October 10, 2014

Market Norms and Social Networks

By Lewis J.

What is the most popular social media content? It varies depending on the site. On Facebook, it’s personal quizzes, sentimental news stories, and entertainment updates. On Twitter, it’s business news, breaking news, and social activism. On Pinterest, it’s recipes, fashion, and home improvement tips. On LinkedIn, it’s industry news, and on Google+ it’s discounts, coupons, celebrity news, and sports. There is a common thread though. Even though much of it is designed to promote a brand, none of it is advertising.

This may come as a surprise to you. After all, it’s not hard to find major corporations with Facebook pages. Coca-Cola, Nestle, and IKEA are all there and aren’t shy about mentioning their brand or their products. While this may be true, it’s not the whole story. There is more to advertising than promotion and branding. Advertising is based on an implicit promise between the advertiser and the consumer. In exchange for money, the advertiser will provide a product or service. This reciprocity is also the foundation of a group of behaviors known as market norms, which are impersonal exchanges between two people based on immediate and comparable gains between parties. Market norms are ubiquitous between cultures and classes. If you’ve ever haggled with a salesman, negotiated your salary, or disputed a bill, then you’ve experienced market norms.

Opposite to market norms are social norms. Social norms are interpersonal behaviors based on personal relationships and emotional gains without the expectation of immediate reciprocity. Social norms are ubiquitous too. They’re the basis for the bonds you share with your friends and family and they’re everywhere in social media. It’s the reason why so many social media users post baby pics, tweet wedding proposals, or create status updates about their favorite meals. It’s an extension of our social instincts. (Visit Dan Ariely for the full rundown)

Combining social norms and market norms has great economic benefits. Consider how loyal people are to their corner shops. Big box stores may have better prices and a bigger selection, but corner shops are part of the community, and people will sacrifice a lot for their community. Customers with that kind of relationship to a corner shop will go out of their way to frequent it.

Large companies can engender this same loyalty, but it has to be done delicately. Relationships aren’t about quid pro quo. Companies have to provide something beyond their products for their customers to appreciate. You have to give them something for free. This could be free merchandise, extra perks, or personal attention. A few examples: Red Bull giving drinks to tired customers, TMC holding an anniversary screening for fans of Gone with the Wind, or Sainsbury changing the name of Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread based on a letter from a three-year-old girl.

On social media, this means connecting to people on issues that they care about and communicating in a unique voice. Take a look at Coca-Cola. Their Facebook focuses on cultural trends and social issues as a member of a global, multicultural community. At the King Arthur Flour Blog, they publish cooking recipes the way friends might share cooking tips in order to establish that same type of bond with their customers. In each case, they are moving away from traditional advertising (BUY NOW! 50% OFF SALE!) and replicating the behavior of social users like you and me.

Just keep in mind the two rules of social media marketing. Keep your mixture market norms and social norms consistent and be genuine in your interests. Social relationships are valued much more highly than market relationships, which is why people will be offended if you try and pass one off as the other or switch between them unexpectedly. Imagine what would happen if you asked your teenaged son or daughter how much money it would take for them to love you or if you tried to pay your mother for cooking Thanksgiving dinner. That’s how people feel when they see self-serving media posts or how Facebook users felt when they learned that they’d been used for a psychology experiment. No one expects a business to treat them like friend, but if businesses want to successfully market themselves on social media, they have to treat people as more than just customers.  

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