Most of the value created on the social web every day is non-economic. Do your friends wile away their hours on Facebook to be more profitable? Probably not.
Individuals get the most benefit from participating in the social web for intangible, psychological reasons. The addictive nature of this place is born from a primal need for connection, storytelling, commiseration, and ego … not necessarily personal financial gain.
So let’s get our head around this fact and think about the implications in terms of marketing success. If most of the value creation on the social web is emotional and ego-driven, what does that mean for a social media strategy?
What if you thought of your content as a pair of jeans …
On the surface, all jeans are very similar. They are made from denim cloth, typically blue, and have two legs and a zipper. When some people buy jeans, they MIGHT be only concerned with the economic delivery system — How can I cover my bum for the least amount of money possible?
But most people DON’T think that way. They choose jeans that say something about them. There is some intangible emotional connection between them and their clothing, an unspoken pact. In fact, almost every decision we make in our lives, including what to wear, what to eat, and what to drive, reinforces a message we want to deliver about who we are.
For example, Wrangler has been creating a series of commercials depicting American athletes wearing their jeans in settings that are masculine, fun, and “real.” They don’t talk about the price, the strength of the zipper, or even where you can buy the product. In this case, they are selling an image to a group of men, and perhaps women who buy for men, that reinforces idealized views of the all-American male.
Emotion and content that moves
People also make content choices based on what it says about them.
Power on the web comes from the ability to create content that moves. And it is really, really, really hard to get people to move your content. In fact, about 2 percent of the people who read this blog post will tweet or post it. That’s about the average for most blogs.
If you are one of the spectacular few who tweet or post this article to your audience, it is most likely because what I wrote today has created an emotional or intellectual connection with you that is consistent with how you see yourself.
When you share this post, it is creating some little statement about you, just like your choice in jeans, car, or soft drink. It says, I concur. I am aligned. I think this article is smart and I am smart therefor, I will share it. This article is cutting edge and I am cutting edge, so I will share it. This article is cool and I am cool, so I will share it.
Consuming and sharing content creates an emotional benefit, not a financial one. Doesn’t this present a huge obstacle to success for companies trying to create a financial benefit to themselves through their content instead of an emotional benefit to their readers? Doesn’t this completely turn our view upside-down of what content should accomplish?
How do we get people to “wear” our content like their favorite pair of jeans?
Illustration: New York City Street art. It made me feel cool to share it : )