Two-Way Street

PR, social media, events and incentives – Collaboration & communication ideas for demanding businesses from The Castle Group's Mark O'Toole

What’s the @#!$%&#% Buzz?

Posted by thecastlegroup on March 26, 2010

Is Google Buzz the new school playground – you know, the place where you learned about big life issues like how to swear?

After a few weeks of monitoring my son’s 5th grade Buzz crowd, I am both fascinated and appalled. This age group especially, locked out of other social networking sites for a couple more years, has flocked to Buzz. One conversation string can last for weeks at a time and generate hundreds of responses. The kids are flexing their social media muscles with this tool through posts that would have been the fodder of passed around notes in the “old days.” Who does he like, who does she hate, who are you – these big questions are being bandied about on Buzz.

But while watching the group interact, I realized that their experimentation with Buzz can teach us some business lessons. Are there really parallels between the 11-year olds’ usage of Buzz and business applications of it? I think so. Here they are:

Buzz can work as a communications tools.

Think of Buzz like a stream of group consciousness. While some posters put actual thought into their musings, most write whatever is on their minds, sometimes in sync with the conversation thread, sometimes not. But the spirit of conversation is there, and as businesses, aren’t we always looking to have a conversation?

Online communities that contain a mix of people who share similar interests need no moderators, conversation-starters or official presence.

They just run on their own. My 5th grade “beta group” has built a Buzz list of seemingly every child in the class and more – and they all participate. A simple question like “who is better, Rhianna or Beyonce” elicits passionate responses. (Beyonce for me, thanks.) Businesses and the marketers behind them still are fearful about the unchecked power of the internet to weigh negatively on a brand. Guess what? It’s out of your control. But give enough positive stimulation and intellect to your customers, prospects and partners, and the crowd will take it from there.

Literacy is going to be a big problem.

I don’t envy college English lit professors. They are about to see an entire population that speaks in abbreviated words, symbols and mis-spellings. Shakespeare, Twain, Frost – these are going to be tough books for this crowd to consume and process. As businesses we have an obligation to deliver meaningful, cohesive content. Can we still do that in a text-speak world? Should we? I think we do – no need to always play to the common denominator; someone must care about language, right? Anyone?

The internet thrives on the spirit of anonymity.

These 11 year-olds issue a torrent of insults, sexual orientation barbs, “yo momma” jokes, suggestive and sometimes blatantly sexual comments – these are the same barbs one might have heard among a group of friends compelled by the power of puberty to tease each other, but now they are publicly shared with a group where everyone does not know each other. Real harm can come from this. Nastiness is everywhere. It seems to be spilling into the business world as well – fewer returned phone calls or e-mails, people are quicker to anger, the patience to see a program truly develop is waning. Are these kids learning to be rude from us or is it just a natural part of being a pre-teen? We cannot afford to be anonymous or rude in our professions – the business world is too small these days; burnt bridges will come back to haunt the unprofessional.

People want to interact.

The quietest 5th grader may be the most frequent Buzz poster. Similarly, people who may be reserved in real life can find more comfortable interactions online. Is your organization giving these prospects, fans and followers an engaging way to interact with your brand online?

Wisdom of the crowd does not always rule.

There is a belief that crowd opinion – reviews, comments, ratings – drives opinions. Among these middle schoolers at least, no one is afraid to voice an opinion, positive or negative, that run counter to popular opinion. Make sure your business makes room for the individual. Innovation can come from a single perspective. Crowdsourcing is popular but not always the defining path.

You are alone out there.

While there is some comfort to joining a group, at the end of the day, you are still a single person with a specific perspective, feelings and logic. If you’re “that” kid – the nerdy one, dirty one, poor one, big-nosed one, mixed race one, fastest developing one, etc. – you and you alone will need to stand strong for your beliefs and not be thrown off track by a bunch of negative comments. Can your brand do that? Is it strong enough?

Welcome to the playground.

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