Karl von Frisch spent years studying honey bees. He was fascinated with how bees found sources of pollen and communicated that back to their fellow hive mates. As he studied, he discovered the bees that actually find the pollen do not return to lead others to it. Instead, they perform intricate dances within the hive that vary depending upon a variety of factors.

When food is within a certain distance of the hive, the dance is circular. When food is farther, the dance is a sort of figure eight with what he called a “waggle” in the middle. The speed of the dance, he discovered, had to do with a more specific distance to the food source. The dance included a straight movement to indicate direction of the food as well.

Honey Bees by Tischenko Irina on Shutterstock.comAs simple as it might sound, understanding bee communication is rather complex. von Frisch also discovered bees can distinguish between colors, communicate information about the odor of a given plant and more. As intricate and layered as that understanding is, it’s not nearly as complex as human communications.

To our knowledge, bees communicate the necessary messages needed to survive. We assume there’s no small talk in the bee community. We also assume they don’t have satire, variety in tone, background and environmental conditioning that alters how they perceive and react to their fellow bees. Human communication is so very complex. Understanding it is nearly impossible.

This is why technology excites me. Because much of our communication is gravitating to a digital world — a platform where little zeroes and ones makeup every output and can be measured — we have a unique opportunity to find our waggle dance. How do humans communicate information? Who are the scouts who find the information? How do they dance to illustrate the distance, direction and odor of it? How does their audience respond?

When I look at social media monitoring tools, the marketer in me has to take note of the volume, tone and categorization of online conversations. But the explorer in me wonders when one of them is going to really study communication, not just influencer metrics. Who is going to start reporting that X blogger said Y which resulted in a viral spread of Z for your brand? Then who is going to turn that into an understanding of how to replicate the bad and minimize the good?

Online tools impress me quite often. But we are 10 years removed from the dot-com bubble burst. We’ve only scratched the surface of technology that is possible. And we’ve only started to understand communications.

The best is yet to come.

Image: Honey Bees by Tischenko Irina on Shutterstock.com.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

    Jason, I absolutely LOVE this post. Anything that doesn't go down the normal “straight into business mode” but tells a story first always gets my vote.

    It's crazy to think where we might be in 1,3,5,10 years and even further. To think the web is only 20 years old, and look at the advances we've made in connecting the dots via that medium. It can only get a helluva lot better from here.

    If you're interested and have a spare 20 minutes, I recently talked at TEDx Ottawa on a similar topic, and how technology can really tell human stories:

    http://dannybrown.me/2010/01/23/digital-storyte

    Sorry for the “plug”, and feel free to edit and replace with a link to the Sham Wow guy ;-)

    Have a great weekend, big guy!

    Danny.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      You're always welcome to plug here, Danny. And I'll go watch as soon as I
      can! Thank you for the feedback.

  • jonnybgood

    As always, interesting thoughts presented in a readable style.

    You mention social media monitoring tools, many of which have myriad cool features for, as you put it, understanding the volume, tone and categorization of online conversations.

    One way forward is to think beyond just monitoring or even analysing. The real value here, and this is something we strive to do here at ASOMO, is to extract specific actions from the analysis via a self-help online dashboard and delivery mechanisms (meetings, summaries, report, PPTs or whatever) that incorporate the insight gained by the Information Broker team that are analysing the themes, the people and the places of opinions mobilizing around brands, products etc. The automatic analysis is great for a topline heads up as to what are people saying about X. It gives you a great deal of questions, it tells you what's working and what's not but not really why they work or don't. It can be integrated with SEO, CRM, geo-location and other MR data, which can also potentially yield insights (Google's working on it, dont worry!). However, to gain the answers, you frequently have to wade through the opinions themselves by which time you can't see the wood for the trees. Strength lies in being able to see the big picture and then filter and focus on what counts for the range of people/functions who should be using this intelligence. If you can add to that, the insights gained from someone who is in your social space during all their working hours, then you're well on the way to being able to address the negative and leverage the positive.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Johnny. Would love to know more about ASOMO … not familiar with you guys.

      • jonnybgood

        Thanks for your positive response, Jason. I'd be happy to set up a demo access and a conference call at your convenience (I'm travelling this week). Additionally/alternatively, let me know if your going to be in Europe in the foreseeable future and we can meet up. there are quite a few events coming up in which your participation would be appreciated!

        #likeminds #msmbc #thupr, TFM&A, Social Networking World Forum
        – to mention but a few

        • http://scottgould.me Scott Gould

          Jonny – I'm a founder of #likeminds… would love to talk re: monitoring and ASOMO.

  • http://ubermarketing.wordpress.com Akash Sharma

    Great post Jason, the comparison is fantastic because conversations are a lot more then conversations because there are several aspects which make each conversation different from each other,I wonder as I had science in my school we read about atoms which get excited when certain force is applied on them, and when they get back to there original state they emit energy the best part is that there are billions of atoms present in a single object and every single one of them emits different energy.
    Same goes with us humans I guess we get excited by buzz and spread positive and negative words about it afterwards.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Another neat analogy. Thanks Akash!

  • http://twitter.com/vargasl Lauren Vargas

    I am buzzing over this post, Jason! (Sorry, that was cheesy – great metaphor!) As a community manager, the idea of a waggle dance is intriguing. The monitoring/engagement for every organization is unique. While there are principles we can all use, there is no cookie cutter template. Tools are just that…tools. The insights and waggle dance we design to communicate these insights cannot be controlled by the tool, but the humans using the tool. Tools are improving and adding workflow processes to help streamline the conversations, provide holistic view of the conversations and socialize the enterprise. Yet, without internal buy-in and understanding of engagement the waggle dance will not have meaning.

    Lauren Vargas
    Community Manager at Radian6
    @VargasL

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Lauren. Glad it got you buzzing! Heh.

  • matthewyorke

    Great post and love the analogy. I entirely agree that it's not the movement that is so interesting but rather the intonations in the movement that determines real meaning and value. From a social communications point of view having 1 Million people exposed to a message may well be impressive, but what really counts is how they interact, how quickly and what their interactions mean to subsequent bees! That's what determines brand impact both in the instant and long term. I am sure we will see continued innovation within the data capture, analysis facets of social listening..dynamically impacting brand communications strategy and tactics.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the feedback, Matthew. Good thoughts.

  • http://www.opinionatlarge.com Opinion@Large

    Great post. It really made me think…So many businesses just seem to view the social media environment from the outside. They release their content and tactics into the environment and then just sit back and wait to see what comes out. They need to be stepping inside and 'exploring' to really understand how the environment works.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      That's why we call it Social Media Explorer, my man. Thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.markclayson.com/ Mark Clayson

    I was previously familiar with social media. actually its still a powerful method and that is why facebook is at the top position on alexa rank. i have increase the limit of my knowledge from this post. carry on.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Glad to have your approval. Heh. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.icentered.com/ Ayala Rahav

    The applicability of ant algorithms is fascinating, to quote the biblical proverb (proverbs 6:6-8) “Look at the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise, which having no chief, overseer or ruler, provides her meat in the summer and gathers her food in the harvest”. Ant algorithms allow for self managemnet, distributed and adaptive systems that adapt locally in real time, capabilities that are instrumental in today's environments where change is the only constant and we are present everywhere, all at once. Such adaptive, real time and self managing systems will replace current top down paradigms to allow interconnected systems of relatively simple elements that will self organize to form more intelligent, adaptive, higher level behavior, and accomodate and measure our interactions in the ubiquitous web across all networks.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the additional analogy. I've not read much about ant algorithms
      and probably would have laughed at the phrase had you not explained it so
      well. Will have to study up. Thanks!

  • http://chrisdillon.us/ Chris Dillon

    There remains a continuum from information (data + relationships + context) to knowledge (understanding + judgment + retention) to wisdom (applied and experienced over time). This is what separates us from the flora and fauna. Let's not forget the purpose of (human) communication: quickening the path along the continuum.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Fair point. How do you see that applying to the marketing communications
      field? Curious.

      • http://chrisdillon.us/ Chris Dillon

        The outcomes are different. The bees use the information but don't seek knowledge from it. They don't wonder how another bee found the food. If the food source is gone tomorrow they simply move on. No analysis, no lament, no competition, no storytelling.

        Wisdom is what we seek but it cannot be indexed (sorry Google). Its transmission is not subject to scientific principles, as in the bees' communication.

        Knowledge, its predecessor, has also eluded broad-spectrum qualification – hence the need for savvy marketing – especially in the relative infancy of the web-centric marketing. What works today may not work tomorrow, an uncertainty not afflicting the bees. And their target is not moving.

        One path to an answer to your question of who said what and its result is to study it after the fact, as demonstrated in The Tipping Point and Freakonomics, then distilling it into a lesson; a nugget of wisdom to be learned conceptually but which may not be applicable in all situations.

        Another path is to measure everything and solicit immediate feedback. Moore's Law may predict a time where we actually have the ability to meter more without a performance hit or prohibitive cost but right now even simple eyeball counts are estimates at best and open to interpretation at worst so I don't hold out much hope for that.

        And then there's the emotional component that often simply defies understanding.

        It is tempting to take the bees' linear communication and search for a corollary to our own but I contend that ours will not yield a quantifiable cause-and-effect explanation to be repeated so simply and easily as the bees.

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Thanks for the thoughtful response.

  • http://lisamariemary.com/blog/ lisamariemary

    Dude, seriously – all I can say is it's a damn exciting time and I'm so super excited to be a part of it all!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Agreed, Lisa. Thanks for the comment.

  • Guest

    oops

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    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the thoughts and compliments!

  • http://themaria.me/ themaria

    Extremely insightful! I think being able to measure these ripple effects and the velocity with which information travels is going to be a new frontier that us, social media measurement platforms, will have to conquer, after we master the subtle art of sentiment analysis (which is also made extremely complex and difficult to understand by the subtleties of human communication). Like you, I am also excited by this space. Well, this is why I joined Biz360 just a month ago.

    Cheers!

    Maria Ogneva
    @themaria @biz360

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Well played, Maria. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

    Jason.

    There are times that our thoughts are too eerily similar for comfort: http://ike4.me/ote

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Yeah … stop copying my stuff. Heh. Great read, dude. Thanks for adding the
      link to the resources here.

  • http://www.wavespr.com/ Claire Thompson

    I held an event yesterday at which there were over a dozen different developers measuring different things in different ways.

    One of the big takeways for me was that the software tools that will do best are the ones that can provide responses for every kind of 'waggle' (=big, expensive) or ones who specialise and find a niche to study a particular groups 'waggles' effectively (allowing fine tuning)

    There's a good article on some of the nuts and bolts here:
    http://www.webmetricsguru.com/archives/2010/01/

    In six months time, from what I saw yesterday, the picture will be very, very different. The market will consolidate and new players will fine tune their offerings: as you say, the best is yet to come.

    • http://scottgould.me Scott Gould

      Hey Claire! I commented on this thread a few days ago and just got your comment.

      Glad the event went well!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Awesome, Claire. Thanks for sharing this.

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