Archive for May, 2009


May 10 2009

The 4Cs Social Media Framework

by at 1:52 pm

The 4Cs Social Media Framework

The Need for the 4Cs Social Media Framework

Over the last year, I have had to explain how social media works to diplomats, defense officials, and academics and students focused on fields as diverse as international affairs, management and sociology.

I have found that first-timer find social media confusing because of two reasons.

The first reason is the excessive focus on specific social media tools. Many first-timers are introduced to social media via specific tools. Many ‘social media experts’ who are practitioners rather than thinkers also focus on specific tools. Since social media encompasses many different types of tools, and each tool has specific characteristics and a steep learning curve, a toolkit approach can quickly become overwhelming. Blogging (WordPress), microblogging (Twitter), video-sharing (YouTube), photo-sharing (Flickr), podcasting (Blog Talk Radio), mapping (Google Maps), social networking (Facebook), social voting (Digg), social bookmarking (Delicious), lifestreaming (Friendfeed), wikis (Wikipedia), and virtual worlds (Second Life) are all quite different from each other and new and hybrid tools are being introduced almost everyday. Mastering each tool individually seems like a lot of work and a lot of people give up even before they begin.

The second reason is a clear definition of what social media is, even within the social media community. Different thinkers and practitioners use different terms to describe similar tools and practices. Terms like social media, digital media, new media, citizen media, participatory media, peer-to-peer media, social web, participatory web, peer-to-peer web, read write web, social computing, social software, web 2.0, and even crowdsourcing and wikinomics can mean similar or slightly different things depending upon who is using it. Journalists, marketers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, software vendors and academics approach the space from their own perspectives and have their own preferred terms. Used precisely, these terms can mean very different things. However, very few people use these terms precisely and almost nobody agrees on the exact definition of these terms.

The 4Cs Social Media Framework

My own approach to social media is both tool-agnostic and terminology-agnostic. So, I use the term social media to encompass all the tools and all the practices that are described by the terms I mentioned above.

Instead of getting distracted by the tools and the terminologies, I focus on the four underlying themes in social media, the 4Cs of social media: Content, Collaboration, Community and Collective Intelligence. Taken together, these four themes constitute the value system of social media. I believe that the tools are transient, the buzzwords will change, but the value system embedded in these 4Cs is here to stay. So, let’s look at these 4Cs in some detail.

The First C: Content

The first C, Content, refers to the idea that social media tools allow everyone to become a creator, by making the publishing and distribution of multimedia content both free and easy, even for amateurs.

User generated content, and the hope of monetizing it through advertising, is at the core of the business model of almost all social media platforms. User generated content is also at the core of citizen journalism, the notion that amateur users can perform journalist-like functions (accidentally or otherwise) by reporting and commenting on news. Citizen journalists have repeatedly emerged as critical in crisis reporting and several citizen journalist platforms have emerged to harness their potential to report hyper-local news.

However, just because everyone can become a creator doesn’t mean that everyone does. Most users prefer to consume user generated content, by reading blog, watching videos, or browsing through photos. Some user curate user generated content, by tagging it on social bookmarking websites, voting for it on social voting websites, commenting on it, or linking to it. Researcher have found support for the 1:9:90 rule in many different contexts. The 1:9:90 rule says that 90% of all users are consumers, 9% of all users are curators and only 1% of the users are creators.

The Second C: Collaboration

The second C, Collaboration, refers to the idea that social media facilitates the aggregation of small individual actions into meaningful collective results.

Collaboration can happen at three levels: conversation, co-creation and collective action.

As consumers and curators engage with compelling content, the content becomes the center of conversations. Conversations create buzz, which is how ideas tip, become viral. Many social media practitioners who are from a marketing or public relations background are focused on creating conversations.

However, some of us recognize that conversations are a mere stepping stone for co-creation. In co-creation, the value lies as much in the curated aggregate as in the individual contributions. Wikis are a perfect example of co-creation. Open group blogs, photo pools, video collages and similar projects are also good examples of co-creation.

Collective action goes one step further and uses online engagement to initiate meaningful action. Collective action can take the form of signing online petitions, fundraising, tele-calling, or organizing an offline protest or event.

Even though conversations, co-creation and collective action are different forms of collaboration, the difficulty in collaborating increases dramatically as we move from conversations to co-creation to collective action. The key is to start with a big task, break it down into individual actions (modularity) that are really small (granularity), and then put them together into a whole without losing value (aggregating mechanism). It is also important to bridge online conversations into mainstream media buzz and online engagement into offline action.

The Third C: Community

The third C, Community, refers to the idea that social media facilitates sustained collaboration around a shared idea, over time and often across space.

The notion of a community is really tricky because every web page is a latent community, waiting to be activated. A vibrant community has size and strength, and is built around a meaningful social object.

Most people understand that a community that has a large number of members (size) who have strong relationships and frequent interactions with each other (strength) is better than a community which doesn’t. However, a community is more than the sum total of its members and their relationships.

People don’t build relationships with each other in a vacuum. A vibrant community is built around a social object that is meaningful for its members. The social object can be a person, a place, a thing or an idea. The Netroots community is built around progressive politics in America. The My Barack Obama community was built around Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. The Obama Girl community was built around a series of videos Amber Lee Ettinger made to support Obama’s campaign. Sometimes, choosing the right social object can be crucial for building a vibrant community. HP can choose to build a community around printers, printing, or corporate careers, all of which will have very different characteristics.

The Fourth C: Collective Intelligence

The fourth C, Collective Intelligence, refers to the idea that the social web enables us to not only aggregate individual actions, but also run sophisticated algorithms on them and extract meaning from them.

Collective intelligence can be based on both implicit and explicit actions and often takes the form of reputation and recommendation systems. Google extracts the pagerank, a measure of how important a page is, from our (implicit) linking and clicking behavior. Amazon and Netflix are able to offer us recommendations based on our (implicit) browsing, (implicit) buying and (explicit) rating behavior and comparing it to the behavior of other people like us. eBay and Amazon assign ratings to sellers and reviewers respectively, based on whether other members in the community had a good experience with them. On the day of the 2008 US elections, the Obama campaign was able to assign trimmed down telecalling lists to volunteers by ticking off the names of the people who had already voted.

The great thing about collective intelligence is that it becomes easier to extract meaning from a community as the size and strength of the community grow. If the collective intelligence is then shared back with the community, the members find more value in the community, and the community grows even more, leading to a virtuous cycle.

The4Cs Social Media Framework in Summary

So, the 4Cs form a hierarchy of what is possible with social media. As we move from Content to Collaboration to Community to Collective Intelligence, it becomes increasingly difficult to both observe these layers and activate them. Also each layer is often, but not always, a pre-requisite for the next layer. Compelling content is a pre-requisite for meaningful collaboration, which is a pre-requisite for a vibrant community, which, in turn, is a pre-requisite for collective intelligence.

Although I designed the 4Cs framework to explain how I see social media, I have also found it to be a useful tools to evaluate specific social media initiatives. The best social media initiatives leverage all these four layers, but I have seen that most initiatives get stuck between the Collaboration and Community layers. Examples of social media initiatives that leverage the Community or Collective Intelligence layers are few and far between. It’s important to note, however, that each layer is valuable in itself, and it’s OK to design an initiative to only exploit the Content or Collaboration layers.

The 4Cs Social Media Framework Applied to Digital Activism

Let me explain what I just said my applying the 4Cs framework to digital activism initiatives.

Many digital activism initiatives like Social Documentary and Witness primarily focus on using social media tools to create and share compelling multimedia Content. Some of this Content generates Conversations and becomes viral and some of it might even lead to Collective Action. However, the focus is on Content.

Other initiatives, like Vote Report India or the Pink Chaddi Campaign, start off with a strong focus on Collaboration around a specific event. In its first iteration, Vote Report India leveraged Co-creation by creating a platform for collectively tracking irregularities in the 2009 Indian elections. The Pink Chaddi Campaign leveraged Collective Action by asking its supporters to send pink panties to the Sri Ram Sena as Valentine’s Day gifts. As these campaigns become successful, they try to move to the next Community level, but don’t always succeed in building a long-term community.

Very few digital activism initiatives are able to leverage the Community or Collective Intelligence layers. The Netroots community in the US, especially Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo and, have been able to build a strong Community around progressive politics in the US. My Barack Obama leverage some aspects of Collective Intelligence during the 2008 presidential campaign.

What About You?

If you are a social media practitioner or a digital activist focused on the Content and Collaboration layers, I would urge you to think about how you can move to the Community layer. If you already run a vibrant community, I would urge you to think about introducing reputation and recommendation systems in it and leverage the Collective Intelligence layer.

If you are designing a new social media initiative, I would urge you to use the 4Cs Framework in the design and strategy phase itself. Perhaps, in phase one, you would want to start with a campaign built around Content and focused on Collaboration, with elements of co-creation and/ or collective action. You would do well to plan for a phase two which is focused on Community, with a dash of Collective Intelligence built in. The question you want to ask yourself, then, is: how can I design a Collaboration based campaign so that it can be used to build a long-term Community?

If you are a journalist, analyst or academic in the business of understanding social media initiatives, you’ll find the 4Cs Framework really useful. What are the boundary conditions needed to succeed at each layer? What are the boundary conditions needed to move from Content to Collaboration, from Collaboration to Community, and from Community to Collective Intelligence? Can you think of other digital activism or social media initiatives that leverage the Community or Collective Intelligence layers?

Do share your thoughts.

Cross-posted at Gauravonomics, my blog on social media and social change.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,Social Media,Theory | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

May 08 2009

Tibetans Seek New Ways to Plead their Case

by at 3:19 pm

Geographically, politically, and historically, the issue of Tibet has been controversial for the Chinese leadership. On one hand, it represents the homeland to Tibetan Buddhists, a religious group that by its inherent existence poses a threat to the non-religious ideology of the Chinese Communist Party. On the other hand, it remains a point of contention between India and China (although the former has formally acknowledged China’s control over the Tibet Autonomous Region), and given India’s diametrically opposite position on freedom of speech, the Tibetan government in exile is given the ability to internationalize the cause for greater rights in Tibet.

The introduction of social media to Tibetan activists adds a new dimension in this fragile dynamic. The latest and most recent prominent example is of the Tibetan blogger, Ms. Woeser. After being indoctrinated into the Han Chinese educational system regarding the relationship between Tibet and the mainland, Woeser discovered a new reality when she moved to Lhasa at the age of 24. Since that time she has kept 4 different blogs – 3 of which have been shut down – and published some books relaying Tibet’s history through poetry, short stories and photography.

In her quest to unearth the realities of Tibet, she has been placed under house arrest, her friends have been detained, and she herself has been subjected to harsh interrogation. She has been able to circumvent the Internet patrols by sending email and skype messages to outside contacts, who are then able to post them on her blog, Invisible Tibet

Through the accounts of Ms. Woeser and other intrepid Tibetans, international readers and activists have been given significant ballast. In the West, her story has been highlighted by various media outlets including the New York Times and the Times Online. Further, non-government human rights groups such as Amnesty International have incorporated her work into their broader campaigns.

While the U.S. and other governments have shied away from making human rights the focal point of their relationship with China, the increasing social media documentation and the instant ability to disseminate this information, especially with regards to Tibet, has added a new layer of advocacy to the issue. It is only a matter of time before foreign governments will have to start operate on this compelling evidence.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows

May 08 2009

Jackie Chan Facing Virtual World Condemnation

by at 2:28 pm

Internationally acclaimed movie star Jackie Chan is being blasted all over the Chinese media for his recent comments suggesting that Chinese people need to be controlled. Chan made the unremarkable comments at the Baoa forum in mid-April; the forum, which is attended by business leaders, academics and political leaders was intended this year to discuss how countries in Asia can respond to financial crisis.

Mr. Chan has a record for being a vocal Chinese nationalist, and his comments did identify Taiwan and Hong Kong as being unruly because of their excessive freedom. Some analysts suspect that Chan was only trying to curry favor with the Chinese Communist Party elites because they had banned one of his movies due to its excess violence.

Regardless of his motives, the Chinese netizens have come out in full force. More than a few groups have been launched on facebook, denigrating Mr. Chan for more than his recent comments. One group has been established with the organizing cause of “FOR Sending Jackie Chan to North Korea!”.  Even the People’s Daily – the paper known as the CCP’s propaganda arm – has criticized Chan’s comments. Blog writers have been running the story and generating a flurry of responses for the last three weeks.

After a cursory examination of some of the leading blogs in China, it looks like after the initial storm of criticism, some readers are commenting that what Chan said might not be true, but it should open the door for discussion on freedom in China. Moreover, readers are questioning what he meant by Taiwan and Hong Kong being “chaotic”. 

I don’t think Jackie Chan is a big enough figure to generate a nationwide discourse on democracy, openness, or government control, but he certainly inspired the users of social media technology.  When looked at in conjunction with Yu Keping’s recent book, “Democracy is a Good thing” and the failed attempt at getting Chart08 off the ground, it is clear that the undercurrents for a nation-wide debate are beginning to take form.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows

May 06 2009

BRIC Privacy, Transparency, Openness, and Closedness

by at 2:35 pm

I’ve posted my research paper for this academic year’s Yahoo!/ISD research at Scribd:

The introduction:

In the near future, most of the world’s internet users are going to come from five countries:  the US, Brazil, Russia, India, and China (or USABRIC).  Each country has a profoundly unique culture and government-institutional memory that will shape how its citizens interact online through social networking sites (SNSs).  But hard culture has been caught up in a swirling vortex of attitudes and customs online, where sharing more data about oneself and getting more connections and friends provides social capital benefits that can exceed the benefits from a country’s cultural norms and its appetite for being more open about itself or more closed about itself.  Thus, a desire for standardization in the form of a global social networking system is strong — as shown by Facebook’s rapid growth worldwide.  As this standardization becomes more normal, though, hard cultures will emerge again and shape the way that SNSs look and feel and perform so that peoples’ online data truly reflects their identities.  But it will be through a model — one which I propose — of transparency in which users have greater control over their own data yet they still share it willingly, according to their cultural comfort levels.

And the conclusion:

Through the openness versus closedness model, I would theorize that there should be significant differences exhibited through online behavior among the BRIC countries and the US.  The way that Brazilians use the social web should be far different than how Russia uses the social web, based on the model and large culture differences, not to mention because of the degree of online connectivity within each country.
Yet cultural differences have not been amplified or even replicated very strongly onto the online space.  Facebook dominates most English-speaking countries and has just surpassed Myspace as the most trafficked SNS in the US.  Facebook is making rapid gains in France and India and other nations integrated into the online community.  In countries where Facebook is not doing as well, at least one of the top competitors, such as in China or Russia, are blatant Facebook clones, with slightly weaker privacy controls.
Facebook dominates online SNSs and looks to gain even more market share relative to its peers as it becomes the online standard for pure social networking.  That the demand for standardization of a social networking platform overrides desire for cultural mapping says that the degree of customizability and control given to users on SNSs has not yet reached a point where users can represent themselves accurately.  That is, users do not have the controls or features of granularity to map their identities online in ways that would match their typical cultural and community identities.
Such a conclusion hints that the online space in terms of technical standards is already adequate, and what is now needed is development in cultural identity tools to help people customize, create, tailor, and socially groom themselves online, the way they would offline.  What is missing is an identity layer for the Internet’s stack design.
Open standards to allow data portability, such as OpenID (which allows one login across multiple sites through a trust and verification system) and OAuth (requests your permission to transmit data from one site to another), will inevitably increase the ease of which users can share their information across sites without re-typing it all in.  People will become less “locked in” to using one site, and they can immediately get started across multiple sites.  Says John Clippinger:
“The ability to build and leverage trust among members of a group builds social capital and significantly reduces transaction costs.  For example, an organization with low-trust membership might have to invoke explicit legalistic methods where the intentions of the parties cannot be reliably inferred or depended upon.  But because high-trust social networks are mutually interdependent, with all the parties having a common stake and a shared theory of mind, they require low coordination and low enforcement costs.”
In essence, a trust network is being created in the online community, consistent with the externalities of transparency within the openness versus closedness model.
Eventually, once data can pass freely from one site to another with the owner’s permission, there will be a “jailbreak” of people leaving locked-in sites.  It is at this point, I would argue, that SNSs will truly begin to exhibit cultural differences, appealing to different demographics and races and national identities of people.  It is at this point that finding a common standard for your entire social graph, through a Facebook, will become less of a priority, and being able to accurately exhibit yourself through niche SNSs will become the priority.  Guarantee and facility of one’s own data will enable self-expression.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows