Chapter 3 - Braggadocian Behavior

The author considers that people who put their lives on public display often like to present themselves in a positive light ... and some go a little too far, attempting to present their lives as much better than they are. From a perspective of brand, it's important to recognize that people associate themselves publicly with brands that match the image they wish to present to others. To "like" your brand is not necessarily to be a customer, but to want to be associated to what your brand represents.

Particularly in social media, there is the ability to compare oneself to other people, often with the sense that your own life is a great deal less interesting and exciting than everyone else's - and the corresponding desire to keep up with the rest of the pack. It's even asserted that some individuals choose to participate in activities in order to have something to brag about, and there are tacit competitions in some social circles to one-up each other.

(EN: Something to consider: if you are connected to 130 different people on Facebook, chances are one or two of them are doing something far more interesting than you are on any given day - it's not that everyone is doing something exciting all the time, just that you are seeing the self-selected "best of" activities from 130 different lives.)

Conspicuous Consumption

Some applications become popular because it enables users to be conspicuous in their behavior. Consider the "fitness" applications that allow users to record how many miles they run. Ostensibly, these applications are for allowing the user to track their progress toward their personal fitness goals, but those that also allow people to post to social media to show their behavior off to others are far more popular.

The same can be observed in many applications that track behavior: having a record of what movies they watch, what music they listen to, where they have dined, and other behaviors is less important for personal reasons than for reasons of social posturing.

(EN: An important distinction, however, is that people like showing off what they feel will impress others and suppressing the rest. A person who wants to impress others with their diet will gladly publicize the fact that they went to a healthy eatery, but will want to hide the trip to a burger joint.)

Social Media Is the New Inbox

The author suggests that social media is surpassing email as the "killer application" for the Internet, but people who participate in social media use less email. Most communication is done openly on social media sites, and private communication is handled through messaging on those sites rather than by email messages.

There's an anecdote about a teenager who expressed that email is "too formal" for most communications, and messaging tools are more appropriate for communicating with friends and family, with the assertion this attitude is common among the millennial generation. Stress that email isn't going away, but it is no longer regarded as being as casual and convenient.

Another anecdote comes from a manager of a software company, who was "blown away" by a 22-year-old job candidate who suggested that he had never used email at all, and had all his life used texts and social media comments for all his communication with friends and colleagues.

A third anecdote comes from a salesman, who finds that LinkedIn communications are more productive for keeping in touch with clients as well as in prospecting for new ones. (EN: This seems a little counterintuitive because social media sites are much more vigilant about commercial messaging - they filter aggressively and do not mind cancelling accounts that are abused. My sense is LinkedIn is likely less averse, but the use of social for sales is something that should be approached with the utmost caution.)

(EN: a couple other factors that support social messaging over traditional email. First, people change their email addresses periodically, but their social media profile is for all intentions permanent. Second, email is notorious for unwanted commercial messages whereas social media messaging is largely clean and more aggressively policed to prevent unwanted messages.)

Social Media as the New Rolodex

Social media has become the preferred method of maintaining a list of contacts in both the business and the professional world. While some executives are still holding onto their contact databases and collections of business cards, many are building their social networks - where profiles are updated, contact information stays current, and they don't have to smuggle it out of the building when they switch firms.

The author considers social contacts - where people used to exchange phone numbers, they later began giving out email addresses, and are now simply connecting via social media. While asking for a date over email was awkward at first, it later became quite natural and common, and the same will become common for social media in time. It certainly makes it less intrusive and awkward to ask a person if they have plans for the evening.

Brands, likewise, need to reconsider the way in which they interact with customers: asking customer to provide traditional contact information (phone and address) is too aggressive, and even email is ineffective because it is polluted with unwanted messages. Connection on social is natural and more carefree.

Deep Dive into Dating

The author spends a bit more time on the use of social media for dating. To connect with a casual acquaintance on social media is far more acceptable and less intrusive than asking for their contact information - people "friend" people they have met once and briefly without much hesitation.

Social media is also a goldmine of personal data for the skittish dater: their social media profile validates that they are who they say they are - they are not an anonymous stranger giving you a fake name, hiding the fact that they are already married, which provides a margin of safety (EN: Assuming their profile doesn't look like it's a fake - with little information and few connections).

Social media also expedites the dating process: people expect that when they give you access to their social media profile, you will look into it. The first date is more like a fourth date because you already know who they are, what they do for a living, where they work, what their hobbies are, their entertainment preferences, their religions and political views, and other information they have chosen to share. So when you meet with them, you have an idea of what you have in common and what they might be interested in doing and talking about.

For more casual encounters, sites such as Foursquare and Gowalla alert you when people you know are in the vicinity, enabling people to have spontaneous meetings.

The author asserts that these same relationship-building tools have the same kind of value in business relationships as personal ones - you can get to know clients and colleagues very quickly and move with greater speed and certainty into establishing a network of professional colleagues.

(EN: there is still the conflict between "work" and "private" lives to consider - and while the lines are largely being blurred there are still instances in which some separation is desirable. A person who's on a date or hanging out with friends doesn't want an office equipment salesmen turning up at the party. This seems to be largely addressed by using different services for different purposes - Facebook is personal whereas LinkedIn is professional - but other services such as Foursquare and Twitter do not have work-related versions.)

Assess Your Life Every Minute

Another area in which social media enables participants to be conspicuous is in sharing their activities with others - in answer to the question "What am I doing with my life?"

The author went through an exercise of printing out his social media updates from the previous month to reconstruct his own timeline, and realized how much of his time was spent doing frivolous and wasteful things. This enabled him to better plan his time, and to be aware in the moment that he chose to do something whether it was productive or wasteful.

Another anecdote is mentioned in which a young woman reconsidered whether she was ready to start a family after reviewing the social media history of a few women her age who were raising children - though the author speculates that this may be aggrandized as people make much ado about the minor problems and can unintentionally give others the impression that things are more difficult than they really are. One mother reviewed her own mommy-posts in social media and recognized that for every positive thing she said about her kids, there were nine negative remarks - and concluded she needed to stop whining so much and try to develop a more positive outlook on life.

(EN: This is all rather interesting, but I do wonder if the self-audit is a common practice. It seems to me that if it were, there would likely be an app for that - but to my knowledge no such application exists. Meanwhile, there are a few services that monitor social media postings across multiple sites to tell users their level of influence according to the people who "like," comment on, or forward their posts - which seems to imply that the goal and interest in participating in social media is to get attention from others.)

The Next Generation Can't Speak

One of the drawbacks to increased social interaction online is a decrease in social interaction offline, and a decline in social skills. The ability to have a text-message conversation with a person in another city brings with it the ability to have a text-message conversation with a person at the same table, rather than looking them in the eye and actually talking to them.

Statistics from educational organizations paint a grim picture of communication skills. In reviewing academic writing such as school assignments and college entrance exams, it was found that:

(EN: This seemed superficial, so I did a bit more digging and found some more horrific examples: 30% of college applicants cannot write a simple five-paragraph essay, test scores in reading comprehension had dropped to "the lowest point in decades," and even college graduates reading and writing skills are at the sixth-grade level. This is evidence that the problem isn't just one of laziness or self-indulgence, but of intellectual capacity on the most fundamental level ... though I sense blaming it on social or mobile alone is scapegoating one factor among many.)

Other areas in which the social media generation are failing include time management, project planning, business communications, time management, and etiquette. While there is some evidence that they are improving at information-sharing , collaboration, and networking this only applies in the digital medium, and the skills are not beign carried over into real-world encounters.

Brands in the Social Space

The more brand-savvy younger generations leverage their association with brands to craft their own public image. The kind of car you drive (or wished you could) says as much about your personality as the kind of music to which you listen, and people are eager to associate themselves with brands whose qualities they admire in the social space.

In a survey if young adults (age 18 to 24) 28% of participants claimed that they mentioned a brand in a discussion forum, 23% added brand-related content to their SMS service, and 19% added brand content to their social media profile. (EN: I think these numbers are low, as most conversations about products mention brands and many individuals "like" brands on their social media profiles.)

The way in which people interact with brands in the social space is not necessarily analogous to the way in which they purchase brands in real life. They will associate themselves with a brand they do not own, will not mention the brands that they do own, and will even be critical of brands they continue to purchase and use, all because it supports their public image to do so.

(EN: This seems a bit odd, but is evident in behavior even before social media. I've witnessed low-income men and women who advocate for and even wearing logo merchandise of luxury brands. I've also head many people criticize brands that they routinely purchase. How many people profess to "hate" Wal-Mart and even advocate others to boycott, when they shop there and have no intention of changing their own behavior?)

It's also suggested that about 10% of participants claimed to pass along advertising materials to their social media acquaintances. (EN: The vagueness here worries me, and implies it's a common practice. Ten percent actually seems low for a "have you ever" question as I am certain many more have forwarded a funny advertisement or mentioned a sale to a friend who might be interested - but I am doubtful people do this frequently.)