Chapter 6 - Death of Social Schizophrenia

In small towns where everyone knows everyone else and they interact with one another frequently and in different capacities, people have but a single social identity. But as society became more urban and mobile, people began to develop a sort of "social schizophrenia" - the people you knew at work, those you knew at home, those who you attend church with, those who volunteer with the same charity, and so on were distinct groups of people who never met one another, and each comes to know a person in a very specific context.

As a result, many people began to develop "personas" for the different roles they play - at the very least, there was their "professional self" they played in the workplace and their "private self" they played at home. And it became common to observe that someone "is a completely different person" if met in a different context.

(EN: This notion has been explored by sociologists, and it's a fringe behavior that is rarely practiced by non-stigmatized individuals - which is likely fewer and to a lesser degree than the author is suggesting. Normal people will mind their manners at work or at church more than when in the company of close friends, but this does not constitute a significant difference in core personality or character.)

There is some mention of the impact of social media on the divisions - that the group of people we "friend" on Facebook may include a diverse array of individuals from different parts of our life who may never meet one another. For some of the older generations, who became comfortable with the ability to compartmentalize social groups and keep them well separated, this is an awkward change.

(EN: I'd place this squarely on the Baby Boomer generation, whose lives were fragmented and compartmentalized. The silent generation before them had less mobility and it was more likely people they met in one circle would turn up in another. The generations after them were more accustomed to technology that makes it impossible to keep secrets. And so, the Boomer generation lived in a short period of time when it was possible to interact with compartmentalized groups of people who would likely never meet or share information.)

The author alludes to the problem of celebrities with private lives, and the scandal that arises when the behavior of their private selves is in stark contrast to the public image they project. He mentions the specific case of a college basketball player who was filmed doing something asinine but not illegal (jumping off a roof into a pool at a party) and concerns that this would be a negative impact on the team's reputation.

(EN: Again, I think this is evolution. Decades ago, the press often covered up negative information about celebrities, then journalism became sensational and muckraking became profitable rather than unethical. My sense is people are becoming inured, and will become even more inured as time goes on. Audiences don't refuse to see a movie because the lead actor is a homosexual, and even the mayor of Washington DC was re-elected after being caught smoking crack. Our cultural perspective has clearly shifted in determining what things matter and what is tolerable.)

At long last, the author comes to the conclusion that "people are best off being comfortable in their own skin and not pretending to be anything that they aren't" - with social media, there is transparency not only in what you share about yourself but what others share about you (being "tagged" in someone else's photograph). Ultimately, the lies and pretensions used to present a false face will be undone. And while people will still be conscious of the personality they project, there is a vast difference between sharing true information that portrays you at you best versus fabricating false information to misrepresent yourself as being better than you are.

He then considers the personas that people project in video games, and how those can be wildly different from real-life identities. For example, he mentions a schoolteacher who was terminated for sexual conduct in virtual communities and suggests that several others suffered the same fate. (EN: in games and virtual communities it is known and accepted that people are often role-playing rather than representing their actual selves - so this is likely unrelated.)

And to round things out, misrepresentation is in some instances criminal: sexual predators often create false identities online, as do teenagers who wish to harass and bully others. (EN: Fair enough, but there is a difference between misrepresenting oneself and creating a false identity. If anything, social media makes it easier to validate the legitimacy of an identity: an impostor can create a profile, but their lack of "friends" and activity generally set off warning bells that the profile is a fake.)

Even Football Players Need to Calm Down

A few examples are given of college and professional football players who were punished for activity that appeared in social media - a college player suspended from a bowl game for making a racist joke, a professional cheerleader who was fired for inappropriate conduct in pictures posted by one of her friends, hiring agents who create fake profiles depicting young attractive females and then declining to recruit players who "friended" them and shared information the team found objectionable.

(EN: There are plenty of stories about people who aren't athletes and celebrities getting fired over something their employer found in social media, and it's generally known that some employers scour social media as a means of disqualifying candidates.)

There's also some mention of government abuses, in nations where there is no freedom of speech and saying anything negative about a politician is considered a crime. Even in countries in which it is not a criminal offense, people have been dragged in for questioning for making critical remarks about their governments. Even in the United States, law enforcement and government monitor social media to identify malcontents and "potential terrorists" to monitor them and others to whom they are connected.

It's suggested that the best practice for social media is never to post anything, anywhere, that you would mind being seen by everyone.

One Message

In terms of corporate image, there are clear laws with stiff penalties for misrepresentation - so there's little problem with outright dishonesty - but companies are accustomed to being able to segment their markets and send different messages to different customers, which can become problematic when some of the advantages they claim appear to be contradictory.

In mass-media advertising, it was generally possible to manage audiences separately - it wasn't perfect, but it was largely effective. With the Internet, where people can share messages, presenting different features and benefits to different segments will eventually lead to confusion and the sense of misinformation when the messages are placed side-by-side for comparison.

In this sense, companies that have a simple and universal marketing message are at an advantage. He mentions 7-up's "uncola" campaign FedEx's "when it has to get there overnight" as examples of messages that can be broadcast to the many without contradiction. The principle of a simple message with one salient point has been the basis of many successful marketing campaigns.

However, many companies struggle with the concept: they need to tell the world as much as possible about their brand, and tailor the message to appeal to the different interests of different market segment. The author asserts that this tactic, while seemingly sensible, is seldom successful at creating a brand that customers remember. "Whether we like it or not, we have to adapt to communication in succinct and salient sound bites."

Referral Program on Steroids

The author suggests that referrals are valuable to companies. Not only does it cost the firm nothing to acquire the customer, but when the brand has the endorsement of someone they know and trust, they are highly likely to purchase and even repurchase. On the other hand, referral has always been beyond the perception and control of a firm - people make an independent decision to recommend the firm to others, and referral business is very difficult to track and measure.

The author suggests that social media makes it easier for firms to conduct word-of-mouth campaigns, from giving people incentives and rewards for referring their friends to tracking the success of these efforts.

There's a channel-switch to using customer behavior as a guide to other customers: many retailers promote the top-selling items in a given category, of those that are best rated by customers. (EN: This is more akin to a testimonial than word-of-mouth because the customer was not referred to the site, but has already arrived and is now looking to select a product among the options provided.)

He refers to those who post reviews as well as ratings and suggests that people who see positive reviews from friends of theirs are more likely to purchase. (EN: which is again off-topic).

(EN: The author misses the obvious: sites that specialize in aggregating reviews and recommendations for customers who are looking for them. Consider that sites like Angie's List enable people to get recommendations on a variety of service providers and retailers, and the service is so highly valued that people pay a subscription fee to participate. My sense is that this is still more in the nature of a testimonial than a referral, though.)

Social media is a venue through which people can recommend products to others - though this has the potential to happen proactively (a person giving advice out of the blue) it is most often reactive (someone asks their crowd for advice). And while it is possible to offer people an incentive to recommend your products, no-one has yet had a feasible campaign to get people to ask others to recommend them. (EN: Though an "ask your friends" tagline has been used in advertising, that is usually done to generate buzz - they don't expect to get referrals but instead get the subject to mention their brand to others.)

The author obliquely stumbles toward the solution: people recommend great companies that provide great products accompanied by great service. (EN: Which implies, but falls short of stating, that if you want people to recommend you, then you need to actually be great, and delighted customers will happily recommend you without any further incentive.)