Thursday, July 20, 2006

Words - Wars

Christopher Allen, Founder, Alacrity Ventures examines one of the issues we face with social media. In particular he examines the nature of text in online communications and how it can escalate into torrid flames. He says

“Since text is lacking tonal and visual context, we have a tendency to over-interpret any emotional content that does exist (link to paper). In fact, we may have no better than a random chance of correctly interpreting the emotional tone of ironic vs sincere text in a message (link to Epley/Kruger paper).

“In addition, we tend to respond to someone's emotional state by expressions of similar intensity (this phenomenon is known as Emotional Contagion). And the higher the level of intensity of our emotions, the less our ability to be empathetic (link to paper).

“These tendencies lead into a vicious feedback cycle.

  • One person starts with a very trivial or subtle emotional context, say irony.

  • This is interpreted at a higher level of emotions, such as sarcasm.

  • A reply is made at a similar level of emotion, for example being sarcastic.

  • This, in turn, is interpreted at an even higher level of emotion, maybe a mild insult.

  • In turn this is replied to at a similarly intense level.

  • A flame is born!”

When one translates this into the 'Relationship Value Model' and subsequent thought on the subject, it becomes clear that the the values inherent in relationships are extensive and there is a limitation using just text. A picture being worth a thousand words adds more values to a person or organisation and other values help explicate the token. Were that pictures (including icons like smileys) could resolve the multi layered values that we need to say something.

I could get quite upset at the idea that a brand or company should be reduced to a single word because for a single word to work so many other values have to be in place. It is the role of Public Relations to offer the context by which brand values can be apreciated and this is a tall order. It is not achieved in a moment and it has to relate to context.

What we are seeing is a big divide between traditional brand management and a culture of community building. The brand manager wants a simple word or phrase to sum up the world and everything - 'Go _ _ _ Ogle' - but it is the conversations, and interactions that translates the word into what we can appreciate, the values we associated with Google.

One understands flaming. It is the ultimate in relationship failure and is how wars begin.
No more anger... just cold reason. No poetry? How dull.

Just because the medium has many communications deficencies ( and we have to do all we can to add the extra values to make the message clear) does not mean that social media has to exclude passion.

What this really tels us is that we have to be careful and empathetic. But we knew that already and can listen to this part of the lecture now.


Picture: Empathy (Oil on Canvass)