In the UK talent contest - X-Factor - the twins pictured above did spectacularly well despite their lack of talent. Jedward as they became known were voted through week after week by the public even though the panel of experts headed by Simon Cowell implored the public to vote them out. Punk legend Johny Rotten even got involved saying "They're just lazily untalented. It's not fair, it's not right and a perfectly good singer gets voted off while that dopiness gets promoted. How is that singing?”
The Jedward Problem is an example of mechanism design gone wrong. Lots of what we do in social media involves promotions, competitions, games, and other forms of mechanism design. Purists dislike using these techniques. They see them as downmarket, and a form of attention cheat. They say brands should invest in long-term brand building, and application development. They are of course right when you view this issue from within the social hive, but in the broader world of business there is no more complex set of challenges than those in mechanism design. The 2007 Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Leonid Hurwicz, Eric Maskin, and Roger Myerson "for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory". It's complex stuff. Let me explain with the help of Wikipedia.
The distinguishing features of these games are:
- that a game "designer" chooses the game structure rather than inheriting one
- that the designer is interested in the game's outcome
- to design a mechanism that "implements" a social choice function (e.g. high bid, low bid, no bid, or cheat)
- to find the mechanism that maximizes some value criterion (e.g. profit)
These games, incentives, and mechanisms are all over the web. In a previous post I wrote about Keynes' idea of the beauty contest and I have also previously written about what I call message, medium, and modus. For me, modus - the mechanism design you choose for your idea - is frequently more important than the creative proposition in the diffusion of your idea. If you can engineer the mechanism to be social and contagious then you can achieve your goals. But beware of online voting cheats, fake email addresses, and many other devices.
This approach basically means you can use other people's social ties to propagate your ideas. The strength of their social ties, their trust relationships, and their influence becomes the fuel that drives your campaign. Jedward have been voted off X-factor, but now they are free I'm sure they will be willing to share their knowledge of mechanism design.