Pooh Sticks & Commandants

It’s getting hard to remember life before social media – much more so since mobile devices enabled its wholesale invasion of every corner of our lives. One of the conundrums I’ve observed people encountering is that of how heavily committed one should be to keeping up with the goings-on of his or her social set. If I’m following 1000 people on Twitter, do I need to read all of their updates? If someone engages me constructively online, is there an obligation to reciprocate? Is it okay to go on hiatus for days or weeks and, if so, is there some etiquette I should follow?

For my personal life, I chose a policy of obligation-free, occasional engagement. I am very unselfconscious about the regularity with which I read or post to social websites. A month away from Facebook is of equal value to me as flooding Twitter with nonsense, and I take and leave them interchangeably.

Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, and friends playing Pooh Sticks
Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, and friends play a lazy game of Pooh Sticks from a bridge over their stream.

But I’m an individual, I’m not trying to create or maintain a so-called “personal brand,” and if all of social media imploded tomorrow, the meaningful relationships I conduct through it would continue with barely a hiccup. If I can be said to need anything from a social media tool, it is a view of the stream and a way to throw in.

When it comes to organizations using social media for a variety of business communications purposes, it’s a different story altogether. Professional use cases call for accountability support. If a prospect or customer directs a message at you in social media, you need not to miss it. If the message requires a response, you need to track whether a response has been given. You need to be able to track conversations, search carefully, and divine trends and meaning. Generally speaking, organizations need social media tools that support a “command & control” style of social media engagement.

On a Elliance current project, we’ve needed to codify this difference in order to drive requirements-definition, and I’ve started referring to the two distinct paradigms as the “Pooh Sticks” paradigm and the “commandant” paradigm, respectively. The terms are playful, latching on to the spirit of the differences and steering clear of new media jargon, and using them is fun. Conceptualizing the different paradigms in this manner has been a useful compass in codifying what defines them, and has yielded cohesive insights, a more focused feature set, and huge usability gains. Less tangibly, but equally importantly, it has been a delightful reminder of the power of how we do the things we do. And we all need reminders.

I favor abrupt endings to blog posts, so this is the second-to-last sentence. But before we part, in case you were curious, the project I mentioned is for commandants.