Social Design Strategy: Working from the Outside In

A few weeks ago at the Facebook Developer Garage in Paris, design strategist Eric Fisher defined social design in the context of the three core components: identity, conversation, and community.

While most discussions on social design encompass the practice of creating optimized user experiences within applications and websites, Fisher’s presentation (and ultimate strategic suggestion to marketers) centered upon the most foundational elements to Facebook’s success.

As many of us desire to stay sharp on social media strategy, I’m hopeful the interpretive summary of his presentation that follows will provide a helpful reference (if not, reminder) of what we as marketers should keep top of mind when helping businesses meaningfully engage with their customers.

Facebook’s Social Design Components Defined

First, we acknowledge that relationships and trust are foundational to any social network. The level of trust depends on the types of relationships we have, which can be categorized on the spectrum between strong ties (family and close friends) and weak ties (short-lived/formal relationships).

In this context, we can consider the following three components, beginning with the inner circle in the diagram below:


  • Identity: Facebook started by enabling us to define our identities within their network. Inherently, our identities are reinforced through strong ties, or relationships with those we most closely trust who are also in the network.
  • Conversation: We insert our identity into the community through conversation. By listening and responding (sharing), we personally benefit from self-expression — yet also benefit others who learn or are inspired from our contribution to the conversation. Conversation is what Fisher refers to as “the glue between identity and community.”
  • Community: As conversation continues, community is developed around various common values and participating identities. The strength of community grows from weak ties that give back via the conversation. The community response may reinforce or even influence our identity. And as the community influences us, even to the extent of our mere participation in the conversation, so may we influence our strong ties.

Fisher’s Key Insight

While Facebook has been about growing community from the inside out (starting with identity) — we as marketers realize our greatest opportunities by approaching it from the outside in, starting with community.

The widespread adoption of Facebook translates to an enormous volume of communities already established — and fortunately, we have visibility into any number of them. Practically speaking, the exercise from here becomes one of social business intelligence, learning what we can about existing conversations and communities so we can properly define a conversation and add to the identities participating in them.

At a more granular level, we can get into the kind of strategic modeling that specifically addresses the content, context, and campaigns which inspire people to act and share.

Additional Notes on Social Design

As implied at the start, this post could be considered a very different angle on social design. Although the importance of “traditional” social design merits a separate post, the following are some quick insights and references I hope you will also find useful.

First, if we had to boil down the common goal of social design, it would be to maximize the accessibility, ease and usefulness of social interactions between people and content. Since most agree that social media is about conversations, it’s easy to recognize there is great value to designing interfaces that best enable them.

Fortunately, we don’t need to become user experience (UX) design experts to take advantage of what’s been learned. The following are a few great references, many of which provide highly practical examples and tips:

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