Re-Thinking Social Media

There are plenty of gurus out there that claim to have the inside track on social media use and what it all means.  Too many of them start with a false idea that social media is something we DO. They fail to see that our interactions with social media have increasingly become integral parts of who we are – not just something our fleshy bodies do, but significant parts of our identity that make up the whole of who we are.

To help this make sense, we need to talk about magic, math and marketing…

The Magic

So social media isn’t something that people DO, its part of who they are. Where does the magic come in?

For those familiar with the Harry Potter tales, think of social media personas like Valdemort’s horcruxes – containers that carry split-off parts of a soul and life essence. Part of my identity and self is invested in ‘Pinterest me’, a different part of it in ‘Facebook me’, and yet another in ‘LinkedIn’ me. (Don’t get me started on ‘Twitter me.’) There’s solid social science theory to support this notion.

Sherry Turkle, celebrated author of ‘Alone Together’[1] (and featured in the TED Talk here) talks about online interaction and social media engagement as just different parts of our overall ‘life mix.’ Nancy Baym, author of ‘Personal Connections in the Digital Age’, reminds us that social media can “disrupt the notion held dear in many cultures that each body gets one self.”[2] In this sense, our social media personas are simply disembodied identities, of which we can have many. That’s pretty cool.

The Math

Celebrated mathematician Rudy Rucker brings us the idea of ‘The Lifebox’[3] – a lifetime of the archived content including all we’ve written, posted and shared online. This is served up with a dash of text analytics and pattern recognition software, curated by modest AI that generates an avatar based on your unique idiosyncrasies and personality.

What that mouthful of text means is that our collected social media posts may some day serve as the basis for a living, interactive version of us that lives beyond our embodied selves. All this to comfort and connect with loved ones after our bodies have passed on, drawing from modeled representations on what we’d likely say, do or recommend based on our ‘posted’ record that represents our values, opinions and beliefs. That’s pretty cool too.

The Marketing

We’re not quite at The Lifebox stage yet, of course, but smart social media research can put a finger on the pulse of our collective online selves today. With the right tools and lenses, we can tap directly into this living archive, drawing insight into the personalities, values, emotions, and cultures that make up the contemporary human experience in all of its facets – or is that ‘horcruxes?

So what does this all mean, and why does it matter to a marketer? Consumers’ investment in their online selves, and the role these play in their overall life-mix is shifting and evolving at a rapid pace. Research is changing, because consumers – and the consumer experience – are changing.

Cutting through the cacophony of social media gurus means moving beyond surface scrapes with social media listening and getting to meaningful social media understanding. At FSI, that’s drawn from a solid understanding of the social and cultural dynamics that shape social media today. If it’s important to your brand to understand the consumer in all aspects of their ‘life mix’, we can help get you there.

[1] Turkle, Sherry. “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.” 2011

[2] Baym, Nancy K. “Personal Connections In The Digital Age.” 2010

[3] Rucker, Rudy.  “The Lifebox, The Seashell, And The Soul.” 2005

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