Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Here's something I've written for the Digital Pigeon newsletter. It comes out later this week but I thought I'd give a sneak preview here first....


Facebook lessons from the Situationist international

In his 1967 work La Société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle) leading Situationist, Guy Debord documented his theory of The Spectacle.

In it, he argued, that through mass media, television, hollywood and emerging technologies, capitalism - perpetrator of The Spectacle - was controlling the conditions of human existence.

In effect, the world we see is not the real world but a world we have been conditioned to see, via an onslaught of images.

The Spectacle's audience simply observe the ‘show’ – ie life - as passive spectators, consumers if you like, without actually participating or experiencing it.

Debord saw the only outcome as Alienation.
The Spectacle made us all spectators. Manipulated into substituting material things for authentic experiences and separated from each other.
Passively consuming the image, the spectacle, together but ultimately isolated from everybody and everything.

Debord and his fellow Situationists felt that "if we can explain how the nightmare works, everyone will wake up!"

However, for the lumpen proletariat to wake up they would need to be active participants in the process.

To that end, a tactic of the Situationist International was the construction of situations.

A constructed situation being a ‘moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and game of events.’

Ironically, as marketers, as ones who in the past have actively perpetrated the Spectacle, through branding and advertising, there are some learnings from the construction of situations we can apply to marketing in the age of social technologies and connectedness.

As a footnote, Debord et al would doubtless be perplexed by the voluntary reification, or self-commoditisation afforded to individuals by Facebook, but that’s another discussion…

A situation is designed to be lived by its participants
It’s not just ambience, it’s an integrated ensemble of behavior.

In regard to Facebook fan pages or any type of community building effort it’s important to note that simply amassing vast numbers of fans or followers (ie buying likes) has little or no value.
It’s also important to remember that the destination in Facebook is not the page but the news feed. This is where content (or objects, to use Facebook parlance) is experienced.

An Object is more likely to show up in your News Feed if
you and people you know have been interacting with it or it’s creator, recently.

So social context and quality of interactions are the most important factors for Facebook engagement.

I repeat: social context and quality of interactions.

To describe our lesson in achieving this comes I’m paraphrasing notes on the construction of situations first described in issue one of Situationist International from 1958.

Situations require:

1. A temporary director or orchestrator.
The orchestrator is responsible for coordinating the basic elements necessary in the construction of the situation, and for conducting certain interventions.

In Facebook these are the page admins.
The interventions are simple. Leave no comment unanswered, leave no contribution unthanked and use every opportunity to connect the participants, or constituents with each other.

2. Direct agents
The direct agents living the situation, who have taken part in creating the collective project and worked on the practical composition of the

The reason that 90% of social media marketing efforts fail is down to one simple factor.

Marketers and their agencies are married to the notion of the Spectacle.
Otherwise known as launch-and-leave, the defining trait of advertising.

To grow a community, to grow participation the community needs to be constantly fed, prodded, poked, questioned, invited to participate.
There is nothing ingenuine or inauthentic in using direct agents to agitate.

In fact it’s the opposite.
Why should your customers want to get involved and support a situation that the brand and it’s agencies can’t be bothered to live in?

3. Passive spectators
Passive spectators who have not participated in the constructive work, BUT whom can/should be forced into action.

You should be familiar with Nielsen’s Law of Participation Inequality.
Also known as the 90-9-1 rule.

In any online community:
90% of the community will be passive. They will simply watch, spectate and will not contribute.
They are also known a ‘lurkers’.
In many cases they may not even be fans, particularly if you have employed some sort of bribery tactic to attract ‘likes’.

9% will comment, share and edit/remix/modify content.
Likewise these advocates should be welcomed as direct agents (2)

1% will be the power creators (they will create original content, blog posts, videos etc) – these creators should be developed to become orchestrators (1) wherever possible.

In reference to the earlier statement that simply amassing vast numbers of fans or followers (ie buying likes) has little or no value, the objective of amassing fans is to grow the 9% and the 1%. The bigger the pie then the bigger those slices will be.
We’re wired as humans to follow what looks like a good idea.
Good ideas are more often than not those which everyone seems to be doing.
In marketing terms this is the antithesis of spectacle.

There is no situationist art or situationist music or situationist marketing, but only a situationist use of these mediums.
In this case, can using social technologies as a platform for connectedness and value create situations?

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