Watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.
I watched Amber Case's discussion "We Are All Cyborgs Now" with great interest. As someone who interfaces with the exemplar "Connected Consumers" every day in the university setting, I too have worried that we have too great of a dependence on technology. Like Case, I research human usage of technology, however my focus is on marketing strategy related to the intersection of mobile technology and social media. As a subset of this research, I investigate whether technology or its capabilities have become the focus of the users. While I am still running studies on the topic, a recurring theme that our participants raise is that technology serves as a key facilitator of their daily activities. Although over 90 percent of initial participants indicate the first and last things they do each day is check their phones (confirming a heavy reliance), their particular use cases for the technology were of greater significance than the physical equipment itself.
A Shared Experience
A key part of my study explores what "Connected Consumers" are doing with this technology they use so frequently. While this research will fill a dissertation, a key takeaway is that social media and mobile technology facilitate a simple and elegant sharing of our daily experiences. As briefly mentioned in my last HuffPost contribution, shared social consumption is on the rise. A glance at Facebook, the most popular social network, at any given time, will show a communal consumption experience between connections, both friends and acquaintances. Facebook participants are constantly sharing their tastes, opinions, and brand reviews with one another using a variety of mobile technologies. For example, Foursquare shares user locations and the businesses participants frequent. For those choosing not to leave the sofa, GetGlue broadcasts the TV shows and movies being consumed (driving an online conversation). Book clubs have gone online in the form of Goodreads. No longer do readers rely solely upon the New York Times' reviewers to select our reading; they rely upon their friends. Foodies have Foodspotting, which allows diners to share images of their meals and cocktails (which their network can validate via a 'nom'). Instagram has become the standard of sharing the images around us, and Spotify and Turntable.fm allow for a shared music consumption experience. Even exercising, once a painful solo activity, has become social. After a user broadcasts a run in progress using a Nike app, audible cheers are heard by the runner as friends "like" the activity on Facebook. And as I highlighted in my prior contribution on the "Connected Consumer," Fab.com curates quirky, stylish purchases on Facebook for friends to see, enabling the purchaser to become a style maven and tastemaker. Each of these distinct mobile apps interfaces with Facebook, driving online conversations as social media participants share their individual life experiences with their friends.
Facilitation of Social Connection
Without the use of mobile and social technology, I argue we would lose this sense of connectedness and shared experience with our network and world around us. Social media allows participants to maintain both strong ties (friends) and weak ties (acquaintances and frenemies) through sharing our daily activities. Without the ease of the computer and mobile-mediated technology, the connection with many of these people would be simply lost. In my initial investigation of consumer usage of social media, I note a high average Facebook friend count, with only a handful of these respondents indicating they 'collect' friends. Identity salience of the technology being used, or the importance to a person's identity, is also explored. Early results corroborate that it is not the technology that consumers value, but the connections and experiences it facilitates.
While I applaud Amber Case's foundational work on human technology interaction, we must remember that this technology facilitates rich connections to a network we might not be able otherwise to maintain. Much work remains on the research I discuss here; through future waves of the online study, a rich, academically sound understanding of how social media and mobile technology consumers use the technology, how they interact with their network, and how they make purchase decisions based on social media input will be developed. At the end of this project, I will defend my dissertation to earn my Ph.D. in marketing. But beyond that, the goal is to provide a rich contribution on how social media and mobile technology usage by "Connected Consumers" is associated with psychological and technology factors.
If you would like to share how you use mobile and social technology, join the study online.
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