Meaningful behaviours behind social media

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The Facebook puppy Kids: challenged by parents to get a million likes if they wanted a puppyEverything started with my mom. On Christmas day she asked: “What are you doing?”

I replied: “I’m Tweeting about how your culinary mastery has threatened to turn me into a rolling Zorba.”

“Tweeting?” she repeated, twitching her nose as if I mentioned an ugly disease.

I explained the best I could.

“But why are you doing that? What do people care about how much you ate?” she retorted bewildered.

I fumbled for words for a few seconds. Then I realized I didn’t know what to answer.

My Mum was right.  I wasn’t sharing anything insightful and I wasn’t expecting any enlightening replies.  Then why was I doing that?

I delved into social behavioral theories to find out why people do Social Media – and ultimately fight back my mum’s skepticism. The quest led me to 3 trends.

1.       Group affinity:

We all want to be amongst like-minded souls, people who have the same interests and passions as we have. It’s called Group Affinity and it’s the fabric of a community.

Social Media, with its reach and shareabilty, makes easier for communities to form around Group Affinity – whether there is an ideal, a cause or a particular motivation to drive it.

Some of these communities dwindle away once an objective has been achieved, whilst others have great longevity.

The ‘Facebook plea for a puppy’ is a good example of how easily communities can form around a specific group affinity.

Challenged by their father to total one million likes on Faceboook to get a new puppy, 2 sisters took on the wager and posted a very (cute) picture of themselves and their brothers explaining the plea on Facebook.

After 24 hours, they’d amassed 1.2 million likes and claimed the prize. A whole supporting movement – fuelled by great sympathy with the puppy&sisters cause – took shape around the plea and went viral.

More interestingly, it didn’t stop even when the target was reached and kept drawing in more recruits.

Besides the fact that children & dogs are always winning weapons, there are three take-aways for us in the advertising world.

a). Movements vs. communities. Strong group affinity results in cohesive movements with a meaningful cause at the heart. Movements are more forceful than communities and if fuelled with the proper social strategy, they are here to stay while growing and expanding.

b).  Co-writing vs. ready script. It’s important to have a powerful storyline ready but not the whole script. We should always ask our movements to help us find new characters, endings and challenges.

c. Flexible commitment vs. convoluted processes. Members of any movement will not commit and be motivated in the same way. We need to remember this any time we build apps, design competitions and make sure to provide different engagement options.

2- Social Commensality.

In anthropology, this concept refers to social relationships produced and reproduced through food practices.

In the ‘real world,’ ‘breaking the bread’ with family and friends whilst having small talks is a way to reinforce bonds.

But this applies also to our business world. When we are having lunch with a client, small talks tend to accompany at least the first glass of wine and the starters.

Commensality and social media go hand in hand. Have you ever brooded about the hundreds of – apparently meaningless – tweets updates saying:

I am having a mango flavored yogurt. Yum!”?

Or like the one my mother disapproved of: “Had Christmas lunch. Just push me down a Tuscan hill and I will roll gingerly”.

The truth is that such small talks can be very meaningful. They can have the function to open the conversation gates and lead to more business-like talks and to the beginning of a trusted relationship.

If properly managed, small talks around apparently trivial matters can help cement ‘Social Commensality’ between people and brands.

Oreo have been doing a sterling job in ‘dunking’ smart business messages in tactical small talks and with their Super Bowl campaign, they brought Social Commensality to a whole new level.

Their ‘Cookie vs. Crème’ campaign had asked their communities which part of the biscuit they liked the most.

Such apparently easy question had unleashed a national diatribe, led to the formation of two fronts and ultimately divided a whole nation in two.

3. Gifting:

Anywhere in the world, gifting is a very powerful social practice. When we receive a gift – from a coffee to a pair of shoes – we make a mental note to reciprocate as soon as the occasion occurs.

Gifting manifests itself in social media. When we Retweet, Mention somebody, we are giving that person a Microgift.

Ultimately, gifting is what makes us come back for more, checking to see if anyone has liked or Retweeted our post or shared our comments. It’s an ego-pleasing activity.

A great source of inspiration for ‘gifting’ is George Takei – not a brand, but an institution. The Star Trek actor has amassed over 3,500,000 fans on Facebook.

Moreover, he has a staggering 3,200,000 people talking about him (for an engagement rate of over 91.4%)– In the fickle world of Facebook this makes him a sort of demigod.

And one of reasons for this is that George gifts his fans daily by posting their content on his page, carefully commenting on why he finds it so brilliant and worth sharing. You really feel like coming up with more brilliant stuff to gift him with.

We believe that brands’ community management and customer service teams should always dedicate a good part of their strategy to ‘gifting’ their communities – ermm movements – by replying, Retweeting and publically praising shared content.

These 3 trends just scrape the surface of why people do social media. Nonetheless, I reveled in my discoveries, eager to prove my mum that tweeting after lunch is actually very meaningful.

Much to my chagrin, my mom wasn’t interested in continuing the conversation and after lunch she disappeared from the living room. She had just joined Facebook.

Alice Mayel-Afshar, social insights manager at Havas Media.