A lot of focus has been placed on the role that social media services have on the world. Exhibit A: The release of The Social Network, an entire movie devoted to the subject. The rule of thumb regarding cultural phenomena is that by the time a film is made about a matter, it’s already a firmly established part of the world we live in. By the time Sandra Bullock starred in The Net and Hackers made digital crime famous and sexy, these matters were truly part of the national dialog.
Social media is no different. It is here, it already has changed absolutely everything about how we communicate and market, and the only thing left to do is adapt to it.
One of the major discussions that comes up when talking about social media is the “two-way street” or conversation method of marketing. In previous ages marketing and advertising were almost exclusively dependent on the broadcast method, wherein the advertiser simply stated his case as attractively and widely as possible, hoping for the appeal through volume. The web has made this method far less dominant, and ultimately will render it entirely obsolete.
The entire web is geared toward the idea of the conversation. Every blog software package now comes with a system for allowing comments. YouTube has the option to make video “responses,” or videos made as a reply to another user’s video. The first piece of information people trade is more often a Facebook page than a phone number. People are talking to each other, and marketing has to embrace this trend or be left irrelevant.
However, these are simply the raw facts; but why, exactly, is it so? How did this change come to pass? What makes the web function the way it does?
Element 1: The Individual Mind
There is no such thing as a collective mind. A person can guess what someone else is thinking, and empathize with his or her distress, but only through that individual’s own frame of reference. No one can literally think someone else’s thoughts. Thus, we are a self-centered species and we are geared toward thinking about ourselves.
This extends to the realm of our interactions with marketers. This conversation method is really just a new incarnation of the door-to-door salesman. People are more likely to be interested in something when they’ve had a discussion with informed people about it. Car dealers speak face to face with their clients for the same reason. When we receive personal attention and can ask a live person about the features of a product, we feel more involved.
The online realm allows for this kind of information seeking conversation to take place on an even grander scale. There’s no slick salesman to interrupt a question you have to bring up a related but less important feature – we can write out our entire question in the format we’re comfortable with. We have more control on the web, and we are reluctant to give it up.
Element 2: The Power of Numbers
While we think individually, we often act collectively. Consider the case of a St. Louis police officer who pulled a man over and acted quite outside his authority. The officer said outright that if the driver continued to be “smart,” then the officer would manufacture charges against him.
Although it isn’t a matter of marketing specifically, this exchange was recorded, ended up on Google Video and was seen by several million viewers. A large portion of them wrote in to the office at which this officer was employed, and ultimately he was fired.
This wasn’t an action by an independent, professional conduct review board. It wasn’t an investigation by the Internal Affairs office. It was average users taking advantage of the ability of the net to spread information and organize a response. People are waking up to the power they have, and are preparing to exercise it more steadily. Thus, people perceive that they have a solid bargaining position and feel they are entitled to a conversation on that basis.
Element 3: The Power of Choice
More than anything, the web is an engine of information, and social media does a great deal to filter that information. A short search on Facebook reveals groups with interests including medieval fencing, needlework, cooking and automotive restoration. People can find out a great deal of information very quickly, and this information gives them choices.
Instead of choosing the first company they come across, people can select from a vast list of companies that are advertising on the web. They can find a company that specifically fits their needs, instead of one that sounds “close enough for government work.”
Given that people have such a great ability to find information and make discerning choices, who genuinely believes they are going to choose a company that simply makes announcements over one that takes the time to have a personal discussion with them
The facts of the matter are clear: People are learning what kind of power they have, and they want to talk about it.
So, start talking.