Social Media, Surveys, and the Dutch Example

The era of internet connectivity has provided sociologists and marketers with a truly invaluable resource – easy access to massive amounts of people. The trick, however, for tapping into this resource for sociological purposes (which most often rely on surveys) lies in the ability to motivate netizens to participate.

Of late, I have noticed an increase in survey taking on Facebook. Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York times recently asked, “What country will be the world’s most powerful in 2100?” for an article on the rise of India. It seems as though he has gotten a decent number of responses (though I would have thought there would have been more). This survey format – as a single question – appears with a bar graph. Each bar will increase with each response, giving the Facebook user a feeling that their individual response will have some sort of tangible effect on the outcome. In a sense, this is a sensation of empowerment in exchange for data.

By using Facebook, Kristof is also depending on the innate standard of participation that is created by the structure of social media itself – a force similar to gravity in its dependence on mass, a type of peer-pressure, an environmentally induced desire to participate in one’s friends’ activities.

Something I think that will always be more effective, however, is an extension or addition of the old trick used by every university psychology department – money, food, a prize, or a chance to win money or a prize. By turning a survey into a lottery ticket, any organization can easily up the number of participants in their studies online – especially when administering said technique through social networks with consistently active and obsessive users, like Twitter.

While most governments and government organizations tend to be relatively slow on the uptake in terms of taking advantage of crowd-sourcing and social media – the Dutch are a true exception. comScore Inc. (an organization that assesses digital participation and marketing, see more here) recently gave the Netherlands first place in a global assessment of social media penetration (for Twitter and LinkedIn). While the survey was not assessing governments, it is clear that the government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands represents its people even in this trend. I would have to add to comScore Inc.’s conclusion that the Dutch also have a great degree of skill at motivating other people to participate in their social networks and fill out their surveys.

The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States has a twitter account (@DutchEmbassyDC) and about a month or so ago they had asked their followers to fill out a quick survey to provide feedback about their website design and have a chance to win a Dutch designer mug. Spending a lot of time paying attention to diplomatic missions in Washington, I figured I’d take the five minutes to fill out the survey even though, with over 1200 followers, I knew that the chances of winning were slim. I still felt that, somehow, such a small chance was worth the five minutes of my free time. After all, I was in front of the computer anyways.

I’m glad I filled out the survey because in the end, I actually got a mug!

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And now the Dutch have got me hooked and if I ever see another survey with a chance to win a prise that shows up in my Twitter feed – I will certainly take the five minutes to fill it out. Even the worst chances of winning at that game makes me want to participate.

Organizations that want to become more self-aware or active could learn a lot from the Dutch example of taking advantage of social media to penetrate into online communities and then employing games to increase participation.

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Twitter: Customer Service Accountability

Have you ever heard that rumor about the girl who was sad that she didn’t win a  free iPhone from Amazon and tweeted about it, only to be subsequently approached by Amazon and offered a phone? Yeah. Right. Like that would happen. It’s just a rumor. But how realistic of a rumor is it?

As it turns out, Twitter goes beyond is micro-diary function to serve as a tool for the consumer to ensure good service. Many companies are present and very active on Twitter, offering deals, advertising sales, and directly thanking clients to retweet their content or offer their complements to their products. It works the same way for consumption mishaps.

Lots of cities have been hosting “restaurant week”, Washington included. Here, many of the finest, most policy-wonk-cluttered and ritzy-administration-official-frequented restaurants join in this prix-fixe fest for both lunch and dinner reservations. For the recent college graduate, however, $30 per meal is a good discount from $60 but still not enough to get you through two restaurants in one week without threatening to garrote your budget into asphyxiation.

H Street NE, an up-and-coming, trendy neighborhood, was able to recognize this predicament of the young professional and offered its own “restaurant week” special at $20 a pop of prix-fixe. So, my friends and I ventured down to the Biergarten Haus for a Maß and a Wurstplatte for two Hamiltons and some change. Unfortunately, the Biergarten Haus was unaware that they were involved in this “restaurant week” special and refused to give us the discounted price, slapped us with a few extra dollars on the bill, and called it “false advertising”. Say what?

So my friend said to me the next day, “You should tweet this.” So I figured, why not give it a try, right? Biergarten Haus responded to my tweet in a few hours, apologized, and told me to come by and ask for someone and said that they would “take care of me”.  Nice right?

Unfortunately, I was too busy at work to get myself down to H & 13 NE during the week. I also felt this slight pang of embarrassment that my complaint had actually obtain special treatment. So, in the end, I wallowed in my success at obtaining an apology and a carrot through social media while trying my best to save face.

In conclusion, next time you encounter some sort of consumer injustice, tweet about it. Since the internet is such a public space, the company will be eager to appease you for the sake of publicity.

(FYI, I still love Biergarten Haus and will still continue to happily frequent their venue despite this mishap. They are very kind have delicious food with a super awesome atmosphere. Ganz authentisch. No hard feelings here.)

Chinese from Another Perspective

When someone learns a foreign language they are learning it from the perspective of their native language.  Let’s take the example of Mandarin Chinese. If I want to learn Mandarin, I will do one of a few things. I will seek out a class near where I live, buy a book from a local bookstore or an internet carrier, or perhaps make use of the daunting diversity of free online language learning opportunities, ranging from blogs to Livemocha. All of these resources (supposedly) suit me best, because they are designed for English speakers to begin tackling Mandarin.

When I have free time and don’t feel like venturing into the city, I usually pass my time looking through these online resources and finding new venues to learn languages. One day, I was doing my best to find something suitable for Mandarin. I wanted something that would explain to me, in a little more depth, the basics of Mandarin. When I say basics, I don’t mean “hello” and “goodbye”. I wanted an explanation of sentence structure, the relationship between verbs and nouns, how grammar is employed, etc. A long story short, I failed. I found endless amounts of nǐhǎo‘s and wǒ jiào‘s but nothing of more substance. I decided to change my tactic.

Instead of typing in “learning Chinese”, I typed in “중국어 배우기” and “중국어 강좌”. The Korean language search for Chinese language learning materials opened my access, literally, to an entirely new niche online. I had found a whole new market that thrived on an entirely different set of expectations for the didactic materials and learners.

As an English speaker, the assumption made by the “teacher” (or what have you) is that you know absolutely nothing. Therefore, the “basics of Chinese” are excessively infantile. Korean speakers, however, share a large percentage of their vocabulary with Chinese (just as Western European languages do with Latin). Koreans also have usually studied some Chinese characters in their schooling. This background means that the Chinese “teacher” can explain the basics of Chinese at a more complex level. Some of the explanations, also, have to be different given the grammatical differences between Korean and Chinese.

Long story short, I found this awesome video called 기초 중국어 (basic Chinese) on myong7351’s YouTube channel. In the video, he describes the way that the Chinese view individual characters – phonemes – and how they proceed to construct words and grammar from these basic concepts. He uses some characters as an example and separates them into “definition” and “connotation” (한국어로 의미와 뜻으로 설명합니다). He indicates that while an individual character may have multiple connotations, it only has one definition. Trying to learn the multiple connotations of each character is, in a sense, equivalent to multiplying the number of characters that one has to learn. Where as, if one just learns the definition,  one can intuit most of the connotations one will encounter.

This, among many other explanations of aspects of Mandarin Chinese, was exactly what I wanted to find. I encourage anyone who knows enough of a 2nd language to use it to navigate their 3rd. It is exciting and you might just learn something you wouldn’t have otherwise.