Social Media Conversation series (Talk with Dennis McDonald)

Background: This blog-post marks the start of a special series of conversations with Social media thought-leaders, experts and mavens to answer some of the most important questions surrounding the subjects of Social media and Web2.0 ! The emphasis of this discussion series is to address ‘socialmedia’ at a ground level and talk about the real world issues that are being faced by us on both sides of the road: i.e. as users and as consultants/agencies.


I am fortunate enough to start this series through couple of email exchanges with Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. I discussed with him, wide variety of topics like definition aspects of Web3.0, geographical variations in user communities and social media project  strategy.

Dennis writes and consults on social media strategies and using information technology to manage, collaborate, innovate, and communicate. Based in Alexandria, Virginia, his experience includes strategic planning, project management, market research, software product development, and system integration & consolidation. For further information about him please visit


1. Web2.0 has been one of the mostly widely read, heard and spoken term during the last couple of years. What are your thoughts on it?

I’ve tried to get away from the term “web 2.0” because it means so many things to so many people. Part of the problem is that it has both technological and behavioral aspects, but it’s hard to make it concrete without mentioning specific technologies such as those that support blogs and social networks. The impression I have now is that “early adopters” like to denigrate the term “web 2.0” since they need to be seen as having advanced beyond it, even though the majority of people are still wrestling with how best to adopt it and make it useful.

2. Also in the recent period, there’ve been numerous articles being published on the subject of Web3.0. Despite these blog-posts/feature stories there is still enough doubt about real definition of Web 3.0. Some say it is about context whereas there has been even a formula based on Vertical search + personalization which has been created. I think it is about contextual search and the old school thought of focusing things centered on user his for e.g. his likes, dislikes etc. But what really is it. Are we witnessing it today?

I’m trying to stay away from the term “web 3.0” based on the confusion that the fuzziness of “web 2.0” has aroused. My take is, if you want to talk about real-time search, talk about real-time search. If you want to talk about web experience personalization, talk about web experience personalization. It all boils down to helping people improve how they work, socialize, and experience things. Let’s try to be more specific this time around.

3. A bunch of executives like us widely use frameworks like Social Technographics Ladder (creators, critics, joiners, collectors, spectators and in-actives) to classify the internet’s audience. Are there any other suggested methodologies/frameworks to gain insights about the audience?

Well, I think that the term “audience” has sort of a passive ring to it. One of the complexities – and I come from a grounding in fairly traditional concepts related to market segmentation and market research – is that the same person can be very active in one community and very passive in another. The fact that communities overlap complicates this. What I’d like to see is a way to characterize the variables associated with whether one is active or passive, but without making a value judgment one way or another about the level of engagement one has.

4. We are witnessing various geographical trends in the usage patterns of social-networks. A particular social-network might be popular in South Korea might not even have been heard of in Brazil. Then there are globally used social-networks like Facebook. However, in the real-sense there is still huge improvement scope in terms of full-throttle collaboration.

I’m all for breaking down geographic and language barriers in collaboration. I’m not sure how effective social networks are in overcoming those barriers since what’s really most effective is having people travel. My kids by the time they were in their early 20’s had substantially more international travel experience than I had ever had as a kid and that has colored their view of a lot of things. But I’m not convinced that easy social networking across country borders has the same psychological and cultural impact. Much of what happens on Facebook etc. is related to “lightweight” relationships where the level of engagement is pretty low. There’s nothing like sitting in a bar in Sevilla Spain across the street from an actual spot where Julius Caesar walked, or having a beer in a Cairo bar with a view of the Sphinx.

5. At a broad-level, there are two categories of organizations which are joining the groundswell: ‘Those’ with specific needs for their products/services (listening/collecting feedback/who are joining the groundswell and those with specific solutions to problems. For e.g. a social-network for baby boomers, an enterprise level micro-blog. Assuming I have an idea for a social network, what do I need to next? How do I figure out its market? Do I need to engage with a market research agency? If yes, what should be our broad-level of expectations? What are the other points that I need in my checklist?

I advise my own clients to get really familiar with the individuals and organizations that will impact on how and why target members engage with the network. That means understanding not only “competing” online networks but all the other “communities” that will be competing for the target member’s time, online or not. Such understanding is usually more important than selecting a technology vendor, but a lot of people still start out worrying about the technology. That’s probably inevitable so you have to take into account that you may be introducing social media and social networking technology at the same time you’re developing a vision and plan.

6. Beyond the numbers of traffic and click-throughs how do we measure the ROI of social-media?

Here I draw again on my background in market research and customer service. You have to be able to link use of your system to the accomplishment of some kind of an outcome – a changed behavior, a changed perception, a purchase decision. I suppose this is easier if you just look at social media as another way of delivering advertising messages, which some people do. I’m more interested in content and message than infrastructure, though, and I see no way around getting more insight into what goes on in people’s minds when they use your system.

7. Let us talk about a project plan for social media strategy. I am an agency and my client belongs to the HR vertical. I have identified a list of activities which need to be done for my client. How should I build my project plan so that it ensures that external possibilities of rapid changes in the social media landscape are taken into account? In addition, how do we jointly prioritize the activities in our plan?

My biggest lesson learned as a project manager is that plans change. You need to be able to adjust. They change for many reasons – changed actors, changed requirements, changed budget priorities, changed technology. Or all of the above. My recommendation is to involve the client in building, maintaining, and reviewing the project plan. There has to be more than a weekly meeting where tasks get labeled as “red,” “yellow,” or “green” to signify schedule status or risk. So I’d like for the client to see – and understand — the same status information as the project manager. That’s easier said than done.

Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Alexandria, Virginia USA July 31, 2009

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Filed under Social media, social media india, Web 2.0, Web2.0 and more

4 responses to “Social Media Conversation series (Talk with Dennis McDonald)

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