What is the new social media?
Around five years ago I spoke at a social media event. My fellow speakers were from a variety of backgrounds. The line up included a young lady employed by a major American laptop manufacturer. Under title of ‘Global Social Ambassador’.
Behind the scenes she barked at an event technician about the laptop provided to the speakers. Her problem was that it featured a competitive company’s logo to her employer’s. As she approached the podium, the technician quickly stripped off several lengths of black sticky tape to hide the laptop’s logo.
Happier, and composed, she started her presentation about ‘social transparency’. She defined this as a company being: ‘human’ ‘authentic’ and using digital tracking to ‘reach the social digital global village.
As she enthusiastically evangelized, I looked up her name on my tablet. As expected her personal accounts were on all major social networks. Yet, something was not quite right. Every personal account had been diverted to her employee’s corporate account. In the name of prefabricated authenticity, the lines between her true and corporate self had not only blurred, but also welded.
The story typifies how the word ‘authentic’ is changing. Today virtually all brands espouse about the importance of authenticity. However, authenticity, like consumers, employees and so on, is being commoditized.
Worst still, people are interpreting ‘social authenticity; according to descriptions prescribed by brands. It is as we are slowly serving digitally choreographed brands, rather than the brands serving us. It’s time to readdress this imbalance, which, according to psychological research detailed in my book Brand Psychology, can even affect mental health.
During this second decade of established social media is it still relevant to marketers?
Social media has come a long way since its early days. Slowly but surely, the genuine ‘social’ aspect of the concept has been chipped away by branded content. At first formats such as ‘pop up’ ads were distractions. Then, thanks to techniques such as native advertising, they become intrusive. We have now reached the point that digital tracking technologies have turned brands into ‘sales stalkers’. (That is why some of the biggest selling apps are ad-blockers).
Making an extreme projection, as gradually the numbers on the planet are born and die in a digital age, brand stalking, like so many other ‘side-effects’ of modern ‘civilization’ will become not only the accepted norm, but defacto standard. (However, this prediction is on the outermost edge of any scale).
How has the rise of Big Data changed consumers’ perceptions of trust in social media?
Whilst one potential extreme appears darkly Orwellian, at the other end, Big Data digital tracking, measuring, monitoring and managing is arguably a practical necessity.
It’s all a matter of numbers. Within five years our planet will be home to some 7bn 716 million 749 thousand people.
According to Harvard University’s Edward Wilson, taken as whole, the Earth’s natural resources can cope with no more than 9 billion to 10 billion – set to be reached no later than 2050. (When measured by current consumption rates in countries like USA, or the UK, the total number of people that earth can comfortably sustain has already been reached).Touching vast communities requires enormous digital data. Within fifty-five months from this article’s publication date, Big Data usage will rise to 40 zetabytes. (That’s the estimated equivalent to all the grains of sand on all the beaches on earth – and ‘yes’ that includes Limassol !)
Reliable data must be delivered through an integrated, totally dependable eco-system. (Such as the Apps and IOS used by Apple’s iPhone, Macs and watches.). These are the equivalent of infrastructures that keep a city moving. In the case of Apple, their smart watch health monitoring technology opens doors to brands integrating into public health services).
With the diffusion of global physical borders comes the ‘natural’ inclination to live in a virtual, more convenient world. (Consider the efficiency of ordering online).
Whilst perhaps sounding absurd, looking ahead, this presents a potential for populations of digitally connected communities to align themselves with universal branded eco-systems, rather than just fixed geographies. (People would firstly be ‘Apple citizens’, then, ‘Cypriots’: Apple Cypriots).
Trusting the machines
From leaked passwords, to service suspensions, Big Data occasionally failing down big brands is the accepted norm.
Programmatic media (or programmatic marketing - PM) is one of the fastest growing trends in global media management. Following pre-set parameters regarding page visits, topics, clicks and so on, PM replaces human sales professionals by automatically calculating the buying, placement and optimization of media inventory.
Essentially, programmed ‘advertising opportunity finding’ search engines buy space on sites categorized by search engines such as Google or Bing. Or to put it another way – one piece of Big Data technology ‘negotiates’ with another– all with minimum human intervention.
Arguably PM software enables people to strategize rather than deal with practical repetitive tasks. However, in the gladiatorial arena of Big Data vs. Man, the balance towards ‘machine’ is edging every forward in its favour. For example, probing the intricacy of Big Data ‘cognitive computing’ systems learn to help humans or current technologies make better decisions.
With dwindling profitable click-through rates, can social media turn to psychology to improve sales and ensure trust?
Social media marketing is part of a much bigger picture. For a clearer impression of the whole, look at one of the basic selling techniques of marketing. Advertising is a mirror to society. It reflects what society is and could become.
Increased population density drives people to assert identities and so realise purpose and meanings. (April 2015 insights from the Pew Research Centre point to some relevant related stats). By 2050, whilst the number of people claiming no particular religion will grow, the percentage of believers will vastly outpace that growth, expanding by more than 2 billion. As a result, the percentage of non-believers, while growing in real terms, will decrease from 16 to 13 per cent of the world's population.
These people will want greater authenticity – not gimmicks - heritage not hearsay. Whilst the web links communities, by removing genuine human contact, as well as bombarding people with images deemed by brands to be measures of personal success and achievement, it also isolates people.
So, can trust be proven? Like all complicated questions, the answer is simple: Keep it real – allow the instinctive human message take the lead – not the automated carrier.
Can Cypriot organisations build authentic brands reputations?
My family heralds from Gibraltar – a rock measuring 6.8 km². (Cyprus covers 9,250 km²). Like all communities, gossip travels at the speed of a cup of coffee at Starbucks in Ledra Street.
Your nation is socially proud. Last year in September, I had the honour to address your President and distinguished guests at the Presidential Palace.
I mentioned how some say the name ‘Cyprus’ derives from the word for copper –- ‘Keepros’. Copper is one of the world’s most efficient conductors of energy. Energetic authenticity runs throughout your nation’s veins. For branding to truly succeed it needs more than a contrived rhetorical promise. It has to reflect the Cypriot people: the real thing.