Civilising Social Media

Despite being startup-less, I attended a session on Social Media for Startups on a whim,1 and walked away with a very tangible gut feeling that some real civilising is underfoot in social media and advertising.

The civilising process is one that spans almost ten millennia, and one of its hallmarks is the rise of a civil society. This is an ever-ongoing process, which may seem initially strange—after ten thousand years, shouldn’t we be exceedingly polite members of society already? Kevin Simler over at Melting Asphalt writes in UX and the Civilizing Process,

To scandalize a member of the educated West, open any book on European table manners from the middle of the second millennium:

“Some people gnaw a bone and then put it back in the dish. This is a serious offense.” — Tannhäuser, 13th century.
“Don’t blow your nose with the same hand that you use to hold the meat.” — S’ensuivent les contenances de la table, 15th century.
“If you can’t swallow a piece of food, turn around discreetly and throw it somewhere.” — Erasmus of Rotterdam, De civilitate morum puerilium, 1530.

We are perhaps more likely to empathise with some etiquette advice from the 19th century (and turn up noses or scratch heads at other advice on the same page—”Don’t speak of this or that kind of food being healthy or unhealthy; say always wholesome or unwholesome.” I want to know that backstory.)

We are entering, and have been entering, a period of refinement (qua process). Pursuing grace, and avoiding embarrassment, are rooting themselves in acts that go beyond hygiene maintenance, elevating themselves to social artisanship. “A focus on appearance is just one of the ways UX is like etiquette. Both are the study and practice of optimal interactions.” (UX and the Civilising Process)

This seems to be more and more commonplace in the subtler art of social media marketing, as exemplified by practices suggested by Siim Säinas, speaking from four years at STATSIT. Among the suggestions are doing proper market research to target audience segments effectively (i.e. not asking random strangers to like your Facebook Page for discounts/freebies), contributing to great content (giving appreciation and feedback on content you like), and building personal relationships (going beyond typical work relationship norms, sending homemade stuff).

The high art of social media marketing is entering/has entered a period of refinement.

If not everyone is achieving this, at least there seem to be efforts that close in on this end goal. Or perhaps the tools that marketing folks use are the ones that are increasingly refined—email feedback, commenting tools, customised communication. Our methods and tools are gradually entering the 20th-century phase in social-media-space.

If there is any point of contention to this, it would be that shocking sensation of privacy being peeled away when that outreach campaign seems perfectly tailored to my needs(!). It might be more familiar as you’re-the-product memes.

I personally have not had the experience of “being a product”, and sometimes that makes me insanely jealous. I leave plenty of data in the form of search terms and usage data, yet nothing perfectly tailored to my desires has yet appeared. People pay good money for a concierge service to know their usage habits intimately, yet dislike it when marketing outreach sometimes achieves the same thing.

Or perhaps I have. I ran into Andy Wilkinson, Twingl CEO, who is out to pull the world’s knowledge into a huge interconnected mega-brain. We met in a book, and much feedback and many emails later, Twingl is finally shaping up to be something I can recommend to less techie bibliophiles and polymaths.

Sometimes the best marketing feels like serendipity. Could an increasingly civilised social media make it happen more often?


  1. and sometimes just to see the look on people’s faces when they spot a high school physics teacher in places they shouldn’t be spotted at.