Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

In Social Media, are exclusivity and openess mutally exclusive?

In Ideas, Insight on January 22, 2009 at 10:47 am

Today I want to posse a question. I don’t have the answer, I’m not even sure there is an absolute answer. But it seems an interesting idea to discuss:

In Social Media, are exclusivity and openess mutually exclusive?


Sometimes it feels like Social Media has brought back the bubble. People are using the ‘ramp up, get critical mass, and worry about the rest later’ mentality. You see it in the quest for more Twitter followers, more Facebook friends and bigger blogrolls. Combine that with Social Media’s tenents of sharing and openess and you have a lot of people talking to a lot of people. On many levels, that’s a good thing and certainly an improvement over the “I’ve got a secret formula for success, it can be yours for $99.99” mentality that was so prevalent for so long.

But at some point, do we reach diminishing returns with all this openess? Does all this sharing reduce the value of the content being shared?

For many real world brands, volume is the name of the game. Walmart wants to sell as much as possible, to as many people as possible.  But there are other brands, usually high end brands, that have a different approach. Their success lies in their exclusivity. Here are some thoughts Al Ries shared with me via email recently:

 … “I certainly agree with you that you don’t build a brand just by promoting yourself on social media. As a matter of fact, you don’t build a brand just by being well known. Some brands, for example, are stronger because they are relatively unknown.”

An example here might be a trendy club in New York that doesn’t even have a marquee out front announcing its name, yet the place is jammed packed (because of, not in spite of, the low key approach). Ries continues:

“The owner of a Ducati motorcycle would be upset if everyone recognized the brand. The aficianado in any category wants to buy brands that the hoi polloi never heard of.  As a matter of fact, too much publicity… might backlash against the [brand]. [F]or example, Dom Perignon is perhaps the world’s most famous champagne brand, but it is not the best-selling high-end champagne. A wine enthusiast would be embarrassed to order Dom Perignon in a high-end restauarant. The makers of Cristal champagne were annoyed when the brand became the “in brand” of the rapper crowd. That isn’t going to help the brand with the enthusiasts.

Stag’s Leap is a very successful high-end wine brand even though few people outside the wine community know about the brand. Too much PR would destroy its cachet.”

So, does a guy like Chris Brogan have a long-term challenge? At some point will his M.O. of being totally open and supportive of everyone – which is rightly seen as a strength today –  be seen as a negative to some in the future? Is there room in Social Media for a new type of expert/specialist/guru who shares his thoughts not with everyone on Twitter or via his blog, but keeps it for a select group of clients, colleagues and peers?  That seems hard to imagine right now, but was Seth Godin’s Triiibes group experiment a step in that direction? Seth has created a closed social network for people, the purpose of which is still to share and support in a community, but once you throw up a barrier of any sort, you are heading in the direction of exclusivity.

Again, I don’t know the answer here. Maybe you’ll give me five examples of people in Social Media who have set themselves up to share only with a select group.  Maybe there isn’t any value in exclusivity in Social Media. But at some point, if everyone is swimming in the same part of the pool, the other end starts to look appealing.

I’d like to thank Al Ries again for his thoughts in this area. Al (along with Laura) have a new book coming out in February: Check it out.  

  1. Your question is worthy of an essay, Rick.
    But in a nutshell, you can think of it like films, literature, etc.

    The most popular stuff hits the great middle and makes people feel smart because it doesn’t challenge them, but rather spits back stuff they already know, albeit in a charming and clever way.

    The films and books that influence the culture rarely enjoy mass popularity. They make people challenge their assumptions and ask them to embrace new ideas. That’s not something most people enjoy doing.

    No reason to think that new media outlets will skew any differently. And as CK has written extensively, finding voices from outside the mainstream is the best way to keep yourself current:

  2. Great discussion ! I have similar questions on the “listening/monitoring part” of social media.

    Two examples:

    – We (sw provider) are working with an agency that deliver services to a major “exclusive” brand in the cosmetic industry.

    The agency offers monitoring/sentiment services aso. What’s interesting, is that the client in only interested by some very specific communities (his target market). As an example, there is a very active community on home made cosmetic in France which is just noise for this client.

    – I just wrote in our blog about Ideastorm. By taking an universal approach ( and by trying to own the community), I believe they have failed setting up a solution to listen to all their customers and non customers.

    It’s all a matter of strategy. Not all brand want to listen to everyone and deliver content/participate to every conversations.

    Some of the brands that do it do it on purpose but for many other these are “default” approach to social media that just make them spend time with the wrong audience.

    Just my 2 cents

  3. Rick:

    This is a great question to ponder. I agree with you there are those who push against a herd mentality and enjoy exclusivity, but wouldn’t you say that some forms of social media are themselves exclusive? After all, the whole world is not yet Twittering. (It’s getting harder and harder to say that about Facebook). So maybe it’s a question of being exclusive about the social media tools that you use.

    Thanks for starting a great discussion.

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