Social media began as a tool to stay connected with friends and family while discovering and networking with people across the world. Today, this is the tool that has shaped how society as a whole operates
Today over 40% of the world’s population is on social media. Reports estimate that we spend anywhere from 2 hours to 5 hours on our phones, mostly scrolling on social media platforms. Social media is ubiquitous to the point that we don’t actively see its presence around us, it has become an intrinsic part of our daily lives, psychology and behaviour. It often takes a hard pause, rewiring and active thinking of how different our lives were 10-15 years ago to understand how the way we live today has been impacted by social media.
Individual and societal identity in the world of social media
Social media began as a tool to stay connected with friends and family while discovering and networking with people across the world. Today, this is the tool that has shaped how society as a whole operates. Think of the way politics has evolved around the world in the midst of social media. Imagine the nature of news consumption or the way elections will keep evolving going forward. Whether it is the purported influencing of US elections by Cambridge Analytica or the creation of echo chambers and the bandwagon effect leading to greater radicalization of views, social media is being used as a tool, sometimes as a weapon to promote a particular view. The tech companies continue to fight this influence by changing their algorithms and the evolving AI but they are always a few steps behind, trying to catch up with what’s happening around them.
Consider the way social conversations around what was earlier fringe issues have taken up prime space in the narratives on social media. Issues such as mental health, work-life balance, LGBTQ, minority suppression and many more are now mainstream conversations with greater awareness and empathy. One of the biggest conversations in and about social media has been around its impact on mental health and well-being. In conversations around stress, personality disorders, behaviours, self-esteem, moods, and anxiety; social media has been branded as both a bane and a boon for different communities. A generation that is growing up surrounded by these conversations is expected to be naturally more sensitive to these issues as compared to generations that have been forced to face these issues and have had to rethink their views. While it might seem paradoxical that the medium which is creating tremendous awareness is also adding to the problems that it is highlighting, it is the reality we all are experiencing in some shape or form.
Or consider the way businesses have evolved and are now leveraging social media as a tool to connect with consumers and society. Running a business is no longer about profitability alone. Organizations are defining and redefining their purpose and relevance, taking a stand on social issues, and explicating their responsibility to society. Consumers are holding their organizations accountable on all these counts, and organizations are responding with proactive communication
and actions. Whether it is shutting their businesses as a protest against an ongoing war or providing employee support to counter a recent US court order, businesses are far more willing to take a financial hit and stick their neck out than they would have done in the past.
The impact on the purpose front results in conversations that are influencing society in more ways than one. Along with that, the impact that social media has on empowering entrepreneurs to set up shop easily is visible in the sheer number of D2C businesses that have sprung up in the last decade. Almost every such business has its genesis on a Facebook page or an Instagram handle from where they started getting customers or booking orders.
With its ubiquitous presence, it becomes imperative to understand how businesses operate with social media being such an ingrained part of our lives.
A marketer’s DNA in 2022
Businesses have understood the way people connect, share stories and build communities using social media. This epiphany has made marketers and business owners stand up and take notice of the potential of social media to drive business and brand salience.
It is interesting to observe the expeditious way that social media has impacted society, consumers as well as business behaviour over the last decade and a half. What is even more noteworthy is the change in the profile of marketers themselves, in who they were a decade ago versus today. They are no longer just brand thinkers or growth evangelists. They now need to be generalists who understand the intersection of consumer and business behaviour, psychology, AI, ML, data interpretation and a myriad of other evolving variables. This transition is natural and will continue to evolve in rapid cycles. In this scenario, where do marketers and businesses stand in a vortex whose shape knows no bounds becomes a question.
Marketing on social media is a process of driving and delivering value. It is the ability to understand what makes people tick and how a business can leverage that to build genuine connections and a trust paradigm. Ever wondered why animal memes and rescue videos go viral so frequently? It is because of deep seated emotions of who we are as humans — empathy and relatability. Content that shows a sunny side of the world, that showcases our nurturing and caring nature as humans is what helps us connect on social media and come together as a universal community. Similarly, content that resonates with what people believe in – the premises of equal opportunity, celebrating individuality, respecting your environment or the antithesis of each of these are more likely to go viral than content that people don’t care about. And let’s not forget the slips and blips, the occasional gaffes and faux pas that make the world share a smile and a laugh. Capitalizing on moment marketing has led to food brands like Zomato and Swiggy achieving cult status in a few years that took Amul decades to achieve.
Core drivers of content and communication
This means that as a marketer, now more than ever, one needs to engage with reality and deliver value-led communication through the content they create for businesses. Reaching out to consumers on social media isn’t about cornering them and pushing them down a funnel. Rather, it’s a process of telling a business’ story, communicating its core values and what it stands for. At the very core of it, all marketing is a psycho-social phenomenon and social media is no different.
Consumers don’t buy products/services that they don’t trust and as marketers, the job is to build a strong foundation of credibility and reliability among brands and consumers (if your product is good for consumer X’s sister or neighbour, then she is more likely to build a long road of dialogue with the brand).
The marketer’s job thus becomes to cultivate a demand for products and services that resonate with their audience’s identity, that they feel good about, and that they need because of their evolving and fast-changing lives. And all of this requires stepping in a consumer’s shoes and understanding their daily user journey.
Brand managers often drive two types of communication — virtual interactive communities or showcasing brand ethos through advertising and user-generated content. Both are impactful when used keeping in mind the psychology of today’s consumers and society whose social existence, self-image, outlook towards life is in a large part built through social media.
While we don't know how social media will evolve over the next 10-15 years, it will undoubtedly be at the pinnacle of all mass media. Technological determinism will be at its zenith, with the majority of the population reliant on mobile and the internet.
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