This is the first in a series of guest posts. Paul Taylor has been an Account Planner for over 13 years, working on the ad agency, brand consulting & client sides. His experience spans alcohol to home improvement, from soft drinks to financial services.
From nothing in 2002 to today over 600MM users of Facebook alone, Social Media’s reach and influence is global. But its influence is also highly personal. I believe Social Media plays a role in the very individuals we are, and the personas we create – it is a crucible for identity creation. Social Media promotes identity creation in four ways.
A Virtual Blank Page I decide to join Facebook. I fill out my profile, find my offline friends, and then there it is….a virtual blank page staring at me. I have to post something. Something that interests not just me, but that others will want to read too. I ask myself “What do I like to do, read, listen to, and watch?”, “What do I do that’s worth sharing?”. “What am I passionate about?”. Later on, I get quite self-reflective, “What will people think if I post this/comment on that?”, “What does it say about me if I ‘friend’ him/her or ‘like’ brand x?”. These questions lead me, consciously or not, to shape who I am. Having a virtual blank page to fill forces us to consider and create our identity.
Instant Feedback As marketers, we evolve marketing tactics based on real-time data. As individuals, we evolve our identities in the same way. I post something…it gets ignored, passed around, commented on. That influences what I post about next. And so on. Depending on the feedback, I talk more about some things and less about others. I will accentuate some traits/passions/opinions, play down others, and nuance others. The more I post about myself, the more feedback I get. The more feedback I get, the more it shapes what I post…and, ultimately, who I am.
The Confidence to Experiment This has three sources – positive feedback on the things I post; discovering I am not alone in my obscure passion (sci-fi author Greg Egan, what’s yours?); and finding out the interesting, hidden sides everyone else has. This confidence encourages me to reveal more of myself, explore new things, ‘friend’ more people, join more communities. In short, try more stuff. This is what we did as teenagers with our weird hair, bizarre outfits and friends our parents disapproved of….but in the Social Media space, we can try more things, more quickly, more easily, and at the same time. Identity creation on hyperdrive. And, being optimistic, maybe (hopefully), it makes us more curious, interesting, well-rounded people as a result.
Self-Control We aren’t all celebrities, but Social Media puts us all in the public eye. No longer does the piece of poor judgment stay amongst a select few. It is now quickly broadcast to the world…to our parents, coworkers, prospective employers and partners. Some learn through their own mistakes, some through the mistakes of others, but we have all become more aware of our public image. We are our own PR team…managing, shaping and controlling our identities and (hopefully) exercising greater self-control around our behaviors and utterances.
None of this is new. Consciously or not we’re all constantly shaping who we are and evolving ourselves based on feedback. But Social Media has made it more imperative, made us more conscious of it, given us access to more fuel for it, and put us in greater control of it.
I see three implications for brands:
“Liking” Is Not Just Value Exchange, You’re Part of My Identity If I ‘like’ you, your updates appear on my wall, your logo on my profile page and, with Facebook’s Sponsored Stories, my comments about you will now appear in your ads. By ‘liking’ you I am tying myself to you in a way that is more intimate, more public and more permanent than simply wearing your logo on a T-shirt. You’ve become part of my Social Media identity (and me yours). So while I will continue to use my ‘like’ as currency to receive access, coupons, etc, increasingly, before I click that button, I’m going to think about what that means (“Is yours a badge I want to wear? A set of values, activities, a lifestyle I want to share in?”). It’s not always going to be as transactional as we marketers sometimes think.
Give People the Tools for Identity Creation Understand what Social Media is doing for our identities and empower it, leverage it and promote it. Help people create, shape and communicate who they are. This can be provoking conversation, encouraging content creation or showcasing those whose identities and activities align with your brand’s. Before enacting a Social Media activity ask yourself “Why would someone want this as part of their identity?”, “What will it say about them if others saw their participation?”
Social Media Can Shape A Brand’s Identity, Too We spend months and much angst creating a brand’s positioning. And once complete, we treat it like it is carved in stone – permanent and unchanging. And our Social Media presence is managed in strict adherence to our stone tablet. Yet, as individuals we’re shaping and evolving our Social Media identity all the time. Smart marketers will use Social Media to shape brands too. This isn’t about experimenting with abandon, but about taking the same feedback loop we apply to ourselves and applying it to our brands. Use the fluidity and real-time flexibility Social Media provides, have the confidence to explore and experiment. From a marketer’s perspective, Social Media is not just for offering information, entertainment and community about a brand, (although that’s important), it can be used to craft the very brand itself.
Email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.