Failing to See Money Hiding in Plain Sight

October 4, 2010

I’ve discussed ethnography, especially digital ethnography, several times here taking note that, whether we use ethnography in marketing  or design research remains irrelevant to the methods employed. What matters is whether we develop the research questions around the assumption that sociocultural practices provide the data source for answers. Ethnographers research settings, situations, and actions, with the goal of discovering surprising relationships. The most surprising relationships though are often hiding in plain sight, right under our noses.

I was recently pointed to a video from a link in the Yahoo Group Anthrodesign. The video, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, provides a unique example of insights about people we can glean from designing situations that transgress established sociocultural practices. I actually watched it three times, and not because Time listed it in the top five viral videos of the week…kind of like people (at least some people) did when the moonwalking bear video came out. Rather, my interest in it was how the mere observation of the actions taken by pedestrians leads us to experience surprise. More on this below. For now, let’s consider the video itself.

After sticking labels on 100 one dollar bills, with a unique message written on each, and clipping those dollar bills to individual leaves on a tree, Ben, Brian, and Amy video recorded how people respond to money hanging on a tree as they walk by it on a street.  The narrator, Amy,  indicates no crowds showed up to grab all the money they could get, though a few did take more than one dollar at a time. Most people who took money, a minority, pulled a couple of dollars, or one, and moved on.

(UPDATE: You will need to click on the Watch on YouTube link to see the video. Some proprietary thing I’m sure) ;-)

Amy offers two lessons learned from the Money Tree:

  1. That people routinely walk by a “tree filled with free money” without even noticing
  2. That people can look at a tree filled with money and not even see it

The Money Tree offers an example of what social psychology, but especially ethnomethodology, refers to as a breaching experiment. Breaching experiments typically involve a researcher breaking a rule about everyday life and then analyzing other people’s response. The Money Tree exemplifies a situation designed to break a tacit understanding about money and sidewalks.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees”, is a phrase most people in Chicago (the location of the Money Tree) probably know. We don’t routinely see money hanging from a tree along a sidewalk. It is certainly more common, as the bicyclist’s experience in the video shows, to see money on a sidewalk. And, I’d wager, most of us just think someone lost it. In other words, merely by setting up the situation to violate the pedestrians’ tacit knowledge of what walking down a sidewalk entails, the videographers show us something about people.

At the same time that the video offers us a surprising experience, it sure would be interesting to know what people who failed to take money were thinking. Anyone else find this interesting?

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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Social Networking with Roto-Rooter

October 22, 2009
toilet

Chilling Tales from the Porcelain Seat

You know social networking is going mainstream when service companies like Roto-Rooter start using it. My sewer line backed up yesterday and I called Roto-Rooter to clean it. The guy came out like always, did the job, and I paid him. As he handed me the receipt he also gave me a flyer that asked me to go to either Google, Yahoo, Citysearch, or superpages.com and write a review of the service. Once a week Roto-Rooter selects a name from the reviews submitted on any of these search engines and refunds the cost of the service. It doesn’t say whether the selection process is random or related to the sentiment of the review.

I was a little surprised that such an old-world service like plumbing would encourage customers to review their work. I guess that impression comes from a recent review I wrote on Yelp about another  plumbing company in St. Louis. My review was far from flattering. Anyway, I thought Roto-Rooter’s engagement of social networking interesting enough to check out their activity. Sure enough, they have a blog that Paul Abrams, the Public Relations Manager, updates regularly, and Roto-Rooter maintains a presence on a range of social network channels. From their blog,

Follow us at Twitter under @RotoRooter and here’s our main page on Facebook. You’ll even find a Roto-RooterTV channel on YouTube where you can see pet rescues, old commercials and instructional videos for DIYers. Then check out our photos on Flickr.

And, just in case you are wondering, the service was excellent though it isn’t one I like needing to buy.

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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Finding the Social Core of Facebook Friends: Revisiting the Dunbar Number

March 2, 2009

friends1A recent Economist article discusses the relevance of Dunbar’s Number to friending in Facebook, and its relation to the size of social networks, especially networks of close friends. The article addresses a similar issue outlined in an earlier post here on the influence of influentials on Twitter, which focused on findings of a recent study by members of the  Social Computing Lab of HP Laboratories .

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Online Brand Conversations and the Engagement Gap

January 27, 2009
box

We Need A New Box

A recent report from the Chief Marketing Officer Council provides an interesting set of insights into the engagement gap. The engagement gap refers to the difference between the influence of the Internet in consumer decision making and the amount of spending, and effort, by corporations and government agencies in trying to interact with and shape the thinking behind those decisions.

The CMO Council report summarizes the overall results of the survey as follows:

What we are seeing is much stronger sensitivity to engage directly with customers and learn more about what shapes, influences and impacts purchasing decisions and intentions to do business. The move to quantify “customer affinity” and increase “customer advocacy” has become a new measure of marketing effectiveness…

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Considering Social Media’s Business Value

December 5, 2008

social_media_returns1
A month ago, Don Bartholomew asked the question, “Is 2009 the Tipping Point for Social Media accountability?” Don summarized the meaning of his question about accountability as follows:

So far, the spirit of experimentation has provided a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card with respect to having to demonstrate the value of digital and social media programs and initiatives.  It looks like 2009 will change all that due primarily to three factors:

- the widespread awareness of social media use in a business context

- the economy

- the economy

In a similar tone, Peter Kim recently took up the issue of return on investment (ROI) of social media. His thoughts on the topic were a response to a post by Lewis Green. Lewis offers a distinction between focusing on ROI and focusing on business Value as two different, though complementary, ways of addressing the importance of social media to business.

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Bringing Personas to Life in Social Media Marketing

October 22, 2008

David Armano recently made a distinction between interactive advertising and social media which he depicts in the image on the left. He noted that many companies mistake interactive advertising with social media and notes that the two differ in the place of PEOPLE in the strategy. Specifically, David points out that interactive advertising involves Human-Technology Interactions. Whereas, social media involves Human-Human Interactions enabled by technology.

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Call them Visual Tags (v-Tags), not 2D Barcodes

August 13, 2008

A vTag for Skilful Minds generated with Google Chart API

For those who think discussions of semantic value and meaning are pointless, with no relationship to technology adoption, you may want to skip this post. 

We first discussed visual tags in 2006. Many people today refer to them as 2d barcodes. However, a crucial difference exists between what things are like and what they in fact are. Calling visual tags (v-Tags) 2d barcodes is like calling YouTube a video database, Flickr a photo database, or Del.icio.us a favorites list.  Literally, the description is accurate. Functionally, it is meaningless. Read the rest of this entry »


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