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Social Norms vs Business Norms vs Seth the Blogger

An interesting study in anti-social Networking is when a large corporation attempts to portray itself so vastly against its common persona. Such is the case with AT&Ts “Seth the Blogger” this week

News Item:

A video was uploaded yesterday wherein Seth tries to explain why AT&T has been rather rubbish lately. In essence, it’s because there’s so many iPhones out there chewing up network capacity that AT&T has a hard time keeping up. Whether that’s AT&T’s fault or iPhone users’ fault is an issue for another day.Here’s just a sampling of what the good people on YouTube are saying: “Not buying it. AT&T is still overpriced and still sucks.”

via Wow, people sure don’t believe AT&T’s Seth the Blogger Guy.

Dan Airely in his book Predictably Irrational covers the point quite clearly. Paraphrasing him; there are different ‘norms’ that are appllied in different situations, companies can frequently be see to invoke social norms in one case and business norms in another.  For example, your boss says “Dan we need you to stay late because this report needs to be finalized for 8AM Monday”, a month later ‘Dan’ asks “Got my kids Sports day, like to kick out at 2 to catch it, okay?” No money changes hands, no overtime or holidays are counted just two unrelated social transactions. If Dan demanded overtime or the boss made him take 2 hours of holidays then all subsequent discussion would be based on the more formal Business norms of employer/employee.  The hazard as Airely states it is when relationships go back and forth between one and the other. This is both frustrating and unsustainable as both sides continue to be unclear on what the ‘norms’ are.

This is not to say that you can’t have different norms apply to the same relationship. I for example have a local coffee shop staffed by people, who may not exactly be close friends, but I respect and enjoy both the coffee (which I pay for) and the conversation (which is an uncompensated byproduct). I occasionally arrive shortly after opening and the owner (Italo) is still laying out the furniture and signs. Not being one to stand around an watch someone work, I’ll grab a few chairs and put them around the tables. The logic being, the sooner that gets done, the sooner I get my Americano. Sometime Italo will refuse to take my money after I offer my assistance. Given the size of the financial transaction ($2.50) it is a minor thing either way and the mutal respect would stop either of us from taking advantage of it.

Now you may say that is because of a direct relationship built up over time. Well I have the same social vs financial with several Podcasts I follow. I pay a small amount each month to subscribe to Mac OS Ken. On the odd day the podcast may be missing or late, there will be an audio note or twitter explaining the situation and frequently its an illness, trip or some family event. I have no problem accepting this as a small social transaction based on the overall enjoyment I get from the podcast – frequently enjoyed with above mentioned Americano.

The value received is far above the direct financial transaction. Sitting with a awesome view of the Victoria harbour drinking a delectable Americano, listening to a humourous tech newscast is worth significantly more than the money to me than I spend on either of them. So it is easy to accept the small social transactions on the side. I hoping that in some small way Italo, Ken and I are all getting more from the transactions than just the money.

Flash forward to Seth the Blogger, or in my case the Senior Executives in my own organization, they both try to invoke social norms and ask for my ‘understanding’ for various issues that do not turn out as one might expect. The problem is the social context doesn’t exist. Neither Seth or my Boss’s Bosses’ Boss’s Boss are my friend, they have no social capital with me, and they are trying to pretend that ‘we’re all in this together’ and I should accept the social give and take. Well sorry, my company isn’t my family, and my service providers (for the most part) aren’t my friends.

I work hard and I believe I give my company fair value in return. I take their money and spend it with companies who frequently give me less than fair value (most recently Travelocity – idiots). Expecting that I, or anyone else, will look past the business norms and accepting there is also a social relationship that can be taken advantage of just shows how out of touch some of these folks are.

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