where it’s critical to understand how to capture attention and make effective, productive connections. I happened onto a post by Venessa Miemis that explores confusion about reputation (or whuffie) vs social capital.

Parenthetical: Flashing back to a meeting David Armistead and I had with a supposedly savvy social business entrepreneur where we used the term “social capital,” and she informed us that we were confused about the term, and proceeded to define it in the “social entrepreneur” sense – that social capital is microfinance, the sort of thing Muhammad Yunus is into. We realized she was confused and decided she was less than credible, but with a kind of “gold rush” around social-whatever, as we have today, Babelian weirdness is inherently part of the scene.

Okay, end paren. I was excited about Miemis’ post, quite a bit because of it’s clarity (vs the post by Brian Solis that it dissects, which is somewhat opaque). Also because it resolves a confusion of labels and contexts: reputation is not the same a social capital, and social capital is more complex than some who invoke it might allow.

I like the thinking in this paragraph:

If we decide that reputation is the new “currency” of the social economy, and decide to attach a number to it, I’m going to suggest that that would undermine the entire premise itself, instead resulting in commodity fetishism. (Neither Solis nor [Tara] Hunt directly suggests attaching a number to it, but I’m just pointing out that if we talk about this using economic words, people will be led to develop it accordingly.) I’m just trying to think ahead here. What Hunt is trying to promote is a return to human-centric practices in business and leading from underlying human values. (One of the tweets she sent me was a link to this post of hers, which indicates as much) I think that’s what we’re all trying to do – I’m just cautioning that people may abuse this premise if its meaning is cloaked in economic metaphor.

I’m not sure it’s a “return to human-centric practices,” i.e. I don’t know that we were ever especially human-centric in business, depending how that’s defined, but I’m pretty sure that markets were conversations before they were mediated by broadcast technology and became more abstract – I said as much in the early 90s, when I proposed FringeWare, Inc. as a “street market in cyberspace.” I suppose I was thinking then, too, that markets had been more “human-centric” in the past, but we have to be careful not to view the past – or the future, for that matter – with rose colored glasses. Neither the past nor the future exists, only hazy memory and hazy speculation.

What we do know is that mass media fragmented via the Internet, and mindshare in general is more focused on the personal and the conversational. We may still watch some things on television, but there’s so much more texting, tweeting, blogging and Facebooking. The business challenge is to get into that space and get a word in edgewise. Especially hard if you spent your life pushing and controlling messages that were transmitted over a limited number of channels by the few to the many.

In this context reputation is important – trust is crucial – and social capital is inherent, if not well-understood. It’s good to see writers and thinkers and even merchants trying to get their heads around all this.

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