Low Investment Interactions: The Next Tiny Huge Thing

I just gave my opinion on which operating system I think is best (Mac OS), on the site Ask500People.com. I also clicked through a presentation about the future of social media on the site SlideShare. Earlier today, a co-worker reviewed the restaurant Houston’s on Yelp. And just now, as I was typing this very column, my wife used Facebook to recommend the book “Three Cups of Tea.”

None of these actions by any of these people took very much time or effort, really. Certainly, it took a while to create the presentation on the future of social media, and I know that it took my wife a good week or so to get through “Three Cups of Tea.” But to take these small actions, either to make a recommendation, register an opinion, or make any kind of announcement requires only a fractional investment of time for a person.

What is becoming increasingly, clear, though, is that — for providers and publishers — enabling users to takes these actions is also becoming less expensive, with costs rapidly approaching zero. The widespread development and distribution of cloud computing services, such as Amazon’s EC2 service, means that an enormous amount of computing potential is available very inexpensively and totally on demand. Couple that with a new generation of native-for-the Web application technologies, such as Ruby on Rails, an open source Web framework, and Merb, another software development framework, (which will soon be the same thing, according to recent announcements) and we have a fertile environment for a lot of interesting new technologies to emerge that will be cheap to build, easy to participate in and, potentially, thoroughly breakthrough.

In my last column, I wrote about the king of these new technologies, Twitter. This time, we’ll look at three simple rules you need to follow to integrate low-investment interactions into your own strategy.

Rule 1: Low Investment, Big Potential Return

The key thing about low-investment interactions is that, although they take very little effort, they offer the potential of a huge return. Think about adding a friend on Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. To repeat the point, yet again, this action requires little effort by you to make the request to add, little effort by the person to accept the request, and little effort by the provider to enable the transaction to happen. With such a low investment, you don’t care too much if nothing ever comes of it.

But what if that person posts up a job that you are uniquely qualified for? Or, puts on his status update that she’s shopping for precisely the kind of software that your company makes? Or, announces that she’s got an interesting group of people together for dinner and has one extra spot, or, or, or…

The thing about low-investment interactions is that they cannot simply present an end, in and of themselves. Imagine if Twitter simply took the text that people entered and stored it into a database, as opposed to broadcasting it out to friends and followers? The service would not nearly be as valuable. In fact, it would seem a bit pointless. When you integrate a low-investment interaction into your plans, make sure there is some huge upside potential. A PC manufacturer came up with a simple and clever concept. In its forums, it enables members to solve each other’s problems. The people who solved the most problems were invited to the home office for a private meeting with the company’s founder.

Rule 2: Allow Toe-Dipping

Any small task can become mind-numbingly tedious if you have to repeat it forever. This is the second rule of the low-investment interaction: although some users will want to engage in the actions over and over again, it should be possible and even rewarding to allow people to drop in and out of the service. In fact, by allowing people to engage in the interactions just every now and then, you can actually begin to filter your audience.

The theory goes like this: in any community, you generally find that about 10 percent of the audience creates most of the content. An additional 15 percent add to that content. And everyone else is there because they want to read what the 25 percent have created. This is true for most forums, where 10 percent of the people create threads, 15 percent provide comments on the threads, and everyone else lurks.

The same ratio applies for low-investment interactions, and you can use it to your advantage. By paying close attention to who those10 percent are, you can find out which consumers are actually the most engaged with your brand and your company. They are the ones who want to participate and want to help, and you can reach out to them for a deeper relationship.

Rule 3: Build Bridges to Other Low-Investment Interactions

As low investment as many interactions may be, people still want to find efficiencies. That means that when they engage in your low-investment interactions, they may want it to also be reflected in some other low-investment interaction they normally do. The best example of a tool specifically built to all for this behavior is the ShareThis button found all over the Web.

This ingenious little piece of technologies allows publishers of all kinds to put a single button on their site that will allow for the sharing of their content through tons of social media channels. One click has to be the ultimate low-investment interaction. The button’s ubiquity and the seamless and elegant experience of its use just begs people to engage, and engage across all of the different platforms they use. The site FriendFeed is another example, where all of the profiles, across multiple social networks are pulled together into a single interface.

Clearly, if you are going to introduce a new low-investment interaction, you will need to integrate it with other, existing interactions. An easy way to do this is to simply build on top of current services. That is, create a page on Facebook or MySpace for your company and allow the discussions and interactions to take place there. In fact, that includes having a presence on services like these or Twitter, GetSatisfaction, and even YouTube.

In 2009, we can expect to see more and more low-investment interactions spring up. The notion that a small interaction can promise a big result, not just to the user, but to the entire community is a compelling one. And the investment, in terms of time and actual money is bound to appeal in a belt-tightened economic climate.

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