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.
As 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.