May 12, 2011

Q&A with Marc A. Smith, sociologist and chief social scientist at Connected Action Consulting Group

Posted by: in North America

While researching our May report on FOMO, we interviewed sociologist Marc A. Smith, who specializes in the social organization of online communities and computer-mediated interaction. He founded and managed the Community Technologies Group at Microsoft Research and led the development of social media reporting and analysis tools for Telligent Systems. Now Smith leads the Connected Action Consulting Group in Silicon Valley, which analyzes social media usage using social science methods. He’s also a co-founder of the Social Media Research Foundation—dedicated to open tools, open data and open scholarship related to social media—and contributes to its NodeXL project, which adds social network analysis features to the Excel spreadsheet.

In addition to talking about his work as a sociologist, we discussed the link between FOMO and relative deprivation and why FOMO impacts younger people the most.

Fears of missing out have been around for some time, wouldn’t you say? How does the FOMO of today differ from the FOMO of yesteryear?

Maybe there’s a growing sense of the reality that those who used to dine behind thick stone walls and had caviar now do so, Tweet about it and can be seen by those sitting down to dinner at Chipotle. So [there is] the chance for consumption to happen in public. Obviously conspicuous consumption has been a feature of wealth and class in the United States for a little while—but now they’re doing it and we hear about it at the resolution of one Tweet and as a resolution of, you know, each shoe dropping, each moment of their “Oh, I saw so and so,” “Oh, I just had the best this” or “Oh, the lines at Davos are so long, I’m so complaining.”

That kind of stuff gets annoying because you’re learning it drip by drip by drip. It used to be that it would be a Rolling Stone article six, seven, eight weeks later that said, “Oh, well, you wouldn’t believe… .”.

Things move faster, and there’s more even more transparency for wealthy people engaged in consumption.

And it’s all in real time.

And it’s in real time. And it’s also, I would argue, in some ways commingled with otherwise very intimate communications. So the Tweet from Starlet 23 is right next to [a message] from mom, your boss and your significant other.

All kinds of worlds completely blurred; what do you make of that?

I think it’s a real problem for our society because it’s as if we moved into an apartment complex designed by computer scientists, and these computer scientists got degrees without ever taking a single class in the social sciences.

And so think about the core aspiration of Mr. [Mark] Zuckerberg’s product, which is that everyone will share everything with everybody. And contrast this with the core concepts in sociology related to roles and role strain. Role is a way you behave typically toward some other person. So roles only happen in relationships. Roles are not always compatible with one another, and there’s a notion of role strain. So imagine you’re the undergraduate freshman, you’ve just moved into the dorm, and your goal is to present yourself to your floor mates as a really cool person. And mom has arrived. And your goal now is to be the daughter or the son who is worth the $24,000 a year it’s costing to keep you there. It’s hard to be both people at the same time. The Internet assures that you must be all people to all people at all times.

Who do you believe FOMO most affects?

FOMO affects all people at all ages who have any sense of insecurity—all of us—and are exposed to information that brings on relative deprivation.

In our survey we found that young people suffer from FOMO the most. Why do you think this is?

Note that younger people are more engaged in identity formation than older people. They may be more open to the experience of FOMO because they are engaged in relative deprivation. Younger people have fewer resources to consume identity-forming products and experiences while simultaneously having the most time and desire for them.

Connections among the Twitter users found within a set of 1,000 tweets returned from Twitter Search containing "sxsw" when queried on March 15, 2011, during a 13 minute period (from 3/15/2011 14:42 to 3/15/2011 14:55), scaled by numbers of followers.

 

How would you explain your NodeXL tool?

NodeXL is based on the idea that graphs matter and that social media graphs matter a great deal, which is to say that the collections of people that form online and the way they’re connected to each other, that’s important now. So we’re in a position to say, “Looking at the shape of the crowd in social media is as important as, let’s say, those pictures that they always take when a big crowd gathers at the Lincoln Memorial.” So this crowd theme is important.

NodeXL says those graphs are going to matter and you really shouldn’t have to be a programmer or software developer, an engineer or a mathematician to be able to do the basic things with a graph. And so for free in open code you can download NodeXL, run it on any machine with a recent copy of Windows and Office, and it will connect you to Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and email and the World Wide Web and wikis and blogs and other data structures that are sources of graphs, sources of networks.

What defines a crowd in social media, and what is the shape of a crowd—what does it look like?

A social media crowd is a population defined by a shared use of a term, service or repository. These crowds have shapes defined by the pattern of interconnections among the people in the population. Connections form, for example, when people link, like, rate, review, reply, friend, follow, contact, comment, connect, tag, forward or edit social media content and other users. These shapes vary from small, scattered, disconnected groups to dense, large hierarchies.
Many populations have several key people who occupy strategic locations in the network. These specially positioned people are often thought of as influencers—people with disproportionate ability to shape the activity of others.

So considering that there is a center and there’s a periphery to these crowds in social media, what position would you assign someone experiencing FOMO? Are they completely on the periphery?

I suspect the FOMO victim is someone near enough to the center of the graph to be aware of the hierarchy in the population—they are familiar with the names of the “big” people—but not close enough to be a member of the inner circle. Completely peripheral people lack enough awareness of the pecking order to be impressed and jealous of the people at the center. And so it’s only the people who are relatively connected enough to know who’s important to be able to care enough that somebody important is saying something.

What kind of social media ties within these crowds are most likely to result in FOMO?

Populations with larger socioeconomic status diversity—for example, groups that attract wealthy jetsetters or high-end hobbyists along with less affluent people with aspirations to engage in the target lifestyle.

Do you believe FOMO thwarts people from engaging in the here and now?

FOMO is the opposite of “Be here now” and can be a pathological condition. I mean, if you’d always rather be somewhere that you’re not, you’re never where you want to be.

What kind of marketing/advertising opportunities does FOMO present?

Marketing that leverages people’s insecurities is the core of most effective calls to action. Consumption is presented as a solution to FOMO: “Buy this product and avoid FOMO” is the value proposition of many offers.

How do you think brands can utilize NodeXL? What would be your elevator pitch to brands that might be interested in using it?

Find out who occupies key locations by creating these maps, engage them, measure your impact.
You map the crowd, find influencers, engage them, measure your engagement. So I think that networks allow you to measure things like the density of the network without regard to the size of the network. In other words, you could say that the goal for a small product with hardcore users is to keep that core dense because it’s not likely to be a broadly appealing product, versus broadly appealing products where [the goal is] bringing in a lot of what I call innocent bystanders.

What’s on your own things to watch list?

Social media tools that give individuals the tools to collect, protect and understand their social media activity.

Photo credit: Marc A. Smith

No Responses to "Q&A with Marc A. Smith, sociologist and chief social scientist at Connected Action Consulting Group"

Comment Form

SIGN UP FOR OUR WEEKLY EMAIL NEWSLETTER:

New: 10 Years of 10 Trends

The Future 100

JWT AnxietyIndex

Things to Watch

  • Digital immersive exercise
    February 25, 2015 | 4:04 pm

    immersive-fitness-the-trip

    Equinox’s new revved-up cycle class speaks to a growing exercise trend—digital immersion. This month the gym brand unveiled Pursuit, an immersive cycling concept, to limited U.S. gyms. Equinox describes the program as “an immersive studio cycling experience that uses groundbreaking gaming and data visualization to drive competition and inspire peak performance.”

    Continue reading “Digital immersive exercise” »

  • Science fare
    February 20, 2015 | 2:07 pm

    Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 12.59.22 PM

    The worlds of science, gastronomy and art are continuing to cross-pollinate—from edible conceptual art to molecular gastronomy “lab cafés” to synesthetic dining events. Café ArtScience in Cambridge, Mass., is a recent example. Opened late last year by David Edwards, a Harvard engineering professor, the café serves whiskey “fogs” through a special carafe that turns the liquor into vapor (which means consumers don’t take in any of the calories and feel none of the intoxicating effects).

    Continue reading “Science fare” »

  • Aman’s authentic-luxe travel
    February 11, 2015 | 1:06 pm

    Amandira1_509

    As travelers continue to seek out authentic and unique experiences, hospitality brands keep raising the bar on hyper-localized offerings and exceptional access. Aman, for instance, is introducing a phinisi-style sailing ship in Indonesia, marrying the brand’s ultra-luxe sensibility with regional tradition. With an outdoor lounge and bar, the option to travel by motor, and air-conditioned cabins, the ship brings every modern comfort to an age-old means of navigating the Indonesian archipelago. Another Aman property, meanwhile, offers a dip into paleontology: Guests at Amangiri in southern Utah can join an official dig at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, working alongside fossil experts for a half-day. The cost of getting one’s hands dirty starts at $600. (Resulting Instagram images: priceless.) —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Aman

  • Adidas’ ‘virtual line’
    February 5, 2015 | 6:55 pm

    Adidas

    Adidas’ new Confirmed app cleverly harnesses the fervor of collectors who normally line up for limited-edition shoes, moving fans onto a mobile platform. App users create an account, then get push notifications when hot new releases are on the way. Interested buyers in a given metro area—only New York City at launch—indicate their size and, if approved, receive details on where and when to pick up the shoes. An Adidas exec calls it a “virtual line.” In addition to collecting data on these super-fans, the app lets Adidas control which influencers get various styles, drives traffic to selected stores, builds additional buzz and cuts out secondary-market sellers armed with bots that secure advance orders. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Bloomberg

  • Adventurous play
    February 4, 2015 | 1:09 pm

    Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 12.00.22 PM

    Kids will slide through a “Tunnel of Terror” and get slimy on “Mount Mud” in Tough Mudder’s new obstacle course for the 7-12 set. The endurance-challenge purveyor is partnering with European soft drink brand Britvic on Fruit Shoot Mini Mudder, with events planned for the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland. The concept caters to parents looking to pry kids away from screens and get them moving—there’s now a CrossFit offshoot for kids, starting with preschoolers—in ways that are challenging and fun.

    Continue reading “Adventurous play” »

  • Rivals joining forces
    January 26, 2015 | 7:19 pm

    Volkswagen_5 2000px-BMW.svg

    Not long ago, a collaboration between two rival companies would have been seen as a counterintuitive and perhaps desperate measure. In 2015, however, BMW’s partnership with Volkswagen on fast-charging electric vehicle stations makes the automakers look self-confident, open and serious about sustainability and the common good.  Continue reading “Rivals joining forces” »

  • Virgin Hotels
    January 21, 2015 | 1:42 pm

    Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 12.34.58 PM

    Taking a cue from private clubs like Soho House—which now has outposts from Berlin to Chicago and Toronto—and cool hotel hangouts like the Ace, the first hotel under Virgin’s affordable-meets-aspirational banner houses a Commons Club. Offering “exclusivity for all,” the Commons hosts a “roundtable of ideas and indulgence” at a nightly social hour and includes a restaurant, bar and study area. Virgin marketing also taps into easyHotel lingo with the promise of no surprise fees and free wi-fi.

    Continue reading “Virgin Hotels” »

  • Google’s Ara phone
    January 16, 2015 | 11:51 am


    A new video from Google shows the latest prototype of its modular phone, which will launch this year in Puerto Rico. Project Ara emphasizes personalization—“What if you could make thoughtful choices about exactly what your phone does, and use it as a creative canvas to tell your own story?”—but the sustainability implications are also important.

    Continue reading “Google’s Ara phone” »

  • Nike taps into urban exploring
    January 5, 2015 | 1:13 pm

    Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 12.09.46 PM

    The city is the new terrain for Nike’s rebranded all-conditions gear, now named NikeLab ACG. Taking a cue from the urban exploration trend (“urbex”)—which involves venturing into unseen and generally off-limits structures and documenting the adventure—Nike says that “For today’s athletes, the city is the ultimate landscape,” complete with “modern obstacles” and many microclimates. Images show an intrepid explorer on a rooftop amid skyscrapers. The urban environment is now as challenging, intriguing and adventurous as the natural landscape.

  • Tears become… streams become…
    December 17, 2014 | 1:50 pm

    Artists and performers are increasingly creating multisensory pieces that immerse and envelope audiences, who in turn are embracing these one-of-a-kind experiences. In New York, the latest example is the performance and installation tears become… streams become…, a “field of water that harnesses light, reflection, music and sound” by Scottish artist Douglas Gordon and French pianist Hélène Grimaud.

    Continue reading “Tears become… streams become…” »

  • RSSArchive for Things to Watch »