Social Technology: it’s the little things that count

After a month of travelling, i’m back in the UK and settled in to start editing the book. Starbucks is a favourite local writing spot: somehow i’m more productive in busy, noisy environments. I use their loyalty card App, which has done stirling service for several years: until today. In the latest upgrade, it’s defaulted to signing you out every time you close it. Which means every time you get to the front of the queue to pay, you have to type in your email address and remember your password. Contrast this to yesterday, when i just had to open it and type a four digit passcode.

Social Technology and the need for ease

Social Technology is all around us, but it needs to work on our terms. The smallest things make a difference to engagement

Social Technology has to be effortlessly social, or it’s not social at all. The reason so many of the dinosaur, legacy, enterprise systems that large organisations spent so much money on failed was that they failed to meet the needs or expectations of users. They were built around the requirements of IT teams, compliance teams, learning teams, but not the people who actually count: the people who use them.

In many walks of life, we are seeing the true impacts of the Social Age taking effect: i was talking to a friend at the National Trust yesterday who recounted a story of how one of their tenant farmers took to Twitter to ask the organisation to fix his boiler. And why not? Most of the apparatus of consumer service that organisations have put in place over the years suits them very well, but suits us, the consumers, very badly.

Call centres with queue systems and clever call filtering may suit organisations trying to reduce overheads, but for me, ringing up about my insurance, to be told “we are experiencing unusually high call volumes” doesn’t cut it. It’s easier for me to Tweet them and wait for the response: it’s communication on my terms.

For Starbucks, its an issue of mindset: having played about in the new app, i think i’ve set it to use the passcode, but only because i’ve fiddled about to find out how. A social business with a social mindset would have stopped to think ‘how is a consumer going to use this app’ and would have solved the problem before i even realised i had it. It would have been easy to put a message on the login screen to this effect, instead of investing their time and money in a nice blurred background photo that looks nice but doesn’t contribute to my experience.

A small issue? Of course, but as i say, it’s about mindset, about understanding the realities of the Social Age and our relationship with both technology and the organisations that use it.

Nearly good enough isn’t good enough: there is no slow spectrum of attrition for me around technology that isn’t quite good enough. It’s either good, and i use it, or it’s not, and i don’t. It’s the same with my bank: they’ve crafted four separate Apps, each of which does something different with a cool and trendy name, but each of which uses different login and validation methods and, frankly, i have no idea what they all do. Is the fault mine, or theirs? I’m looking for efficiency, they are looking for engagement. The two don’t always match up. I don’t want to engage with my bank: i want them to be efficient, on my terms. Selfish? Yes, it’s a buyers market: even established industries that fail to recognise the need for agility are susceptible to disruption in the Social Age. Just because your bank has been here for 300 years doesn’t mean it will weather the next five.

I’m talking about consumer technology here, but the challenges are the same for learning technology in all it’s forms. Systems that are built for the organisation, but fail to recognise the needs of the individual will fail to gain traction. Systems that deliver on social terms to individuals will succeed. We see this with mobile learning all the time: is it truly social? Does it truly support performance? Or does it let the organisation assess you whilst you’re on the bus? One is a social mindset, the other isn’t. One will succeed, the other will fail to generate engagement.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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