Why we share: What makes media social?
- Brett Morris
- 09 Jul 2013 (South Africa)
I have to confess that I’ve never really ‘got’ social media, which is not to say that I don’t understand it. As Judith Donath of MIT argues, driving people to share online is a very basic human need. It's a way of establishing social bonds. This is not complicated, this I get. What I don’t get is why people are so prone to over-sharing, but more on that later.
I’m particularly interested in social media from a marketing point of view. With the rise of the digital era, many saw online advertising and social media as the solution to all marketing woes. We would be able to reach people outside of the ‘traditional’ media channels and engage with them more intimately on an ongoing basis. What nobody paused to consider is that maybe people didn’t want to be reached outside of the traditional channels and intimately engage with marketing messages on an ongoing basis. I sure as hell don’t. Social media was not the proverbial silver bullet that acolytes had predicted.
Even today, as Facebook has matured (strange to say of a nine-year-old company) and Twitter becomes more mainstream, brands struggle to negotiate the world of social media. Marketers seem to think that they must have a Facebook page and a Twitter stream if they are going to ‘stay relevant’ but that’s not necessarily true. Digital is a channel, not a strategy in itself, and there needs to be good reason for a Facebook page or Twitter stream, just as there should be good reason for any piece of communication. And that really comes down to having a great idea or experience that people want to share. Pardon the mixed metaphor, but social media may not be the silver bullet – rather, it should be an arrow in the quiver.
Circa 2001 BSM (before social media) we used to talk about whether or not an ad campaign had the ‘braai factor’. The question we’d ask is how likely are people to talk about the ad when they’re gathered at a braai. (You can replace ‘braai’ with ‘book club’ or ‘hairdresser’ or ‘carwash’ or ‘golf course’ or whatever, you get the point.) The more likely they are to talk about it, the more ‘braai factor’ it had. This was a good filter to apply because it made you think about what really matters to the audience. When there’s a lull in conversation between discussions about which sporting franchise did, or is going to do, what to whom and at what point each piece of meat should be turned over and/or is done; would they say “have you seen that great ad for … insert brand name here”. That was the most important measure for us because it meant your campaign had social currency. You knew people cared enough to talk about it.
Social media, and Twitter in particular, have made the braai factor exponential. Most people now watch television with a mobile device in their hands and they’re sharing their thoughts on the content they’re watching (over-sharing in my view, but more on that later). According to Twitter as much as ten percent of that conversation is about brands and advertising. This means that brands are able to get real-time feedback on whether people notice and like or dislike their advertising. And they generally only comment if they like or dislike something, not if they are indifferent. Which means the advertising better be relevant and engaging to the audience or it could end up being bad, expensive PR.
This presents marketers with an interesting opportunity.
I recently attended a talk by Deb Roy, Chief Media Scientist at Twitter and associate professor at MIT. He explained that television, which is still the most powerful and dominant mass medium, is naturally intersecting with Twitter. When people are moved by the sights and sounds of TV, they share (or Tweet). As Judith Donath elucidated, this is a primordial need. What’s interesting is why Twitter and TV are such good cohorts. TV (or live TV anyway) provides the synchronous experience for people to share – we need to have a common point of conversation - and Twitter provides the social connection. That, combined with the fact that they are both live and public media means that anyone can start, or join, a conversation about the experience they are sharing. And more and more it seems, we are feeling the need to reconnect around TV.
This is something that ‘event’ television, like live sport, has capitalised on. The 2012 Superbowl established a ‘command centre’ (I really must get one of those) of sixteen employees and thirty volunteers who coordinated the information from @superbowl2012. They also used Twitter as a content engine for Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and their blog. According to PC Mag, the televised event set two new records on Twitter for the number of tweets per second. After the Giants' victory, Twitter reached 12,233 tweets per second and 10,245 during Madonna's half-time performance.
Other television content is also waking up to the ‘live’ engagement potential of their programmes. If you want to be involved in the global conversation around the latest installment of Masterchef or Game of Thrones, or whatever your opiate, you need to watch it ‘live’. According to Roy, Twitter had been analysing the tweets around certain programming and there are some compelling metrics. After an exciting plot point on Walking Dead they tracked over 15 million total impressions and over 3.2 million unique impressions from Twitter. Of course, there’s currently no way of knowing how many of those were read, but the numbers are high and they will keep growing. Which means that, if the content is relevant and entertaining, advertisers could get real-time, exponential exposure and engagement through Twitter relating to their advertising.
My wife would also, and does, accuse me of not sharing enough. And she probably has a point. But if I’m on the under-sharing side of the continuum, at least I’m not inundating and irritating my fellow humans as compared with those on the over-sharing side. Why, for the love of all that is share-worthy, do people feel the need to publicly expose every detail of their lives? I implore you; don’t be that guy at the braai who talks non-stop just to be the guy who is talking. And don’t be that person who tweets about every banal experience just to be on Twitter. I promise that you will still exist in the real world if you don’t exist in social media for a few hours. Be aware of what you share! (Hey that’s pretty catchy, I might just Tweet that). DM
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