11 Tips on How To Apply Social Interaction Design Thinking

Adrian’s insights and approaches

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One of the key social interaction design deliverables is the social interaction design requirements document. Like the market requirements document, this spec covers social needs and requirements. Social needs of the product, of users, and of course, the business served by each. And its value applies equally to social media startups, campaigns, enterprise applications.

Writing a social requirements spec, much like the MRD, involves organizational and company goals. What are your business interests in social media? What kind of audience are you assembling — and how? What’s the engagement model? How is content, in the form of interaction and communication, captured and returned to participants and non-participants alike? And of course, how do you help and add value to your social media audience?

This requirements document serves startups in the social media space as well as brands or companies using social media for “campaign” purposes. For it is important to identify end-user goals and interests in order to best serve them with social media. Principally, because interactions between members of an audience will not only result in compelling experiences but also leave behind content that can be consumed by those who don’t participate.

The social interaction design requirements spec thus wants to address user diversity. Users have different needs and interests — in terms of social media participation and use habits. Users have different ways of engaging in social media, too. And they are likely to interact with other users for a great variety of reasons.

I thought I would share some of my own insights and approaches, in a roundup of simple tips. I write this in the spirit of sharing a look into how best to apply social interaction design thinking. Social interaction design is, as I approach it, not what is on the screen but what happens off it. The emphasis is on social, less so design. And design is as much about our own frames and perspectives, as it is in the products and experiences we create.

This list is not exhaustive, and for many of you it will seem basic. But sometimes we forget the basics, myself included. Oh, and this list goes to eleven.

1. What moves your users?

Social is all about putting people in motion. And people move each other as they are also moved. So what kind of audience are you assembling? Is it a public, a crowd, an attentive audience, a gathering of individuals? Is it groups, passersby, or players playing social games?

Audiences have different psychologies and are moved in different ways, according to their collective sense of presence and involvement, and their individual sense of participation. So think first about what kind of audience you are assembling, and how it is moved.

2. All content is communication

All content in the world of web 2.0 is communication. Yes, it is information and it informs. But it is created and left behind by countless individual acts of communication — with the intent to communicate. If you view social web content as information you’re still in web 1.0. The talkies are here.

So consider the interests of your audience members, and read and listen for what they are communicating and to whom they are communicating. Communication does not just want to speak. It wants to be seen and heard. And people don’t just talk about stuff, they talk to other people. So how do you help users get from talking at to talking with?

3. What’s the user’s investment?

You have made an investment in social media. Well so too have your users. So what’s their investment, and how are they invested? Consider the things that reflect on people, provide them with responses and feedback, with impressions and a sense of being involved and valued. Are they here to build a reputation, to talk, to maintain friendships, to contribute and feel acknowledged? Likely they are.

We all are in this because we are invested, personally, in what our experiences return. Reflect on what your own investment is. Do you track your progress and are you invested in your own success? Speaking honestly and for myself, I know that I will look at traffic I get from this post. That’s one of the ways in which I am invested. And likely, you do the same — whether for your own company, campaign, or that of a client. So you have yourself in mind — as do I when I check the numbers. And that’s precisely the point: your audience thinks the same. So get past your own investment and have your audience in mind. What’s their investment?

4. What are your users’ individual motives?

Users are people too, like you and I. So they have motives of their own, and they participate in social media because they want to, and because it involves things they are good at. So think about what motivates people you know. I try to as much as possible.

When constructing my social personality types I built a list of a few dozen friends and put myself in their place, emotionally, mentally, and habitually. I tried to think through their experiences and habits on social media. To get out of my own experience and to enrich my palette and understanding. Who would invite friends to events? Who would check twitter by phone? Who cared most about pageviews or follower numbers? Try doing the same. We are all different, and we recognize only what we know. But the greater your grasp of these differences between people, the more user experiences you can recognize and accommodate.

5. Embrace ambiguity

All social interaction and communication is ambiguous. Embrace it. For ambiguity is precisely the unresolved, the unknown, and the unacknowledged of human exchanges that keeps all interaction and communication going. We interact because it’s never finished. We keep talking because there’s more to say.

Social software is not regular software. It is not comprised of discrete transactions and well-defined tasks. It’s an open state of talk in which transactions always sustain the possibility for more. So consider the ambiguities that both sustain interaction and communication around your service. And which provide for ongoing interests expressed and exchanged by people never completely in the know.

6. Change your frame

It’s not about you but about them. Success in social media comes when you shift your frame of perspective, and take your user’s interests to heart. This change of frame is as much about thinking less in terms of your own product or service, as it is thinking from the user’s perspective and experience.

We think too much about what we are trying to achieve, about what we have designed or built, and thus in terms of what it does or should do. That leads us to think in terms of controlling outcomes, or tweaking features for new behaviors. All well and good, but those engender a product and design-centric view of what’s going on. Social is happening out there, and your users do not have you or your product in mind, but their own experiences and those they share them with. Change your frame.

7. Know your blindspot

We all have a limited perspective and understanding of the world, and that includes our interpersonal and social relationships. We build this into our products and services because we tend to want to confirm our own views. Users are not taking a drive in your car — they are going someplace.

Know your blindspots. Reflect on what matters to you and to what and how you seem most inclined. Then fill in, as much as possible, what’s in your blindspot. Self awareness and humility will return generously.

8. What’s your surplus value?

What surplus value do you capture and extract from your social, and how does it add value to the experience for all? We live in a system of excess information, of noise, redundancy, and a collective clamor for attention. How are you designing your product or service to provide surplus value to the experience?

All social media is about interested users — interested in other people and interested in their contributions. Interests are preferences, tastes. And social media are about tastes: capturing tastes, reflecting tastes, making tastes. And tastes are individual, social, and cultural. So what do you do that offers a view or experience of collective participation that no single user can see and enjoy?

9. Help users help each other

Facilitate random acts of kindness. We are all kind, and an exchange of kindness is the spark that lights up the social like no other. Think less about what people want, and less about what you (think) you have to offer them. Think instead about the moments and opportunities you might design through which users might experience spontaneous and serendipitous kindness. The virtuosity of kindness needs no architecture, and its spark needs only connectedness and a gap to bridge.

10. What differences make a difference?

We talk a lot about identity online, but identity really only matters because there is difference. We are all different and all becoming different by differentiating ourselves. Even when we identify with somebody, or with a brand or idea, we differentiate ourselves in doing so. Difference matters most in social, not identity. So consider how your social allows differences to make a difference. Think about how you encourage and enable people to be different. How you capture and represent social differentiation. And how these differences might add some interesting facets to the differences that make our identity what it is: different.

11. Don’t lose yourself in metrics and numbers

You are better than that, and to lose the forest for the trees is to undermine your own knowledge, skills, and effectiveness. Social is in the heart as it is in the head. It’s about everything you already know and all that you would still like to learn. That goes for your users as it does for you. So disregard the numbers when you sense they are a comfort or distraction. Objectify your social, and your users will be stats and numbers. They should count more than that.

———

Adrian Chan

Adrian Chan is a social media expert and social interaction theorist at Gravity7. You can follow him on twitter at /gravity7

15 comments on this article

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  5. Compelling examination. Nice to see the the depths and possibilities of the new medium being plumbed in such an insightful manner. Social Media truly grows in potential when we consider possibilities beyond the simple transactional exchange.

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  8. GavinB on

    I appreciate this article. It’s helping me to think about social media in 2.0 kind of way. My organization struggles with the idea of integrating social media – many don’t think of it as a legitimate tool. After reading this article I wonder if that’s just being stuck in 1.0 mode.

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  10. Terri on

    Great article. I especially find #3 compelling. It’s a point that too often gets left behind at stage 1, when really we should be asking ourselves this at every stage.

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