Free white paper: what is interactivity?

Today’s Online Spin column by Joe Marchese addresses a topic that’s been front and center around here lately. To wit, what exactly is “social media”? It’s a term that’s being tossed around pretty enthusiastically these days, but as is so often the case with particularly fresh and buzzy marketing jargon, not everybody is 100% sure what it means. Hey, I didn’t quite know what people meant when I first heard it, either, so don’t feel bad if you’re a little fuzzy on the details.

However, it occurred to me that this terrain is actually more familiar than we might realize. Way back in the Dark Ages (1993) the catchphrase was “interactivity.” Everybody used it, but it became quickly apparent that no two people were using it in quite the same way. At that point I was a first-year doctoral student taking a course on the “Information Highway” and decided to use that class as an excuse to do a white paper examining exactly what interactivity was and what its marketing implications were. The paper was circulated around Apple (one of the instructors ran the company’s Boulder development lab at the time) and I forgot about it.

As it turns out, though, the quest for a greater understanding of social media dovetails significantly with that earlier conversation about interactivity. In essence, we might view it this way: social media are those technologies and associated policies and practices that enable interactivity. The key characteristics of interactivity were defined this way:

    1. Interactivity requires a two-way communication flow.
    2. In an interactive system, input adds content, resulting in a meaningful effect on the receiver’s end.
    3. Interactive media require a centralized locus of control.
    4. Interactivity provides the user with more content options and a high degree of control over those options.
    5. Interactivity affords the user a high degree of navigational control within the system.
    6. A user’s internal thought processes are not a characteristic of media interactivity.
    7. Interactivity is not a function of a medium’s “realness” or “vividness.”

The paper goes on to examine these conditions in detail, and also offers extended discussion on the qualities that could be expected to drive future successes in interactive marketing efforts.

Believe it or not, that paper is still quite salient today, especially for marketers trying to get a handle on how to make social media work for them. So I pulled it, did a little formatting on it, and it’s now available for free download here. It’s a little academic in places (hey, it was a PhD class) but you shouldn’t have any trouble parsing it. The interesting stuff picks up around page 5.

I hope you find some value in it. Pass it onto colleagues who might also be interested, and ping me if you have questions or comments.


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