Social By Design

For marketers and publishers of the social Web, design matters. Creative matters. Ideas matter. It is true that properly utilized data can drive better decision making, but it is also true that all the data in the world doesn't create innovation without interpretation, and data doesn't always lead to great design (especially when the data is about the wrong thing -- clicks, anyone?). Caroline McCarthy has a great post on cnet titled "Facebook, Google, and the Data Design Disaster,"  which makes a good case for the need for digital players to balance the art vs. science of design. As the Web becomes a more "social" experience, we are going to see a lot more of the data vs. design discussion.


It's hard to overstate the importance of design to both marketers and publishers on the social Web. Success is dependent on your ability to design messages that people will want to share and environments that enable, promote and reward sharing. There will be unparalleled amounts of interaction data coming from the social Web, and it will be very important to know how to interrupt the data for your business, whether you are marketing soda or building an online community (or doing both of those at the same time). But data doesn't make something social, data just tells us what people think is worthy of being socialized. In short, data gives us the "what," not the "why." In order to have data, we have to give people something to react to, and if we want people to react to something new, we have to create it.



The fuel of social media is people sharing content (that they or that marketers/publisher create); people want to share things they consider new, interesting, funny, sad, entertaining. If you could simply read the data and create those things, movie studios would have a much greater "hit to flop" ratio. Instead, movie studios continue to balance the art of creation with the science of market research. A studio can take into account all of the lessons learned from past films and research done today, but eventually the studio puts the movie out and success is dependent upon how people react.

The advantage marketers should have is the ability to constantly iterate based on how people are reacting by watching the data. I say "should," because most marketers do not utilize their ability to iterate on design during a campaign. Instead, marketing on the social Web is done much more like a movie release: all the thought up front, trying to use a wealth of social data like reading tea leaves, then a launch into the fickle waters of the social Web, hoping the idea floats.

It is during the campaign, not before or after, that data has the greatest potential to lead to better design. And the data can still only do that if there are people with ideas and creativity to interrupt the data. Data can lead to marketers creating a sort of "social spam" if misused, while design can lead to impactful engagements.

Designing something to be social means to design something people are going to appreciate and talk about (the emotional aspect of social). It also means giving those people who want to talk about your content the ability to do so easily (the utility aspect of social). Great design, like great art, can be subjective, but the difference between "social spam" and good social design, while hard to define, is like what the politician said about the difference between art and pornography: "I know it when I see it."

How do you think we can balance the data vs. design issue? Drop me a line on twitter @joemarchese ( ) and/or post a comment below.

2 comments about "Social By Design".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Thom Kennon from Free Radicals, March 31, 2009 at 11:48 a.m.

    Joe- you said it all (almost) with one little potent morsel:

    "The fuel [of social media] is sharing..."

    We must do one simple thing very well when it comes to designing, developing, managing & optimizing successful social media campaigns --- give people a compelling reason to share what they find of ours with others.

  2. Ivan Cevallos from Ethos Group Inc., March 31, 2009 at 12:52 p.m.

    Joel, the idea of one to one communication is fueled by the availability of accurate and abundant data. We have seen that personalization increases response and conversion. having enough data would allow you to determine all elements of a communication piece, including creative and offer. Online and social then provide you with the ability to optimize all elements based on real time results. The issues then becomes budgets required to run a campaign of this nature. I think technology will eventually provide agencies and marketers with the tools to run real time dynamic campaigns that adjust on the flight, based on real time results with one to one communication. Social is one step on that direction because members of groups already have a lot in common. I think there needs to be balance between data and creative. However, a group for a museum would probably look at design with a different perspective than say a book club, where content may be the driver for conversion.

Next story loading loading..