The Digital/Social Evolution Continues: Social Shopping

Guest article! Beth Becker returns to our pages with a very cool idea — applying the paradigm of social shopping to political advocacy. Check it out:

The Digital/Social Evolution Continues: Social Shopping

By Beth Becker

1: involving allies or confederates (c.f. the Social War between the Roman Republic and its allies)
2a: marked by or passed in pleasant companionship with friends or associates (an active social life)

a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression; especially: medium

the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business

partaking of, using, experiencing, occuping, or enjoying with others

1: examining goods or services with intent to buy
2: hunting through a market in search of the best buy

When I first started working in the digital social space, we called it Social Media. That made sense: these were a new set of tools that were being used to create connections between people, develop communities and in general allows us to be social online.

Soon, I saw a noticeable shift in thinking — and thus digital strategy — to conceiving of the space as Social Networking. This placed the proper emphasis on the idea that you’re not just trying to connect with your immediate audience but with THEIR audience…and their audience’s audience and so on down the line. This gave birth to a digital obsession with data and analyzing the targeted audience in order to create, [cringe], virality [or as I prefer to call it, message movement].

Last summer, I noticed another shift in our approach to the digital social space and started talking and writing about this space in terms of Social Sharing. The emphasis was on not just being social and looking at the social networks, but actually creating content that is explicitly sharable. This shift was most noticable in the plethora of social curation tools like Upworthy and my latest toy, CrowdTangle (author note: post on this within days I promise!). These tools sorted through as much content produced for the social space as possible and then aggregated it into some meaningful format for our consumption.

But here’s a bigger question: what exactly is it that we WANT to consume? Pondering this question led me to my latest shift in thinking about the digital social space: Social Search, or Social Shopping.

Social Search/Social Shopping

Think about the connotations of the social shopping paradigm. More and more people are using the digital social space to research things they want to buy, restaurants they want to go to, etc — think Yelp or other sites like it that are based on peer recommendtions. After all, it’s well documented that the number-one trusted source of information is our peers, so where better to find out what they think than the digital social space? In fact, we give few things more weight in terms of digital infuence on purchase decisions than social networks other than blogs and actual retail sites according to a recently released study from Technorati.

Pinterest allows you to see right away if an item that has been pinned can bought and for how much, and companies are tapping into that dynamic. One of my favorites is Zappo’s new Pinpointing application. Enter any Pinterest user’s name into the application and it will make recommendations for gifts based on what that person have pinned and repinned — including shoes of course (I’ve tested it on myself and a few friends, it was surprisingly accurate!). Applications like this will continue to appear, especially as the financial transactions themselves get easier in the digital social space with new applications like Chirpify.

Social Shopping and Political Advocacy

Thinking about the digital social space as Social Shopping also forces us, as content creators, to think about the fact that our audience is looking for something, whether they realize it or not. Just as we are used to finding what we need via peer validation, the best way to get people’s peers to validate your organization is to give them what they are searching and shopping for.

Are you working for an electoral campaign? People most likely are seeking the candidate out in the digital social space to find out where he or she stands on the issues and to learn more about him or her as a person. This leads us to the imperative to create content that shows the candidate not as an automaton spouting soundbites, but a real live human being who has a preference between cats and dogs and is just like the rest of us in general with opinions on the issues of the day. [Ed. note: someone should go back in time and show this paragraph to the Romney campaign.]

Are you working for an advocacy campaign? People are most likely seeking your campaign out for information about a particular issue and/or a way to take action in favor of or against a position on an issue. Our challenge as content creators in this digital space is to make the information as digestible as possible and action as easy to take as possible.

For example, it’s well documented that the more clicks a person has to take to complete an action the less likely they are to take the action, however it is also known that once a person has taken action once they are more likely to take action again. Making action easy to take is just as important as the content of the action and new tools like ActionSprout (another new toy!) make seamless integration of action into our social tools and content easier and easier every day. Thinking about digital social as shopping for action to take or information on the issues we care about should force us to be more deliberate in our content creation, and then to turn to our data for how to best distribute it.

Are you working for an elected official? People in the digital space are usually seeking you out for one of two things: they want to know how the official will vote on an issue or they want help solving a problem. Coming up with creative ways to fill those needs with meaningful content and engagement can mean the difference between a constituent who won’t show up to vote next time or a constituent who will not only vote for that official but will also volunteer to reelect that him or her.

Noticing a trend here? Thinking about the digital social space as a place for Social Searching or Social Shopping forces us to put the emphasis back on the first questions of social content creation — who is this meant for? What is it your audience wants from you? What is it the public can get from you that they can get from no one else in the space? Bending our content creation to our audience’s wants and needs will, I believe, lead to more creative, more informative and more efficient content which is more socially sharable through our networks.

In politics and advocacy, we often think about trying to move our audience to our way of thinking or to doing something we want them to do. By stopping and thinking about what it is they are ALREADY thinking and what they want to do, we can then start creating content that truly fills their needs. Then, they can stop searching and shopping and settle into a relationship with us that is mutually beneficial.


Written by
Beth Becker
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