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Social media is a behavior change, not a tactic

December 16, 2010

Yesterday I was talking to an intern.

I asked her to define social media.

She began: “Social media is when people engage with…”

I stopped her.

You’re not defining a tactic, I said. You’re defining a behavior.

Hmm. She said, you’re right.

For a while now, I’ve felt that Social media isn’t Facebook, or Twitter, or YouTube or this blog. It’s not a microsite, or a landing page.

It’s a change in behavior.

The behavior change is on the way people interact with brands. I still remember how a couple of years ago we gave a guy a $5 gift card for engaging with a brand on Twitter. The guy wrote a note to us describing how it was “marketing genius” that we gave him $5.

It wasn’t marketing genius.

More importantly, it wasn’t $5 that got him stoked. The thing he really liked was engaging with a brand that he loved. The brand had physical places, and people on those places, but all that wasn’t something he could talk to. On Twitter and Facebook, he could talk to the voice of the brand. That new ability was the thing that he really loved. The $5 was just the cherry on the top.

Now, people don’t want to have conversations with all brands. Some brands, as Alan Wolk, likes to point out, aren’t meant to be your friends.

But some are. The brands that have done a good job of developing a brand are often the most popular on Facebook. I’ve seen that happen time and again. Those brands can engage with fans. But that’s because fans are engaging with those brands.

Because they can.

This is the part I like the most: 20 years ago, if someone bought their first  TV, the amount of consumers went up by one. But the amount of content creators didn’t. We watched TV. We didn’t create it.

But that’s all changed. Now, every tablet, smart phone and computer means one more consumer and one more creator of content.

The content might be a tweet to their favorite brand. Or a comment on the wall of their favorite brand’s Facebook page. Or a blog post about their favorite cheese. The options are endless but that’s because the change in behavior is demanding those options. Every shiny new thing, from Foursquare to the thing that was going to take down Facebook is just a response to the ever-growing demand by consumers to create content.

And it’s a change that will continue. We’re just scratching the surface of what people will create.

(Note: if you haven’t read Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus, read it.)

Further note: things have been busy at work. That seems more evidence that this whole behavior change thing is here to stay.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2010 8:54 am

    I agree with a lot of what you are saying, especially if you only consider brands from a corporate point of view.

    I can’t help but wonder if your intern discussion might have been different if you first started from the point of view that we all are brands, each person. We are what we present to others in the form of all the different channels we choose to engage in. What we are seeing today in the world of branding is not consumers interacting more with brands, but brands (what we might have called influencors in a more traditional sense) interacting with brands.

    Just a thought.

    Good Hunting.

    • December 17, 2010 3:39 pm


      I agree that we’re all brands. So when Kevin Smith (a well-known brand) has a public spat with Southwest (a well-known brand), then you’re right, a brand is talking to a brand.

      But if I talk to Southwest, then it’s me somewhat powerless consumer talking to a big brand. And therein lies the distinction. Most people, while being brands of their own, aren’t on the level of the companies they celebrate and/or complain about.

      But I definitely think you’re onto something. I learned from this blog a few times that if I need to contact a company, this is a good forum for getting their attention.

      Still, my behavior of going to this forum is the new thing I’m thinking about. 10 years ago, this wasn’t on the table for me.



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