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Social Media – Stone Soup Style

January 27, 2009

 As a young child, one of my favorite stories was “Stone Soup“. 

There are several adaptations of the story which slightly alter the situation, motivations, and political context.  

In all cases, the central premise is that three weary and hungry travellers arrive at a village seeking food.  

The villager’s hide what food they each have, and turn away the travellers, claiming that the cupboards and bins are empty.

The travellers adopt a change of tact, and make great ceremony of building a cooking fire, and setting a large pot of water to boil.   Into the pot they add three stones and loudly proclaim that they are making stone soup, a savory and satisfying soup.    One by one, the villagers come out of their homes to investigate the proceedings, and the travellers go on about how great the soup is going to be, and how much better it would be if only it had… 

The villagers each buy into the vision of the soup and bring their food stocks out of hiding to contribute to the soup.   Potatoes, then carrots, some celery, seasonings, etc.   After a while,  the contributions of the village produce a hearty soup and all each have a share of the soup.

Did the travellers just bamboozle the villagers into feeding them?   Certainly, that’s a popular and easy interpretation.    A more altruistic view might be that some external catalyst in the form of the kettle, stones, and water is required to garner participation from a group that would not otherwise pool their individual resources toward the creation of something which is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Social media affords us the chance to take that village global.   By starting a blog, or launching a forum, we are effectively setting our pot of water on the fire and inviting others to contribute.   Our stones represent the starting content, the structure, the spark of conversation.  Our soup requires care and tending,  to solicit the right ingredients, and to ensure no toxins get added along the way.

Carrying out this metaphor, the soup can either be shared freely or made available for a fee.    In some cases, the villagers are charged a membership fee for the privilege of contributing their vegetables to the mix.   The initial success depends upon how desirable the stones are made to sound, while the longer term success depends upon the quality of the end product.   Is the end value of the soup greater than the cost of the contributed ingredients?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2009 5:46 am

    Is the end value of the soup greater than the cost of the contributed ingredients?

    In the sense of the context, yes, it is.   Considering how many fires have been snuffed, how many tech support calls have been subverted, mitigated, or eliminated altogether, and how many products have been sold due to the advice of contributors — all done on a volunteer basis — I’d think it to be nigh impossible for anyone to say the unmentioned company’s forum or blog hasn’t paid for itself many times over.   Sometimes the pot boils a bit more than wanted but it’s nothing more than a sign that there are outside ingredients that need to be watched more closely.   Social Media is always seen as a gateway to communication but rarely seen as a performance thermometer.   Soup can tell us more than we think.

    I’m looking forward to seeing more ingredients added to the soup this year — including some of my own.   In fact, there are some project ideas from last year which we should revisit soon.

  2. February 2, 2009 1:49 pm


    Thanks. Our community is a soup as well, but wasn’t the specific model I was thinking about because we don’t charge. I was thinking of a fee model that I have seen in place elsewhere and seems to be growing well.

  3. February 2, 2009 11:42 pm

    ahh… so it’s more along the line of what I joked about in Friday’s email about charging a few dollars per user to sign up.   Seriously, this may not be a bad idea.   It certainly could separate the quality users from the drive-bys.

    Keep in mind that a paid forum model will raise users’ expectations.   I could easily see someone saying, “Hey, I paid to be here.  Where is my answer?”

    Then there’s the issue of where the money gets spent.   Does it go back into the company or do the participating staff get paid (or both)?   If the staff get paid then will this draw in more participation from the company and its employees?   If so, does this flip the switch on “official” support?

    I could see the above going in a positive direction so long as users’ expectations are managed and customers are provided with a realistic ROI on their membership fees.

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