Sustainability: Your Next Buzzword for Social Media

This post will be used in RAPP's Cultura Newsletter, but I wanted to share with everyone else!

Dan Barber is an extremely successful chef – owner of several restaurants including Blue Hill in Manhattan, named the top chef in America by the James Beard Foundation, and listed on Time’s 100 most influential people of 2009.  He’s a master at creating good food, but his passion is in transforming what you and I call “good food.”  Dan is an outspoken voice in the journey to reinvent what we eat, by deeply examining the entire process from farm to plate.  If you have a moment, watch the talk he gave at TED 2010, intriguingly titled “How I Fell in Love With a Fish.”  For Dan, finding the best fish in the world is about how it was raised, and how that process can continue without negatively impacting its environment.  Dan isn’t impressed by the scalability of today’s agribusiness; he’s romanced by the sustainability of a new type of biologist farmer.


As our new world of social media has developed, we’ve experienced some oddly similar conflicts – not dealing with fish, of course, but wrestling with this balance between scalability and sustainability. 


Social media sites are all about scalability – and rightly so, because they rely on Metcalfe’s law.  Simply put, Metcalfe stated that networks become more valuable as they add more users, because of the network effect between those users.  Two users can make one connection to each other, but five can make 10 connections, and 12 can make 66 connections! With each of those connections meaning more server power and more network bandwidth required, even sites with just a few users can quickly consume an amazing amount of resources.  Facebook has even had to invent new database management systems for managing the traffic and maintaining service for everyone. 


Given enough power, ingenuity and money, technology is almost infinitely scalable.  People, however, are not.  You and I have only so much ability to focus, to communicate, or to share with others.  We’re bound by our own scarce time and effort, and none of us can be replicated (as much as we might appreciate a clone every now and then).  Think of it this way: what would one more email notification add to your life? What about another site to check every day?  How often would you like a text message about the weather forecast – every day? Twice a day? Every hour? Every minute?


Creating sustainable campaigns and platforms for our clients in the future will require us to put the burden where it belongs – to make the technology scale higher, further and faster so our consumers can stay engaged.  Google Buzz, for example, uses customized algorithms that “learn” your behaviors, so the most relevant content surfaces to the top.  This is the same tactic Facebook is using with their News Feed, by showing only the most active conversations of friends that you’re most likely to read. 


Think about our own marketing efforts: clients ask us to create platforms that carry messages to their consumers, past all the filters of technology and the clutter of the landscape.  And RAPP gets to bring a unique solution to these problems, because we’re all about the technology.  We have defined processes for surveying each brand’s Consumerscape, charting a consumer journey to navigate these waters, and unleashing co-creativity with the consumer to let them bring us into their time-starved lives.  Solutions like these are more than just one-off moments that end up burning relationships through a blunt numbers game.  Direct solutions like ours are something more, because the relevance makes them sustainable.