Thursday, May 19, 2011

Building a relevant dialogue - facilitating serendipity

The concept of serendipity has been discussed a lot recently in the context of social media usage. It is an inspiring platform for social media strategy creation and innovation, for instance, as the joy of unexpected positive discovery has always been one of the major drivers behind human behavior - from hunter-gatherers to urban flea market addicts, we as humans have been motivated by the desire to search and find things. Although the motivations can vary from a rational need or benefit to more aspirational ones such as search for self-fulfillment or meaning, the serendipitous discovery of something unexpected but positive surprise always tends to turn into feelings of joy and happiness.

In the context of social media, the probability of the unexpected has became part of the user experience. As Ana Silva puts it in her great presentation on serendipity in the social web, in social networks and the web everything - any link, post, page of search results, comment or connection - can lead to serendipitous discoveries. It is driven by the power of networks, #hashtags and sharing. Futurist Ross Dawson sees serendipity at the heart of the emerging society: "That is where the action is, that is where the excitement is, that is where new things are bubbling forth. You must experience it to know it. And it is a delightful place to be", he writes.

Within the social web, networks and connections play an important role in facilitating serendipitous discoveries. The latest briefing is talking about F-discovery: consumers are increasingly turning to their social networks to find out what to buy, wear, eat, drive, do, like - or not. This discovery, often first driven by curiosity, is enabling users and consumers to "accidentally" find new ideas, lifestyles and brands. In real life, our lifestyle and consumption choices have traditionally been the presentation of ourselves in everyday life. Within the virtual context, it is also about our likes, comments, stuff we choose to follow - our actions and relationships create a foundation for social capital, as I wrote in my earlier post on virtual identity and social currency..

Playfulness, spontaneity and randomness are always present in a networked virtual world where the probability for serendipity is continuous. It is what companies, brands and communities aiming to build a relevant dialogue with their followers need to pursue: to enable, enhance and facilitate serendipity,  to make "happy accidents" and positive surprises likely to happen. It is much about the design and user interface of services, but increasingly about the content too. Are you listening carefully enough, and more importantly, understanding what you hear and see? Is the message clear and simple enough, bringing users, consumers or followers something new and inspiring to think about? Is it bringing them unexpected added value? Is it leading them towards the joy of unexpected positive discovery?

Users, consumers and followers are a diverse group of humans with different needs, motivations, values and attitudes. The ability to understand your target audience and to create discovery possibilities meaningful for them is a necessary prerequisite for a relevant and successful dialogue.

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