John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Facebook, marketing and meaning

jyb_musingsFacebook does a lot of things like allowing us to network, connect, communicate, share and stay abreast of our world and circle of friends and do all of these things in real time 24/7. 

But behind all these useful activities there is something more basic that is happening while we post,follow, peruse and comment. We are, in a very real sense, marketing ourseleves on a poweful new medium. We create the image of ourselves we hope others will adopt of us. It is like a virtual version of high school except the audience is more discerning and sophisticated and harder to penetrate.

So we try different methods until we find one that seems to work best. It is usually the method that is most authentic and revealing in ways that resonate with others. And yes, it is usually the method that accrues the most “likes” from others.

The liking mechanism of Facebook reminds me of training a dog to do tricks by providing treats when the dog successfully performs. On the surface of Facebook it appears the Facebook audience is training individuals by how their posts and pictures are receieved. But really, at a closer look, it is each of us training ourseleves. We try out a new trick and if we are rewarded with likes we perform similar tricks and build our repertoire around related posts and images. And for those posts and images that don’t work, we modify or scrap until we have our image honed.

Our final product, so to speak (whch continues in process), is a reflection of what in ourseleves resonates most favorably with others. Again, not all that different from high school.

But is that who we really are? No, of course not. But as we are marketing ourselves and honing our public image are there any other reasons we continue playing on Facebook? I think so. And I think it is because of something much deeper at play in the human psyche.

At our most basic level we need to know that we are affirmed. Or liked. The pre-Facebook internet allowed for communication and engagement but was more, at the human level, like shouting into a giant cave and, after a pause, hearing our own echo. A response of some sort that validated that we exist in this vast digital world.

Facebook took it to the next level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Now when we shout into the vast internet black space –but do so through the virtual megaphone of Facebook and shout it in a certain manner and in a certain tone and with a certain purpose in mind — and pause, we not only hear our own echo but are affirmed. “Liked,” quite literally.

And that is a profound advantage that Facebook can boast over other all other internet mediums. And an advance that has far more to do with filling a basic human need than providing a new and cool technological advance.


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