The New Social Norms
- "People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. [This is a] social norm that has evolved over time."
- —Mark Zuckerberg
The social Web is drastically changing how we communicate. Social norms are being invented about what, how frequently, and with whom we share even the smallest details of our lives. This, in turn, is having a tremendous impact on our sociology—including our expectations, behavior, and relationships, both with one another and with organizations and brands.
The pace at which social networking sites are growing and the fact that one in three American adults uses Facebook mean that these changes are rippling through society in profound ways that will only become more pronounced in the years ahead. This chapter explores how online identity and sharing have changed as a result of online social networks, explains the new etiquette and expectations about these sites, and introduces an important new concept of transitive trust in purchase decisions.
Identity, Sharing, and Influence on the Social Web
At the root of this sociological transformation is the social network profile (such as your Facebook profile), which has become the universal template for online identity and sharing. For most people, being on a social networking site today means sharing more about themselves than they ever have before (or ever thought they would) through their profiles and status updates.
Perhaps because Facebook, in particular, feels like a secure and trusted environment, we are sharing (in some cases) with people we barely know everything from our age, political views, job title, employment history, and academic pedigree to hobbies, interests, favorite books and movies, relationship status, and sexual orientation (see Figure 2.1). Even the profile picture with which we choose to portray ourselves says a lot about how we view ourselves and would like others to view us. Is it formal or casual? Are we alone or with friends? Is it a photo of our dog, our child, or ourselves as a child?
Figure 2.1 Thanks to the online identity template Facebook profiles provide, people are sharing more about themselves to more people than ever.
Before the Facebook Era, people didn't share openly like this. People didn't include their age, their kids' names, or that they were Republican in an email signature. It might have taken months or even years to discover someone's political views, religious preferences, and the breadth and depth of information that today is readily shared in a semipublic view on social networking sites. Most people today still do not have blogs, and those who do often keep highly personal information off the blog.
In addition to profiles, which are updated infrequently, real-time updates such as tweets and Facebook status messages help round out the picture of who someone is, through instantaneous snapshots of their thoughts, feelings, and interactions with others over time. On Facebook, a continuous stream of casual sharing is always happening in the background. But unlike the never-ending stream of news and content on the Internet, Facebook updates feel relevant and personal because they are from people we know and presumably like. (If not, you can use the option to unfriend or mute updates from someone.)
Figure 2.2 Facebook created a new social norm about sharing real-time updates (from top, status messages from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn).
Today not only is it socially acceptable to share aspects of our identity on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, but it has become expected that we do so. Before interviewing a job candidate or after meeting someone new, in addition to "Googling" them, we now look them up on social networking sites to find out more. In fact, people's social network profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn often appear at the top of search results.
Facebook has become a sort of directory of everyone on the Internet, and although most people don't publicly share all their personal information, the majority feel comfortable with Facebook's default settings of sharing your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, list of friends, and Facebook Pages. Having this basic minimum profile is similar to declaring one's existence on the social Web.
As more communications, photos, and event invitations move onto Facebook, to not be on Facebook altogether is to risk being left behind, similar to the people in the last decade who refused to get online or buy a cellphone. Certainly, if you don't feel comfortable being on Facebook, you shouldn't do it. But recognize the trade-offs. And even if as an individual you don't want to share information on Facebook, you might still need to create and manage a Facebook presence for your business if that is where your customers and prospects are spending their time.
It's also interesting to think about how these norms and communication preferences vary by age group. In the following guest expert sidebar, Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft Research and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, provides a few tips on how to understand young people's use of social networking sites such as Facebook.
On a personal level, social network profiles have become an important new form of personal branding. On a business level, tremendous new opportunities exist for building corporate and product brand identity and using profile data to target messages to the right audiences.
Given the role of social networking sites in conveying our identity, profiles and status messages have become the new underpinnings of personal branding. For those we don't know very well, our profile is a quick introduction to who we are. For those we don't get to talk to very often, our profile is a quick summary of what's new.
Why does personal branding matter? Your personal brand is your reputation. Personal brand can shape how people treat you, how much they trust you, and, in our increasingly free-agent society, what jobs and opportunities you have access to.
It is a personal choice, of course, how much to share with whom—or even whether to be on social networking sites. That said, certain social norms are emerging about what most people seem comfortable with for themselves and expect of others on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Personal Norms on Social Networking Sites
What's Expected: Semi-publicness
- Explanation: We see a growing tendency toward greater publicness. People don't tend to share everything with everyone, but most are willing to share a subset of information publicly. This is especially true of younger cohorts of individuals who tend to have looser views on privacy.
- Example: Many people feel comfortable sharing a few pictures of their family, kids, and pets with coworkers. It enables them to be friendly without sharing too much or anything inappropriate.
What's Expected: Authenticity
- Explanation: People expect social network (especially Facebook) profiles to feel personal and authentic. Without sharing more than you feel comfortable, you can still let your personality shine through. Least appealing are profiles that feel dry and buttoned-up like a résumé, fake, or overly self-promotional and "salesy."
- Example: Even people with strict privacy settings can let their personality show without sharing any personal information by posting links to interesting articles or funny YouTube videos.
What's Expected: Updates
- Explanation: Think of a social network profile as your living online identity that you should keep up-to-date. Each time you update, your friends will see it in their news feed.
- Example: You don't need to update your status message ten times a day, but your connections will appreciate periodic news, photos, and musings.
Personal branding in the Facebook Era encompasses not only what we say about ourselves, but also what others say and imply about us based on their interactions on our profile (such as Facebook Wall posts and tagged photos, LinkedIn recommendations, and Twitter @mentions). Some of it we can manage with privacy settings, but a lot of it is beyond our control. Social media can affect an individual's personal brand just as it affects corporate brands (see Figure 2.3).
Figure 2.3 Four different elements of personal branding and how they manifest on social networking sites such as Facebook
Popular blogger Dan Schawbel provides a few tips on effective personal branding on the social Web.
Chapter 10, "How To: Build and Manage Relationships on the Social Web," talks in greater length about how to create an effective profile and manage privacy settings.
For too long, mass market brands have broadcast what their ad agencies thought audiences wanted to hear but never took the time to listen. Brands became these large, intangible entities that no one could actually relate to. So people stopped trusting.
But just as individuals can shape their personal brand on social networking sites, companies can also take advantage of the trusted environment to better convey corporate identity, values, and initiatives, and win back the hearts and minds of their audiences. Research from Edelman, Forrester, and Nielsen shows that, for consumers, the most trusted source of information is now "people like me." The social Web takes this trust to the next level with "people I know."
Because of the identity profile and relationships, social networking sites feel personal. And they are breathing new life into corporate brand identities. Here, too, social norms are emerging about how people expect to interact with companies.
Corporate Norms on Social Networking Sites
What's Expected: Authenticity
- Explanation: Customers in the Facebook Era expect companies on social networking sites to feel personal and authentic. Many companies have achieved this by exposing the unedited voices and personalities of their customer-facing employees.
- Example: Dunkin' Dave tweets on behalf of Dunkin' Donuts and gives the company a human voice people can relate to. (See Chapter 6, "Marketing in the Facebook Era," for details and more examples of persona marketing on Facebook and Twitter.)
What's Expected: Transparency
- Explanation: Today's companies are rewarded for openness and transparency about business practices, community involvement, and shortcomings. Customers want to know about not only your business operations, but also those of your entire supply chain, to make sure your vendors and suppliers are embracing environmentally friendly practices, honoring child labor laws, and so on.
- Example: Peet's Coffee & Tea posts on its Facebook Page about community initiatives such as the San Francisco AIDS Walk, cycling competitions, holiday donation program, and updates on its Fair Trade Certified Coffee.
What's Expected: Engagement
- Explanation: Customers expect to have a voice and expect that what they say matters in how products are built, how complaints are addressed, and even what community initiatives companies are investing in. Facilitating customer engagement not only enhances corporate image, but it also creates additional opportunities to expose audiences to your brand and products . (Chapter 11, "How To: Engage Customers with Facebook Pages and Twitter," walks through how companies are using Twitter and Facebook Pages to provide audiences with plenty of opportunities to participate.)
- Example: Gap engages Facebook fans about style, seeding the conversation with tips from in-house style gurus and asking fans to suggest their own tips and favorite ensembles.
What's Expected: Real-time response
- Explanation: With the tremendous popularity of iPhones and BlackBerrys, people today are "always on" and want companies to keep up. The seething remark or video that "goes viral" could happen after business hours. Depending on your business, it might make sense to invest in around-the-clock monitoring and response.
- Example: TweetBeep sends almost real-time alerts whenever something is said about your business on Twitter, and a growing number of small businesses are using it to track and quickly respond to customer questions, issues, and comments.
What's Expected: Long-term view
- Explanation: Before the Facebook Era, many companies' digital marketing efforts were campaign-centric, optimizing for a particular transaction. It was all about click-through rates and conversion. In the Facebook Era, companies are on the hook to optimize for a longer-term view about customer relationships. The goal is to win customer loyalty in the form of Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and word-of-mouth instead of optimizing for click-through rates on a specific campaign.
- Example: Sears offers exclusive discounts to encourage people to "like" its Facebook Page. For Sears, the top goal is building a trusted customer relationship over the long haul instead of maximizing the profitability of a one-time transaction.
Mining Social Network Data
New norms about sharing personal information on social networking sites are also providing companies with a wealth of audience data. Businesses are using this data to get a pulse on what people are saying, identify problematic issues, and reach precise audience segments with targeted ads:
- Trending topics—Smart companies are using the rich abundance of profile and status message data on the social Web to keep a pulse on what people are talking about and what matters. On Twitter, you can see trending topics or search on any keyword, phrase, or brand and find specific mentions at http://search.twitter.com.
- Issues and complaints—Companies are also using this same Twitter search tool to identify any issues or complaints that might arise about their product or service, and hopefully address the problem before it spirals out of control. Chapter 5, "Customer Service in the Facebook Era," elaborates on how social networking sites are changing the customer support process.
- Hypertargeting—Thanks to Facebook, people are sharing more about themselves online than ever. Everything individuals share about themselves on their profiles—including hometown, alma maters, jobs, and hobbies—can also be used by marketers and sales to "hypertarget" and personalize communications. Facebook and LinkedIn both have hypertargeting capabilities as part of their self-service advertising platforms that enable marketers to specify the profile attributes of people they want to view the ads being purchased. For example, if you are a manufacturer of golf clubs, you can choose to show your ads only to people who have specified on their social network profile that they like to golf. The idea is that as ads can become more tailored and relevant, conversion rates will go up. Chapter 6 goes into detail about how hypertargeting works.