Social signals and dog tricks

Last weekend, I was woken abruptly by a high-pitched electronic “chirp.” Half-conscious, I knew exactly where it was coming from – a dead battery in a carbon monoxide detector. The problem wasn’t a potential CO hazard (there are lots of other detectors in here) or that other people would wake up (some already were). No, the problem was my dogs, who were trembling at the sound of the electronic chirp.

As I stumbled around the house in darkness trying to pinpoint the dying battery, I felt sorry for the dogs and also started thinking about social business.

Regarding the dog part: in our previous house, we had installed an invisible fence; training the dogs on its boundaries involved a process of planting small red flags around the yard to mark boundaries. Proximity to flags was also correlated with a beep from a collar-based electric receiver that would deliver a shock if a dog wandered too close to a boundary for too long. In practice, the dogs learned quickly and stayed away from the boundaries. We’ve moved away from that house but the dogs still fear electronic signals close to a particular pitch.

Now, regarding the social business part. In particular, my thoughts turned to brands monitoring social media for mentions and keywords, using approaches similar to the way they’ve been trained to listen to mainstream media. The trouble is, the landscape is different but the signals are usually being interpreted in the same way. Unfortunately, that’s not going to drive effective solutions. So some brands are just scared of everything and hesitant to engage or interact. Others are trying to learn and solve for finely tuned discrepancies in signal pitch.

In this space, it’s imperative for old dogs to learn new tricks. Hopefully the ones you’re working on aren’t “roll over” and “play dead.”


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