Embracing The Context Of Use

by Brian Haven
@ 1:58 PM

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» Brand
» Design Thinking
» Marketing
» Social Media



How should a company participate in social media?

It's one of the most perplexing issues facing companies today. The trends are clear: people increasingly interact with one another online, amplified by social technologies. But once a company steps in, bad things typically happen. The problem? Firms always place their own needs ahead of their own and they can only think about their product as the subject matter. It's this egoistic approach that turns people off.

We've all me this person. Self-absorbed, always talking about themselves, but never there to listen to what you have to say. They love to hang out with you when you're doing something they enjoy, regardless of your wishes. This is how companies behave. They want a community of people to talk about how the product is--no other subjects allowed. If you're Harley Davidson, Apple, a move studio, a video game maker, or a toy manufacturer, maybe it will happen. But people aren't going to join your social network because they're huge fans of mortgages or toilet paper. This approach diminishes your company's credibility, calls into question your intentions, and basically makes people think you're a prick — just like that person I mentioned above.

So how do you find that level of participation that's just right? It's all about the context of use. Context of use is the situation or scenario in which your product gets used. It's the overarching goal your customer is trying to achieve, of which your product is only a part. So the context is not the mortgage, it's home buying. And it's that context in which a brand can participate. The objective is to create, or facilitate the creation of, content that helps that customer achieve their goal. Don't assume or expect people to just talk about your product--it's the context that matters and it's the context where opportunity is ripe for the picking.

The design approach always begins here — identifying what people are trying to accomplish and then developing a solution that helps them do so. That's why designers use or conduct ethnographic research, participatory design, and eventually usability testing. This situation is no different. Companies need to take a few steps back and look at how they can help their customers. The responsibility lies on the company to identify the need, provide the solution, and then figure out how to make money — you have the resources to do that, not your customer. And when it comes to measurement, I've already talked a lot about how to do that (and I even have new research out that goes into more detail).

This is why a design thinking approach works around the inadequacies of most marketing organizations. It's about meeting customer needs — design will soon be the key differentiator.


18 May 2008
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25 Sep 2008
To begin, when I say "product" I mean "that which...

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