04 February 2009

Talking Points Don't Always Cross Cultures Well

Back in November 2007 Craig Fuller said something on Virtual Vantage Points that sticks with me to this day. Our social media team was built on a community-centric philosophy - we identify opinion leaders in online communities and help clients build relationships with them - so we've always paid close attention to what was discussed in specific communities.

Craig took a look at the "community clouds" of the day - essentially we blended the rss feeds of the most authoritative blogs in well-defined online communities and pushed the blended feeds through a text cloud generator - and noticed that none of the communities were discussing the same things. Each of the communities we tracked at the time had different top-ranked keywords. You'd expect a difference in, say, personal finance bloggers and military bloggers, but you'd at least expect liberals and conservatives to be discussing the same issues, albeit from different perspectives.

Not really. The point is online communities, even to this day, remain somewhat isolated from one another. The reason this isolation exists is fairly simple - it's really just a reflection of the isolation that exists in the offline world as well.

We're seeing an important exception of sorts to this play out in a political context today. Two completely separate communities are essentially saying the same thing, for essentially the same reasons. But both communities remain as isolated from one another as ever. Not surprisingly, one is having measured success in policy debates while the other is struggling and seeing its reputation savaged. The nature of each community is such that they can say almost exactly the same thing and watch their message get received in completely different ways.

I'm talking about entrepreneurs who sell handmade toys - you know, the entrepreneurial moms - and bankers.

You may not be aware of the fairly robust debate that took place over the implementation of the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act, which would have imposed fairly rigorous testing standards for toys and other products. The goal was to keep things like phthalates and lead out of toys - makes sense to me.

However, the people who make these toys and other products aren't usually millionaires. We're talking about home-based businesses or single-workshop outfits run by people who do what they can, when they can, because they love it. And we're talking about very slim profit margins.

Testing for this stuff is kinda complicated and expensive. The independent, sole-proprietor types - most of whom, by the way, don't even use materials with phthalates or lead to make their products - can't afford to do all the testing the law requires. For small business owners, this law sounds nice at first but it's downright draconian. It's a door-closer. The New York Post had this to say in defense of the small-business crowd:
Dozens of small, family-owned New York businesses, already struggling, will shut down and/or lay off their workers. The city could lose a quarter to a half of its 8,000 garment-industry jobs within weeks.
So the mom-trepreneurs got active in the social media channel and encouraged these small business owners (and their customers) to contact their Members of Congress to figure out a fix. And it worked. The Consumer Product Safety Commission delayed implementation of the new rules for a year so they could work out a plan to help small businesses comply.

Now we come to bankers. We're all aware that President Obama has imposed a compensation cap on the top executives of financial services companies that are accepting TARP II bailout funds. The cap is set at $500,000 annually. The reaction from some in the banking industry?
“That is pretty draconian — $500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus,” said James F. Reda, founder and managing director of James F. Reda & Associates, a compensation consulting firm. “And you know these companies that are in trouble are not going to pay much of an annual dividend.”
So we have people in two communities making basically the same argument - that burdensome government regulation is draconian for business people facing hard times.

Do you think one community has more credibility than the other?

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