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Once More, with Feeling: Making Sense of Social Media

I was recently asked at a communications and marketing conference for senior executives when Social Media would start to appeal to all senses including, vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. It was an interesting question and the first time that I had heard it in public. My response was that it is already in full effect. To go one step further, much of the work I’ve studied and also the focus of much of my own work fuses aspects of sensory branding and marketing with elements of experiential and emotional marketing to appeal to the senses as well as to the emotions that inspire action.

In marketing today, it’s less about what we say about us and more about what people hear, feel, and in turn, say about us.

The “Me” in Social Media

While the culture and corresponding dynamics and mechanics of social media remain elusive to many executives and marketers, its purpose and promise are far more profound than we may realize. To that end, I believe that in order to unlock the methodologies and philosophies tied to effective and long-lasting social media strategies, we must remove our marketing capes and instead remember who we are as individuals.  There’s a “me” in social media for a reason and that is because everything in social networks and online for that matter, begins with us. We define our own experiences. We decide who we follow and who follows us. We choose which stories we read and those we share. And it is only those experiences that we connect with emotionally that compel us to push across our social graphs.

Before we are marketers, sales or service professionals, executives, employees, or leaders, we are human beings. And social media equalizes the playing field for media consumption, production and distribution. We are the champions who introduced businesses to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al. We disrupted marketing. We disrupted communications. We disrupted media. More notably, we are affecting the very foundation of business itself by influencing the evolution of its culture, mission, purpose and how it communicates with its markets. You, me, and everyone with whom we connect online are no longer an audience for messages and gimmicks. We are no longer voiceless and faceless consumers who react quietly to public information. We are now part of the media ecosystem. And, we are stakeholders in the online communities where we define experiences and outcomes.

To connect with the social consumer here and now, we must be part of the community. We must approach business and the business of marketing and engagement with the same resolve we approach our own social networking. We must become the very people we’re trying to reach, because ultimately, we are consumers and we are stakeholders in the evolution of our social relationships and experiences.

Social Media is Rich with Emotion

As we are at the center of our individual experiences, social media then naturally becomes powered by emotion and all that moves us. If you love something, share it on Twitter. If something inspired you, blog about it. If an incredible event is unfolding before you, capture it on video or still and upload it to YouTube or Flickr. If someone captured your attention, connect with them or link back to their post or profile. What’s shared across each of these scenarios is the feeling that motivates us to publicly react. When I refer to sensory and experiential marketing, it is for this very reason. People are emotional creatures and their actions and decisions are driven by a combination of experience, education, instinct, and emotional intelligence.

For those who venture boldly into the very public universe that is social media, we slowly trade privacy for recognition, gaining confidence with every response, new connection, comment, retweet, and “like” we earn. We transform into digital extroverts intentionally or subconsciously seeking affirmation in all that we do, and it’s seductive, educational, and fulfilling when we learn how to manage and invest in our role in these new online societies.

Indeed there is an addictive quality to online interaction. While science is long tied to more personal forms of commercial engagement, we now have a new study that shows that emotion is indeed tied to social networking.

Rude Lovers©

Adam Penenberg a contributing writer to Fast Company volunteered as a test subject in Dr. Paul J. Zak’s “neuroeconomics” research, an emerging field that combines economics with biology, neuroscience, and psychology. The studies seek to “gauge the relationship between empathy and generosity.”

In a series of studies spanning nine years, Zak found that Oxytocin (aka the cuddle drug, not the pain killer Oxycontin) is not only the hormone that forms the bond between mothers and their babies, it is as Zak says, the “social glue” that adheres families, communities, and societies, and therefore acts as an “economic lubricant” to engage day-to-day transactions. Zak’s work has essentially recognized oxytocin as the human stimulant of empathy, generosity, trust, among other important social attributes.

Penenberg connected with Zak to learn if Zak’s research on oxytocin is applicable to social media research. In fact Penenberg’s experience is fascinating to me in more ways than I could possibly share. I too have long theorized that social media IS driven by emotion and as such, the interaction and relationships in which we place great value is indeed rooted in biology. And as such, we can learn from the behavior that ensues through not only biology, but other social sciences such as anthropology, sociology, ethnography, and psychology.

Penenberg’s telling post in Fast Company is worth the read, but in his own words, he summarizes the findings that should have massive implications for the future of socialized media, “…all of this research reinforces the idea that we are biologically driven to commingle, and suggests that online relationships can be just as real as those conducted offline.” He continues, “…social networking may increase a person’s oxytocin levels, thereby heightening feelings of trust, empathy, and generosity.”

In fact, in a series of three experiments in social networking, specifically with Twitter, Penenberg’s oxytocin levels jumped 13.2% while hormones related to stress waned. Zak concluded that Penenberg’s brain, “interpreted tweeting as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for.”

Will Work for Empathy

In my experience, empathy is a powerful ally and catalyst for sparking meaningful interactions and relationships in social media.  Individuals online are empowered and as such, their attention focuses on those who can demonstrate an awareness and understanding of their interests, challenges and options. Empathy is detectable and contagious.

To garner empathy, we must “feel” that moves our communities and markets. To do so, we must transcend listening and monitoring into a form of kinesthetic analysis to truly become the people we’re trying to reach.

I’m not just listening to you, I hear you. I see and feel what you’re saying.

If we look to forms of interpersonal, sensory, and experiential marketing, the cornerstone of connectivity is built upon meaning, relevance, and purpose. As such trust becomes a measure of metric to weigh our participation efforts and emotional marketing value (EMV) ranks our ability to demonstrate empathy and earn attention, support, and affinity. This insight should absolutely change how you approach social media, from design and imagery to intent and communication.

Source: Advanced Marketing Institute

As businesses seek to establish presence and prominence within these social networks, a sense of persona, character and purpose proves paramount. Those in charge of outbound strategies will have to expand their communications prowess with an understanding of digital sociology and psychology.

The Social Marketing Compass

As we plan for meaningful social media engagement, our strategy should be woven by a fabric of ethics, purpose and principles and bound by salient business goals and objectives. Inspired by a moral compass, I created The Social Marketing Compass, again with the artistic talents of JESS3, to serve as our value system when defining our program activities. The Social Compass made its debut in Chapter 21 of Engage!.

A compass is a device for discovering orientation and serves as a true indicator of physical direction. The Social Marketing Compass points a brand in a physical and experiential direction to genuinely and effectively connect with customers, peers, and influencers, where they interact and seek guidance online.

The socialization of the Web is powered by people and as such, it’s held to the same natural laws and rules that govern human behavior. The outer ring of the social compass guides brands from targets to technology to connection with emotions and empathy serving as the final step to engagement. Successful branding is magnified when individuals can establish a human and emotional connection. In social networks, the brand is represented by you and for that reason, we must factor in compassion, care, and feeling into our planning. Connect from the heart.

Behaviorgraphics: Visualize the “Me” in Social Media

Behaviorgraphics examines the “me” in Social Media. While it’s avatars that capture our attention, it’s personality that captures our heart and mind.

Social media tests the filter that divides inner monologue from disclosure. As our thoughts become words online, they color our avatars and profiles with a glimpse of our personality – who we are online and in the real world. Over time, it is how we put our words into action that establishes our character. And, it is our character, through the marriage of our words and actions that paves the way for relationships and opportunities. At the center of behaviorgraphics is benevolence. The unselfish and kindhearted behavior that engenders and promotes recognition and reciprocity, and in doing so, earns the goodwill of those around them. This is the hub of social networking with a purpose, mission, and a genuine intent to grow communities based on trust, vision, and collaboration.

Visualized once again with the help of JESS3

Influence is distributed across segmented personality traits and categorized by the prominence within specific nicheworks linked by interests. Activating social networks and the people within them is an act of communication to form an association. Therefore, we must understand much more than how content attracts varying levels of behavior, but also surface the personality characteristics of the people we’re hoping to establish connections and relationships.

In many ways, we become social psychologists and linguists who can speak to individuals in manners that appeal to their demeanor. And, since each of us are also consumers, we find ourselves not in any one group, but at any point in time, we can identify with several traits based on our engagement in varying circumstances.

May I Have Your Intention Please

As actions speak louder than words, intention also speaks volumes. While my work has not involved a lab such as Zak’s, it has experimented with the idea of connecting with individuals based on empathy and recognition in order to earn awareness, consideration and ultimately trust. It is the basis for my focus on R.R.S. (relevance, resonance, significance), social media’s new critical path.  Without relevance, we cannot trigger resonance, and without resonance, we cannot establish significance. As such, in social media, we earn the relationships, responses, and trust we deserve as measured through the emotional vibrations that reverberate across social graphs.

Now, once more with feeling…

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Engage! was written to help you find answers to your questions and the questions you didn’t yet know to ask…

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Lead Image Source: ShutterStock

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