Social Media Biology 101

Mad props to Hugh MacLeod for his inspirational post about the porous membrane as analogy for social media. And thanks to Mack Collier for getting me there. (Read, follow, listen – these lads are wicked smart)

Brought me back to Grade Nine biology with Mrs. Peabody (Seriously. 51″ tall. Ballerina bun. Big round glasses). We learned about different kinds of cellular structures: the non-permeable membrane, the semi-permeable membrane, and the permeable membrane.

Biology teachers everywhere prepare to cringe, but here’s what I remember. A non-permeable membrane has a complete cell wall with no pores and nothing can pass through it. Although the membrane is elastic, there is no pressure differential between the inside and the outside; ergo, perfect balance. In other words, nothing is happening. It is a static environment; no information is ever exchanged.

Semi-permeable membranes allow for a certain amount of molecular exchange – but only if the molecules on one side of the membrane are (conveniently and appropriately) small enough to pass through it. Then they are welcomed in.

Permeable membranes are the party animals of the cellular world. With open arms, they welcome molecules of all types and sizes – a veritable osmotic bender! [I was going to say ‘osmotic orgy’ because alliteration rocks but thought that might be inappropriate.]

If your business has an impermeable membrane, then it is sending its message out with a bullhorn over the wall, perhaps through traditional types of media that move in one direction. (This may work but I hear that hope is as effective a marketing strategy as it is a contraceptive.) Your business is isolated inside the cell; your customers are floating around it. You are blind and deaf to them.

Perhaps your company has a semi-permeable membrane. Some information is exchanged but you set the standard; you are only open to certain types of exchange. Perhaps the only molecules you allow to enter include acclamation, glowing reviews, and testimonials from ecstatic customers. All the critical stuff? Those molecules are too fat to pass through and float about, angry and disgruntled. And disgruntled molecules? A force to be reckoned with…

Moving on to the next kind of organization; the one with the unfettered, orgiastic permeable membrane that engages fully in the social media landscape. Molecules of every size, shape, and temperament pass thorough. This may seem a bit unsettling – but can behoove success in so many ways. You are able to listen to an audience (of your customers) who wants to be heard and learn about your mistakes (and through that learning, innovate and improve). You’ll also hear all those mad props about your organization. By being open, your business is able to communicate with and gain respect from even your most vehement detractors.

Having a permeable membrane doesn’t put your business on the defensive, it allows it to communicate … openly and authentically.

What kind of membrane does your company have? Are you open to authentic conversation?

(I’m no @gapingvoid so please feel free to mercilessly mock my silly little drawings :-))

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8 Responses to Social Media Biology 101

  1. Hugh MacLeod says:

    Heh. Nice to see that old blog post still getting some mileage. Thanks! 🙂

  2. Hi Tobey,

    I enjoyed the post. permeability is a concept inside and out. Just look at how management and executive insulate themselves from rank and file employees (who also happen to be the ones in contact with the customers). Good thinking.

    Your drawings are a step above mine by the way so i don’t throw stones 🙂


    Jeff – Sensei

    • tobeydeys says:

      You’re absolutely right, Jeff. In addition to executive/employee silos, there’s the problem of interdepartmental silos (usually the result of ‘scarcity mentality’, withholding resources). Lack of trust and communication, possessiveness around intel and information, scapegoating – all are so detrimental to the health of an organization. Hard to deliver top-notch products & services to customers when your company is ailing.

      Thanks so much for reading & commenting – honoured 🙂

  3. Hi Tobey,

    This is a great analogy. I think your drawings are cool–they really capture what you’ve said.

    So many companies still seem to be afraid of their customers. Maybe it’s the Legal departments that drive the fear, but who knows? Social media gives every company the opportunity to build better relationships with customers, and probably gain more business. Yet we see companies continue to ignore social media, or even try to force it to be a one-way communication channel.

    You said it perfectly: Having a permeable membrane doesn’t put your business on the defensive, it allows it to communicate … openly and authentically. Well done.


    • tobeydeys says:

      Hey Marianne,

      Great point – many companies do seem to fear their customers and are still entrenched in controlling the message. I know that when I raise an issue with a company, even if they can’t solve the problem, if they are empathetic and work with me toward some satisfaction, they gain my respect and keep me as a customer. As you say, social media allows fantastic opportunities to do this.

      Thank you so much for your comment and your support :-). And I’m honoured that you like my doodles!

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