The 4 C’s of Social Media

18May09

When creating a social media strategy for my clients, I like to use a strategy developed by online media expert Gaurav Mishra, which focuses on the four underlying themes in social media, or the 4Cs of social media: Content, Collaboration, Community and Collective Intelligence. Taken together, these four themes constitute the value system of social media.  The tools & buzzwords in social media are constantly changing, but the value system embedded in these 4Cs is here to stay.

Here is a breakdown of the 4 Cs of Social Media, from Mashra

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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.

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One Response to “The 4 C’s of Social Media”

  1. Great post, Lauren…Love that you are taking the conversation a step further!


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