We all have that one really annoying Facebook friend.
"Just did 400 sit-ups and 2 hours of cardio at the gym!!!"
"Can't even LOOK at these brownies Sue brought to the afternoon meeting. If I eat one, I'll have to do an extra hour of P90X!"
"Ninety minutes of Hot Yoga = The best way to end a Tuesday!"
You know which friend I mean. If not, you probably are that person. It's obnoxious. We want you to stop sharing every excruciatingly bland detail of your fitness regiment. It's not that we don't care what you are doing -- we do -- we just don't want to hear it directly from you.
Let's say the same person "checked in" to these activities using Foursquare or alike. It posts to their Facebook feed, appearing on your wall and it hardly inspires the same kind of eye-rolling. Instead of causing us to cringe the way we would if they were coming direct, these little blips of information suddenly become palatable -- cool, even -- when they're done as a check-in. These third-party services make it perfectly acceptable for us to make a simple statement about our lifestyle without the layer of sanctimoniousness or tediousness we perceive to be present in a first-person update. For some reason, lightweight communications, seamlessly integrated into online social networks, to be broadcast to our friends, family and co-workers have become, almost overnight, social norm.
The proliferation of these micro-communications is mostly a result of their convenience. You can share something that represents you in a light you choose with the touch of a button on our phone. Makes sense. However, what you may not realize is that these gestures are merely the first iteration of what will soon be the dominant form of peer-to-peer marketing.
We are living, breathing marketing machines. We've all been hacked.
You may have heard the term "social gestures" being bandied about lately by those in the marketing 2.0 realm. It's a phrase that refers to "social sharing" in the context of a brand, business or person. The most common social gesture people identify with is the "check-in," or the broadcasting of our location and/or activity to our social network in a mostly passive manner. Social gestures allow us to easily identify fellow members of our tribe, or those we aspire to join. They also allow us to endorse products or places we enjoy and tacitly recommend them to others.
The concept of a social gesture is not new nor unique. Bumper stickers, tattoos, even the clothes we wear are meant to convey to the world the identity and culture through which we associate ourselves.
Now, with the mobility and overall omnipresence of Internet technologies combined with the sheer scale of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, disseminating our activities is easier than ever and, for the first time, truly global. People all over the world can now consume the content we produce and be as affected by it as they would if they were our neighbor, classmate or co-worker interacting with us every day. The weight of these digital interactions varies depending not on their location, but on how highly we value their taste and character. (For example, I consume pretty much everything broadcast by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, and Rory Sutherland, the self-described "fat bloke at Ogilvy." These two men living some 3,500 miles away from me across the Atlantic Ocean influence me more than my peers, whom I see almost every day.)
A cursory glance at Foursquare check-in data shows gyms and art galleries as among users' most frequently visited venues. Are we to assume that these two places are more heavily visited than grocery stores or pubs? Not likely. Rather, I think it's safe to deduce that folks seek to portray themselves online as healthy and cultured individuals. This data also proves that the aspirational component of the social gesture cannot be denied.
The Value of a Check-in
Whether through discounts, convenience or other, more deeply layered methodology, we will soon be given incentives to share our activities and, in the process, represent those brands we participate with. We'll use these lightweight, integrated communications to make a statement about the way we live our lives. Soon, in the hands of savvy marketers, the opportunity to send gestures out to our networks will be a big part of our daily routine. It'll become so automatic that we won't even consider pumping gas without including a "check-in" telling our social networks what kind of gas we're putting in the tank. Or we'll hit Starbucks and, as a matter of course, broadcast out which flavor shot we've added to the venti latte we just ordered.
We can already see social gestures being integrated into marketing campaigns created for some of the world's biggest brands. For example, Coca-Cola recently registered 10,000 recycling bins on Facebook and asked their fans to check-in at recycling centers each time they dropped off cans and glass. The company has also created an amusement park experience in Israel, where park attendees were outfitted with special bracelets that allow them to "Like" their favorite rides and games.
I know what you're thinking: "People are not going to check in everywhere they go. Too Orwellian." But people will adapt to using this technology in their daily lives because it is useful to them and integrated into their on-and-offline worlds. After all, people said the same thing about sending Tweets on Twitter or being active on Facebook. Maybe for the young, right? Wrong. The fastest growing demographic across social media is actually the over 50 crowd. The fact is that, in time, these kinds of social gestures will become commonplace. The eventual ubiquity of these opportunities to communicate combined with the intrinsic and extrinsic incentives to participate will make it so.
So, meet me at the gym (because I work out) or the Starbucks in the afternoon (because I make my own schedule) or that fancy restaurant (because it is the place to be seen) with @somegirlhere (because she's hot.) In the end, we are all influential if only to a few and marketers want you to be you out loud so others will buy from them like you do. They will continue to harness our innate human desires and incentivize you on platforms they leverage to do the same. You are a marketer, like it or not. Now get out there and start sharing -- I mean selling.