the frequency a kenny chung blog

January 19th, 2012
according to

Note: This article is not about verifying identities in social media; that’s way too boring. This post is about the sense of validation that motivates people to use social media more and more.

The need to be validated is what drives modern society. It falls within the top two sections of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (New Year’s Resolution: Stop relating every marketing concept to Maslow?). And this need translates over very nicely to social media and its users. The first word is the key one: social. Social networks are about interacting, but networking is also about creating new connections that did not previously exist. And therein lies the promise of social media for the everyday users- the ability to receive validation from another person, whether it’s the cute girl from Chemistry class Liking your status on Facebook, a customer service rep responding to your complaints on Yelp, a movie star responding to your Tweet/answering a question, striking up a casual conversation with the CEO of a tech startup you’re interested in working for. Whatever the case may be, the (potential) feedback loop is what drives many users to engage. I’m going to use this post to highlight a few social networks that are doing this right.

Why do people use Quora?

Quora markets itself as being THE place where anybody is able to receive expert answers to any question. In this sense, Quora mainly relies on the quality of responses to drive engagement. But sometimes this even lends itself to some surprises. Take the example below: in this thread, someone asked a general question about how JJ Abrams started his movie-making career… and JJ Abrams himself popped by to personally answer the question!

JJ Abrams answering questions on Quora
JJ Abrams was definitely the expert on the subject matter (click to enlarge)

Amazing that he would take the time out of his day to answer an anonymous person’s question just because he knew he would be the best source for an answer. It also shows that he cares for his fans and is willing to reward them for their fandom and devotion. Really awesome. No one can argue that that isn’t the single best answer for that question. (Full disclosure: I love Fringe!)

Why do people use Reddit?

In the same vein, Reddit has become the “it” social sharing site. It has completely eclipsed Digg, StumbleUpon, and all the others. It has done so by fostering a community where any and all questions can be asked and answered, with no apparent limits to genuine curiosity. And the community has grown so large (and full of educated students and professionals) that there’s almost always someone qualified to answer your questions, no matter how obscure (consider this thread about hair dryers.) The AskReddit threads are similar to Quora, but with a typically lower signal to noise ratio.

And occasionally on Reddit (actually at least a few times a month at this point), someone famous creates an account solely to answer Redditors’ questions. In recent memory, there’s been Louis CK, Jeopardy Champion Ken Jennings, Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen T. Colbert, and countless others. During these days, a lucky few have their questions answered by someone they likely revere, or at least respect, for their body of work and also for allowing random Internet users to ask them almost anything. It’s a bi-directional relationship- the users that help build the community are rewarded with recognition from people who would otherwise likely never be able to interact with them. Now that’s powerful stuff.

Reddit AMA 2 Girls 1 Cup
Admittedly, sometimes not the most powerful stuff

Why do people use Twitter?

Twitter is arguably the most frictionless social media service there is. Anybody can create an account and there are no barriers to Tweeting something at anybody else, celebrities and other famous individuals included. I myself have had some fleeting conversations with music artists I adore, industry thought leaders, Google Webspam Team Overlord Matt Cutts, among others (#HumbleBrag). And that’s the kind of validation people are searching for when they first hear about Twitter, decide that it’s not too stupid, and then sign up and write their first Tweet directed at someone they don’t personally know. Twitter is the social media platform of aspiration.

You can even get a response to the most inane of requests, like having a RoboCop statue erected by the mayor of Detroit.

JJ Abrams answering questions on Quora

What does this all mean to brands and individuals active in the online or social media space? In short, technology has enabled more of us to communicate with each other and with strangers who had once only been available through very specific channels. Now that it’s socially acceptable to ask questions/make comments and expect answers/responses, doing so has become a routine part of our online lives. Whether you’re a musician on Facebook, a blogger with an active comments section, a customer service rep on Twitter, or whatever else, it will only work to your benefit to provide users with the best answers (barring any huge PR gaffes). You need some give and some take to complete the feedback loop.

November 25th, 2011
according to

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! This blog post will be (somewhat) in the spirit of food!

It’s no secret that I love Yelp. I love utilizing crowdsourced reviews as a baseline filter for whether or not to visit/spend money somewhere. I love writing my own opinions and mingling with community members. And I love the community itself. The events they throw for Elite members are awesome, and they’re investments back into the system.

It’s such a simple formula. You’d think that a huge behemoth like Google would be able to replicate success with its own Google Places, right? Well, you’d be surprised. I think that Google Places will never have a chance to beat Yelp at their own game, given what they’ve been doing.

Now, this is not a rant against the Google NYC team. I love following them on Twitter and we’ve had some friendly (and not so friendly) exchanges. This is me pointing out the flaw of their incentive structure. Here’s an excerpt from a contest they’re running in conjunction with a recent event:

Google Places Contest RulesGoogle Places has a really, really bad incentive system (click to enlarge)

So what’s my issue with how Google Places is building its community? It’s mostly extrinsically motivated (see my blog post on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation in Crowdsourcing). The more you review, the more likely it is that you win a prize? That works against Google in two ways – firstly, you won’t convince the truly passionate reviewers (the ones who do it to help others, or because they really love writing about local businesses) because you’re not concentrating on them; instead, you’re going for the low hanging fruit: the people who will say, “sure, I’ll write a review in exchange for a chance to win a Chromebook.” And like the pigeon pushing the lever with no pellets coming out, eventually those extrinsically motivated individuals will learn their lesson and give up, abandoning their Places account entirely. That’s not how you build a self-sustaining community.

Secondly, Google Places vs. Yelp will always be an us-versus-them scenario for the die-hards. People who have been following the Google vs. Yelp saga know that there’s bad blood between the two. To sum it all up:
1) Organic search reportedly supplies Yelp with a whopping 75% of its traffic.
2) When Google starting emphasizing their business pages in SERPs, they aggregated reviews from different sites including Yelp to provide their own “rating”. But they also overstepped their boundaries when Google took content directly from Yelp reviews and posted it on those pages, leaving users no reason to click through to Yelp.
3) Google was quiet on the local reviews front and then did a soft launch for Google Places in key cities.
4) Then, out of nowhere, Google bought Zagat.

If you follow the logical progression of things, it’s clear that Google wants to be a bigger player in the local space. Heck, just do a search for “dentist” and see how many results from your city show up. But Google is totally handling this the wrong way. Obviously, Zagat’s business model is in a totally different direction than Yelp’s, which makes me think Google might be taking the high-brow approach. But then again, crowdsourcing is the future of not only search, but of the internet as well (as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts) so it would be very silly for Google not to make a play in that space. That’s where Google Places would ideally fill the gap. However, I just don’t think they have a sound strategy to build up its review and user base to rival that of Yelp, and they’re just taking too many shortcuts.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if any other service can topple Yelp, it will take a lot of time and a much better plan than what Google’s employing.

September 2nd, 2011
according to

I’ve recently become big on using Yelp (my newly minted “Elite” profile is here: So it’s no surprise that with more reviews, I’ve been getting more messages from business owners; it definitely comes with the territory.

With Yelp, there’s very little a business owner or customer service rep can do in the way of preemption. Therefore, a lot of these messages are bound to be reactionary. Responses to reviews, whether good or bad. Very recently, I’ve had instances of both.

Take for example, my glowing review of Blue Water Grill in Union Square. I’ll spare you the details of my meal, but all in all, I had a great time. A couple of days after leaving the review (during Restaurant Week NYC), I received the following Yelp message from someone on their customer service team:

Thank you so much for taking the time to let us know about your recent visit with us at Blue Water Grill!
It truly means a lot to us to hear from you and we will consider your feedback with the team here.
We look forward to seeing you again soon and wish you all the best!
PS- Caught the typo! THANK YOU!

Not only was it a friendly message acknowledging that they appreciated my feedback, but the last line regarding the typo means she actually took the time to read my lengthy review and not just take the four stars at face value. Wow, that’s good community management. And now, they have free press from my blog as a result as well.

On the other end of the spectrum, I had a very very terrible experience at Guitar Center at the Atlantic Mall in Brooklyn. As a result of my scathing (and 100% accurate) review, I received this message on Yelp:

My name is and I run Customer Service for Guitar Center. I’d love an opportunity to help turn this around for you. Please email me at and I’ll gladly jump in.

I’m all for people reaching out and trying to change my perception or rid the bad taste of poor customer treatment (as well as potential future discounts), so I replied to the rep. Told him my story, and he said he would have someone contact me. It’s been about two weeks now, and I haven’t received any messages or follow-up. So not only is my negative review staying up, but they actually got my hopes up and are now lower in my opinion than before.

For any community managers out there reading this, here’s a basic tip- if you’re going to try to do some reputation management, you better do it right.

August 22nd, 2011
according to

If this isn’t irony, then I need a new dictionary: someone gets bad reviews on Google Places, and then decides to give Google HQ in NYC a bad review. So in order to try to correct something malicious, this business owner does something completely misguided.

NASA is great at social media! Oh wait, the video above was created by someone who couldn’t stand how bad NASA was at social media.

On the one hand, this does show that NASA has fans and supporters passionate enough about the direction and future of aerospace research to take it upon themselves to improve the brand.

On the other hand, it’s a bit troubling that a governmental agency with such great brand recognition and funding could fail so miserably in the online space.

Link: Awesome Viral Video Bashes NASA’s Social Media Efforts

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