Category Archives: Sociology

Social Peacocks: Social Media Display and Brand Affiliation in 2011

Back in 1959, Erving Goffman published a book entitled ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’, which, amongst other things, explored the theme that we ‘perform’ different roles dependent on specific ‘stages’ and situations we find ourselves in.

Although Goffman’s lauded name has become synonymous with this sociological concept, this is a theme that has run throughout history. Plato spoke of the ‘stage of human life’, whilst Shakespeare penned the pertinent phrase “all the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.

It’s now 2011 and with the advent of social media, the concept of displaying ourselves on a stage has become more pertinent than ever before. We live in a world that is permanently switched-on; ever-connected. Sharing all aspects of our lives, from big news such as engagements and pregnancies to banal trivia such as what we are watching on TV, sharing on the social stage has become very much de rigeur.

With over 600,000,000 active users, Facebook has rapidly risen in less than a decade to become arguably one of the biggest ‘stages’ in modern life. Our social circles are no longer limited to close friends we see regularly; instead we can now ‘perform’ to old school ‘friends’ (I use the term loosely), casual acquaintances and old work colleagues as part of an ever-increasing audience viewing multiple ‘stages’.

But over the past two years, social media marketing has also made significant strides, with brands and businesses seeping osmotically into our online lives. The updates we receive from friends and family are now intertwined with communications from retailers, car companies, food brands, charities and local restaurants – in short, anyone that we actively choose to ‘like’.

Whilst recent research shows that many users are motivated to ‘like’ brands and businesses for the chance to win prizes and receive exclusive discounts, research has also started to highlight the growing trend in ‘liking’ brands in order to visibly display association with that brand to a peer network on social media channels.

This form of ‘display to convey’ is nothing new: take coffee tables adorned with meticulously arranged ‘high-brow’ literature / magazines; t-shirts adorned with branded logos; carrier bags displaying which shops we have just frequented. All around us, we display our consumer preferences through related collateral, be this actual or aspirational.

And this age-long trend has continue into the social sphere. Whether it’s using geo-locations to ‘check-in’ at a trendy bar or ‘liking’ a fashionable brand on Facebook (Apple, Aston Martin, Tag Heur et al), we are now sharing more and more of our consumer choices with a much wider audience. Why?

I conducted some research in various LinkedIn groups, asking the question, “Why do you click ‘like’ on a brand’s Facebook page?”, which threw up (amongst others) the two following responses:

“I already feel a big connection with the brand and want to let people know I like it.”

“The reason I did [like a page] was much more related to the identification I have with the brand rather than a special feeling […] they are a reference for me.”

Even from these two ad hoc quotes, we can glean that social media users (which in 2011, comprises the vast majority of us) are building, constructing and displaying their chosen ‘identities’ on one of the world’s biggest stages. Humans have always desired to display a side to themselves, be it status, wealth or sexuality – however the advent of display in social media has given rise to what I call, the social peacock.

I’m not for one moment claiming that this is the sole reason for consumers to ‘like’ a brand’s page. As previously stated, material incentives such as prizes and discounts are huge ‘like-drivers’. Social channels have opened up another level to customer service, with dedicated teams on Twitter, Facebook and Skype becoming standard practice for companies in the Utilities sector.

But for many social media users, ‘liking’ brands has become a way to collect badges and trophies that speak about them as a person; it allows them to project a desired image of themselves and their life choices. Like it or not, we live in a global economy driven by capitalism, and much of our perceived identity is intrinsically linked to the brands (as opposed to products) that we consume.

Who knows what the future may hold, especially since one of the rising trends in social media is the focus on local communities and niche ‘pockets’ of users sharing niche interests. But for now, clicking ‘like’ on a brand’s Facebook page remains very much a way of conveying choice, status and image – and marketers would do well to ensure that ‘social peacocks’ are one of the key groups they focus on.

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Social Media is a Budweiser Bottle…


Social ‘media’ has undoubtedly acted as the catalyst in creating a more connected, social world in the digital space, but humans have been ‘social’ long before the advent of Facebook et al.

This brilliant new campaign from Bud Light uses special labels on its bottles that drinkers can etch messages on using a key or blunt object, penning anything from a name or party invite to a mobile number:

Although undoubtedly a gimmick, this is a great piece of marketing that taps directly into our fascination with being social, sharing and communicating with each other – yet the only social ‘media’ being used is a glass bottle!

Needless to say, there’s support for this campaign on the brand’s Facebook page, ensuring that interaction and engagement can continue into the online space through established social media platforms.

But the pertinent point is this: Bud Light started this campaign by creating something that taps into our fundamental psychological fascination with communication and being social.

Of course, social media allows us to reach and engage with consumers in authentic new ways never before seen. But at the very heart of any social strategy, we need to remember that, like the Bud Light bottle, we need to appeal to real people in ways that fascinate and engage them.

A little rant on the ‘scoring’ of social media users…

As a social media marketer, I fully understand the need for metrics, measurement and analysis, which tools such as Klout provide.  However, I’m starting to find that the rapid permeation of ‘scoring’ / ‘worth’ into individual social media use through sites such as Empire Avenue is proving detrimental to social experience.

For me, as an individual user of social media, the beauty of platforms such as Twitter has always been the ability to share, engage, connect and converse.  As an individual, I’ve networked, discovered new friends, shared resources, assisted people’s queries and had several answered of my own.

The trend in gamification has also been enjoyable – tools such as Foursquare and Yelp! have blurred the lines between online and offline even further, with location-based applications also enhancing digital ‘community’ experience.

But for me, turning social media into a scoring system runs the very real risk of turning social media into a virtual playground, where the ‘cool’ kids hobnob in cliques and strut around puffing their chests out because they have a ‘high score’.

Social media is ever-evolving, but fundamentally, it remains about engagement, interaction and relationships.  Empire Avenue is another recent classic example of how some users are developing over-inflated opinions of themselves, as their daily ‘stock’ fluctuates along with their egos!

I’m not hypocritical – I’ve checked my own Klout score and even had a go on Empire Avenue (which I have subsequently deleted)!  But for me, social media is about ENGAGAING with people; holding discussions and building human relationships in a virtual world.

Yes; as a social media marketer, metrics such as Klout influence are valuable and necessary markers of performance from a branded social media perspective.  They help to illustrate ROI and your position against competing businesses – I use them professionally and they assist me immensely.

But as an individual?  I couldn’t give two hoots whether 3 million people you’ve never met are ‘investing’ in you because you have a high score.

I’d much rather engage with real people about real things.

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Farcical Friday – Follow Friday Loses Its Way

In writing this, I’m aware that I’m being hypocritical.  After all, I often engage in the Twitter phenomenon known as ‘Follow Friday’ (#FF).  But in recent weeks, I’ve really started to question the value of this social practice.

I read an interesting blog post this week by Kevin Ball, in which he highlighted some fascinating work by Mark Granovetter conducted in the 1970s.  Part of Granovetter’s findings showed that:

“We have strong ties with people in the same network as ourselves and these are slow in creating change.”

He also claimed:

“People with strong ties are in the same circles, they listen to the same sources and they learn nothing new from one another.”

And I think that social media can be just as cliquey.

If you think about the concept of social media as part of a grand concept, the possibilities are mind-blowing.  A connected world in which we have immediate access to human interactions – to collaborate, share, learn, converse, help, advise, support.

Don’t get me wrong; despite these philanthropic possibilities, I also enjoy the banal, informal chat and banter that channels such as Twitter provide.  But I see enclaves of users mixing purely in their immediate circle and communicating only with each other – and as I stated at the outset, this is something I am also guilty of.

And here’s where #FollowFriday comes in.

Every week, I tend to see the same people telling us to follow the same people – in many instances, we’re all following that person anyway.  The premise of Follow Friday is very good indeed – but how many of you actually start following someone based on a recommendation of your peers?  Say you follow 100 people and each person shares 3 Follow Fridays.  Do you start following 300 new people?  And in a week’s time, a further 900 people?

No.

For me, Follow Friday has become a way of publicly doffing one’s hat to someone they like – a way in which to show someone that they like them.  But in terms of a genuine mechanic to share like-minded people and promote digital integration and collaboration, I think that Follow Friday falls short, especially considering the sheer volume of Follow Fridays that are published every week.

The premise of Follow Friday is excellent – but I feel many Twitter users have lost sight of its original purpose.