The importance of social media in information sharing is such that four out of every five people in the US expect emergency responders to monitor social sites (1) and, according to CNN, the average social media user receives 26 stories per week via social media, and shares 13(2). Beyond a desire for information, however, there are other significant drivers behind the cultural prominence of the individual as media channel.
It doesn't take the media to make a media star any more.Emily Glazer
Wall Street Journal
Attention Economy: The premium placed on attention means it's no longer simply about broadcasting a message; it's about setting in motion mechanisms that draw attention to you. The power of celebrity in the current social mediascape has led students at MIT to create a new unit of attention measurement: the 'Kardashian'.
Living the Dream: Social media provides ample opportunities for individuals to live out celebrity fantasies, and also increases the perceived likelihood of becoming one in real life. This desire for fame and recognition is particularly relevant to Gen Y in the current climate, says Jaron Lanier (3), as an antidote to the uncertainty and powerlessness of a stagnant job market. They can't get a job, but they can tweet.
Life as an Enterprise: Generation Y are 'Generation Sell'. The tendency to see life as a series of monetisable components and an entrepreneurial approach means that commerce will increasingly find its way into social relationships.
Brand Me: it's only a short hop from learning what 'sells' in terms of retweets and comments to working out what products to promote, particularly as the influence of Life as an Enterprise makes itself more pronounced. People can share what they want, and increasingly, through services like Klout, they may get something in return for sharing.
Rise of Passion: Online, enthusiasm trumps talent. A recent piece in the Atlantic (4) sees the rise of passion as a key shift in how our society gathers knowledge – from the cold objectivity of the expert to the emotional fandom of the amateur. It also impacts shareability – content which stirs emotion or awe is more likely to be passed on.
Search for an Expert: The proliferation of DIY content that We Are All Media represents has resulted in a contraflow; Search for an Expert sees people turning towards informed curators with specialist knowledge that enables them to sift through the detritus.
According to Nielsen’s latest Global Trust in Advertising Survey, 92% of respondents in 56 different countries said they trusted word-of-mouth recommendation from their friends and family above all other forms of communication. That’s up by 17% since 2007.(5)
As of May 2012, the combined total of people who buy daily national newspapers in the UK is 9,002,963. The number of people in the UK on Twitter is now 10 million.(6)
94% of internet users carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient.(7)
- In conjunction with Rising Social Conscience, we'll see more spreading of social causes – 84% of social media users in a 2011 New York Times survey said they shared content to raise awareness about causes they cared about. (8)
- An increased value placed on action over words as a result of meaningless status updates. DoNation is an online sponsorship tool which discourages slacktivism by asking people to pledge actions rather than cash.
- Greater instances of social commerce and social gifting, in conjunction with Life as an Enterprise.
Welcome to the age of mediocrity, where anyone with a computer, a video camera, and a few thousand dollars for production can be considered the next big thing.Peter Shankman
Social media consultant
Life in a Day turned 80,000 hours of amateur video footage from 192 countries into a feature-length film of one day in the life of the planet.
Teen beauty vloggers and ‘haul video’ maestros Elle and Blair Fowler have just over two million subscribers. RayWJ earns an estimated $1m a year and attracts more than five million regular viewers to his (frequently bad taste) YouTube commentaries.(9)
Facebook is currently trialling a pay to promote service for users – for a small fee, they can highlight information so it doesn't get lost in their friends' stream.
Converse's Made By app, which allows anyone to customise a pair of kicks and take a cut if they're sold to friends, hinges on playful and creative interaction, rather than direct monetary exchange. It's 'Look what I made!' not 'Hey, buy what I made'.
Pinterest is a good example of a softer sell; recent figures suggest that 21% of users (10) have purchased an item on the site. Ikea's Share Space is a branded example of the product moodboard, allowing users to signal their personality without overt selling.
Retailer C&A is also hoping to use the power of social recommendations, by trialling high-tech hangers which display the number of Facebook ‘Likes’ for each item of clothing.
Quarterly is a subscription service which sells people, not products – key influencers curate a package of cool stuff which reflects their personality, then pop the surprise gift package in the post. Subscribers have no idea what they're getting, just who is selling it.
In the words of Henry Jenkins, "If it doesn't spread, it's dead." Content strategist and consultant Richard Hull says that, because digital natives have never been without reality TV, “It puts a premium on their ability (or need) to have a voice in the simplest of ways: from posting status updates [...] to creating videos that rally around a cool brand they love.”
The term 'Astroturfing' (i.e. creating 'fake grassroots') indicates a lasting wariness of commercial content masquerading as social. In spite of the increasingly commercial framework of social networks, there are still other issues of integrity surrounding the commercialisation of content, and when people share online they are often motivated by social rather than commercial factors. As Mike Arauz wrote in 2009, “If I tell my Facebook friends about your brand, it's not because I like your brand, but rather because I like my friends.” The New York Times' 'Psychology of Sharing' survey found that 94% of internet users carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient.
Be provocative, and leave enough unsaid that people can either retrofit content to their own cultural or personal context, or adapt it to their own purposes; that is what really gets things shared. As Patricia McDonald concludes, “To survive in a world where consumers can signal at every turn what they find interesting, beautiful or entertaining, brands need to do interesting things.”
1. American Red Cross, 'More Americans Using Social Media and Technology in Emergencies', 24 August 2011. Available here
2. CNN International Research, 'POWNAR', October 2010. Available here
3. Jaron Lanier, 'The Local-Global Flip, or, "The Lanier Effect"', 29 August 2011. Available here
4. Megan Garber, 'The story behind that 9,000-word quora post on airplane cockpits', 15 March 2012. Available here
5. Nielsen, 'Global Consumers trust in 'Earned' Advertising Grows in Importance', 10 April 2012. Available here
6. John Prescott, 'Life is tweet, says John Prescott, as Twitter reaches 10m milestone in UK', 15 May 2012. Available here
7 and 8. David Kaplan, 'NYT On The 'Psychology of Sharing': E-Mail Still Rules', 13 July 2011. Available here
9. Emily Glazer, 'Who is RayWJ? YouTube's Top Star', 2 February 2012. Available here
10. Drew Olanoff, 'Survey: 21% of users on Pinterest have purchased an item that they found on the site', 26 March 2012. Available here
Related on Canvas8
Sam Shaw, 'Made By Converse', 6 January 2012. Available here
Mehreen Nisa Khan, 'Putting a price on friendship', 30 September 2011. Available here
Maitreyee Patki, 'Ikea Share Space', 13 September 2011. Available here
Ashley Mauritzen, 'Quarterly', 8 December 2011. Available here
Sam Shaw, 'Donate by doing', 23 May 2011. Available here
Laura Hally, 'VideoGenie: video marketing gets personal', 2 November 2010. Available here
Michael Solomon, 'Bowling online: making e-tail more social', 7 April 2011. Available here
Alexis Akwagyiram, 'Are Twitter and Facebook changing the way we complain?' 17 May 2012. Available here
Ilya Vedrashko, 'Money can't buy you love but likes are $2 a piece', 20 May 2011. Available here
Barb Dybwad, 'Twitter drops "What are you doing?", now asks "What's Happening?"', 19 November 2009. Available here
Aaron Baar, 'Frecommendation: turning the social network into a recommendation network'. Available here
Patricia McDonald, 'Why the interest graph is the future of social commerce', 24 April 2012. Available here
Richard Hull, 'The Digital Natives Are the Entertainment!', 19 September 2011. Available here
Peter Shankman, 'The Age of Mediocrity: Why Rebecca Black is Everyone's Fault', 24 March 2011. Available here
Eliot Van Buskirk, 'How The World Will Shape Itself to Please Social Butterflies', 10 November 2011. Available here
Robert Barry, 'Social Media, Spotify and Why YOU Are the Product', 12 March 2012. Available here
Ethan Zuckerman, 'A new unit of measurement - the Kardashian', 10 May 2012. Available here
Jennifer Van Grove, 'Social video app Viddy hot on Facebook, adds 300k users in a day', 12 April 2012. Available here
Nick Bamigboye, 'Keisha The Sket and other Facebook novels written and published online', 23 May 2011. Available here
Ryan Lawler, 'Dynno's over-the-top broadcasting by the numbers', 23 September 2011. Available here
Holly Goodier, 'BBC Online Briefing Spring 2012: The Participation Choice', 4 May 2012. Available here
Mike Arauz, 'Thoughts on Spreadable Media, Parts 1 and 2', 18 March 2009. Available here
Michael Luca, 'Reviews, Reputation and Revenue: The Case of Yelp.com', 4 OcJober 2011. Available here
Joe Tripodi, 'Coca-Cola Marketing Shifts from Impressions to Expressions', 27 April 2011. Available here
John Tierney, 'Will You Be E-Mailing This Column? It's Awesome', 8 February 2010. Available here