I recently presented to colleagues the findings from a study that I have been working on, looking at segmentation and social media. Data collection took place in the summer and autumn of 2011 and we interviewed 28 senior managers. By all accounts, this was a really good number of interviews and the findings were most interesting.
However, this study nearly ended before it even started!
When we contacted these managers asking to interview them about how they use social media in segmentation (and segmentation in social media) several – OK, many – replied that, regretfully, they could not participate in our study because they did not use segmentation. Upon further discussion we realised that they did use segmentation – it’s just that they called it something else.
This made me think about the role of labels and, specifically, the importance of agreed definitions.
Many will say that it’s the idea that matters. However, if you and I do not agree on what we call that idea, then we will have a very frustrating conversation… or not be able to understand each other at all and be unable to work together. At the panel that Sarah Quinton and I hosted, earlier this year, at the Digital Research event, participants agreed that having a common language was crucial for digital research academics and managers to work together – we need to use the same tags and terminology if we are to find (and use) each other’s outputs.
In addition, words are consequential. They can have positive or negative connotations that influence what we think about a person, a product or an event, as I discussed in a previous blog post about the role of language in decision making (available here).
Plus, words structure our thinking and how we approach a problem as discussed in this short Ted Talk (and one of my favourites):
Semantic problems crop up when designing an information system, as discussed here, when costing a project or when setting up a consulting assignment, for instance. Have you been at the receiving end of one of these ‘semantically-charged’ conversations? How did you bridge the differences?