Over the weekend I finally got around to watching The Social Network. The David Fincher-helmed picture talks about the life of Mark Zuckerberg and the development of Facebook, the social networking juggernaut that boasts around 500 million users worldwide. Facebook has changed the internet culture to a large degree and has been responsible, at least in part, for the shift to “openness” that categorizes today’s internet attitude.
Years ago, the online world was a scary place filled with unknown variables. We protected ourselves with internet handles (many still do) and the notion of any personal detail escaping into the frenzied Web would be enough to send us into fits.
Today’s online world is different, with many users taking part in social networking and making new friends right out in the open. The divide, the one that once categorized the internet as some sort of “fake fantasy world,” is blurring and we are becoming more integrated than ever as a global community. More and more people are realizing rightly that the internet is not a toy or a novelty or a fad; it is, like the telephone before it, a communication device.
Facebook Canada head Jordan Banks believes that this openness represents opportunity for advertisers. In a public interview at the NextMedia digital media industry conference in Toronto, Banks outlined just how much personalization is going into marketing these days. What’s more, he identified just how much we as consumers believe is “our right.”
“Isn’t that the consumer’s expectation these days? We’re in this era of … this two-way conversation that every consumer feels is their right,” said Banks. “Whenever they interact with a brand these days, they want to have a say, they want to be treated … personally and they want to be talked to in a timely and relevant manner.”
For marketers, the possibilities of the internet haven’t yet come to fruition. And the way things were certainly wasn’t helpful. “The anonymity of web 15 years ago didn’t allow marketers to build any relationships,” Banks said. “I wasn’t Jordan Banks. I was like hockeyguy111 or muskokasurfer — you name it. But I wasn’t me and I certainly wasn’t talking about things that were important to me.”
Facebook has presented marketers with clear opportunities and that’s something Banks sees as a good thing. “The social web has opened us all up to very targeted and relevant and personalized messaging that allows us to develop these very meaningful and rich relationships with brands,” he said.
With obnoxious commercials repugnantly telling us to “love the phone” and monstrous corporations generating legions of doe-eyed “fans,” Banks knows what he’s talking about.
Consider television, for starters. Television is a largely passive medium requiring virtually no audience participation on any practical level. Advertising on this medium becomes about bellying up to the bar, so to speak, and it takes on passivity as a trait. We are, without question, force-fed advertising that marketers believe interests us. If we watch a show like Dancing With the Stars, for instance, advertisers assume we are of a certain demographic and commence advertising to that presumed demo. Advertising in this medium is targeted, but it takes on a very passive form of interaction and is built solely on assumptions.
The internet, however, is an active medium. We take part in it “actively” by surfing, choosing content and delving into what interests us most. We have more control; we scan pages and select content to a more involved degree than we do with the traditional television remote. Most advertisements online are targeted in a similar fashion to television ads, with websites assuming a demographic and working from that construct.
Marketers of today are taking that active medium a step further with social networking. Advertising is about the message more than the product (it always has been), so Facebook offers a unique opportunity in that it involves the consumer in the message. According to Banks, research dictates that people are more likely to be aware of a message if it is “associated” with something, be it a friend or some other object of interest. Marketing still revolves around assumption to some degree, but the lens narrows and consumers feel more involved.
“It’s a way to augment my self-worth and vision in a virtual way. That very easily translates into that e-commerce adrenaline,” he added. “The barrier between social activity and connecting and actually buying something has totally been blurred.”
Advertisers have always been manipulating us. But with today’s technological tools, it seems that we’re actually part of the process for a change. Thanks, Facebook.