SXSWi: Unwritten Rules: Brands, Social Psychology and Social Media

Speakers: Ben McAllister (@benmcallister), Kate Canale of Frog Design (@frogdesign)

Hashtag: #dinnerparty

This was a great insight into Social Media for Brands, using the lens of the UX designer. McAllister and Canale did a fantastic job explaining why so many brands struggle in the social media space – it’s all about the change in relationship type between the brand and the consumer.

Here are my notes from the session:

McAllister and Canale use a dinner scenario as an example:

When you go to dinner with friends, if you decide to tip the waiter generously (say $100), it’s acceptable. But, when you go to a dinner party at a friend’s house, if you were to do the same thing (hand them a $100), how would they react?

Why is tipping in the context of a restaurant considered generous, but money at a dinner party is awkward and strange?

This provided the framework to think about why so many companies struggle in social media.

Some credits – Books they referenced were:

  • Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought
  • Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational

They both raised the scenarios on this framework.

Three relationship types

This is for example, the relationship you have with the police officer that’s pulled you over. There is no ambiguity over who’s in charge.

These are the rules and terms of the marketplace.  We tend to keep track of fairness in an exchange relationship.

This is about sharing, and not about keeping track. This is the relationship of friends and family.

Social media is governed by these types of rules.

All of these social spaces available to us are spaces for friends. McAllister and Canale believe that they are all governed by communality.

Theory is nice, but reality is different.

We overlap, we cross back and forth all the time between different relationship types – we navigate it, switching rules to go by.  It’s something that can be kind of awkward.

For example, the theory of marriage is in the communality relationship type, but in reality, sometimes you use the rules of exchange, and authority within a marriage to navigate certain areas – for example, one person make take the role of authority in a particular area, like the finances.  You sometimes use the rules of exchange unknowingly (keeping track of whose turn it is to take out the garbage) .

It’s tricky, if you dont navigate it right, it’s AWKWARD.

Which set of rules to follow?
In the real world we use tricks to navigate these relationships.
E.g. For the dinner party, you bring a gift like a bottle of wine.
If its your boss coming to your dinner part, for example, the bottle of wine signals that they wish to  move from an authority relationship into a communal relationship.

We use language to navigate these relationships
E.g. At work, your boss says “it would be great if… you could finish this at the end of the day”.

Here, he is in a authority relationship, but chooses the words to disguise it  as communality relationship of friendship.

Online, this all falls apart

In social media, all of our relationships are simply blended into one: communal.
This is why when brands get into this space, it’s awkward.
Brands have been interacting with us in the exchange space, but then suddenly have to go into the communality space.

Typically, brands look at self promotion, but in social media, it’s awkward.

Brands need to recognise a shift to this new set of rules.
You can have a relationship that is not awkward, but meaningful.

How do brands successfully make this transition from exchange to communality?

Brand building through behaviour:
Brands do a lot of communicating, a lot of talking, but they don’t necessarily get to behave in the world. Sure, they may have a service that you can experience, but they don’t typically have the ability to humanize the brand.

So the potential of humanizing the brand, is an interesting prospect.

What are some of the categories in this space?
1. Pull back the curtain
It’s all about access. Best Buy Twelpforce is used as an example. This is heralded as the best innovation in social media, where they realised that their disembodied logo did not have all the answers – their staff did. So they provided access to their employees.

2. Stop selling and start sharing
Self promotion can be awkward, because you’re violating the rules of the communality space.
Sharing doesn’t necessarily mean original content, but sharing content of others can work as well.
The example used is the site Design Mind, by Frog design. As a brand, they need to help potential clients understand what Frog Design is about. The generated original content, and then participated in conversations. They would even sending people to other sources that are competitors, but that were interesting conversations.
This is being more like a friend – sharing things like you would, as a friend.

3. Stop talking, and start listening
This is the easiest and most untapped resource.
It has two parts – just listen to your customers. The example used here is Southwest Airlines.

The second, is to use this information as a research channel to improve or change your service.

The example used here is the Bravo network – they created a show for one of the real housewives, because of the chatter about her. It’s was used as a very powerful research channel.

The stakes don’t need to be high in order to do something meaningful

The unwritten rules of social media:

  • Communality
  • Brands need to adapt
  • Build meaning through behavior

A website can be a cold experience. Social media humanizes experience with the brand.