Come Together

28 03 2010

We are social animals. Furthermore, we tend to like other people who are a lot like us. It’s almost like we are giving ourselves a high-5 for the awesomeness that we are. That hackneyed cliche about birds of a feather applies to us no less than the avian flocks it describes.

But today this flocking of peoples is far greater (and easier to accomplish) than selecting neighborhoods, churches and social circles of like-minded folks. And it brings with it enormous implications.

Take, for example, Facebook. The 2008 national election will go down in the books as the first whose outcome was bolstered in large part by galvanizing voters in support of Barack Obama. While John McCain was still trying to figure out e-mail, Obama and crew were busy uniting people on the social graph.

Today, there are thousands of fan pages for virtually any possible cause or activity, product or service, college class or alumni group. And while many are admittedly rather silly (who really gives a flip if your state is the first to have 1,000,000 fans?), the cumulative impact is very clear: there is a certain drawing power at work here, and it makes it easy to build a groundswell of opinion of, or preference for, anything.

And whereas we humans once were probably members of only one or a few tribes at most, today we can easily align with dozens. Don’t believe me? Check your FB Info page to see how many fan pages you follow.

Sure, we could argue that listservs in the 90s provided this functionality, but that was simply text-driven. And far fewer people had access to email back then. But with the ubiquity of the internet and over 400 million users, FB is the new National Mall, a place where anyone and everyone can come together. At the same time. In the same space. Without bumping into one another or getting the riot police riled up.

If anything, this is my “sticky, viral and magnetic” lecture writ large. While these three drivers have always played a large role in web sites in general, the true meaning of the imperative is only now being felt. FB, for examples, provides the platform to do all three with such ease and on such a large scale that few could have imagined.

In the old days, people circulated petitions to try to make their voices heard. More recently, they used email chains. Now they organize. Mobilize. And realize. Just look inside the White House.

And if this isn’t enough, consider how easy it has become to market to very narrow market niches. FB allows advertisers to selectively target their ads (note how the three ads down the right column often match your profile descriptors, fan page memberships, and even words you frequently use, like Sudoku in my case). Everything we do or say places a different marketer’s bulls eye on our foreheads.

When Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin started Facebook (chronicled so nicely in The Accidental Billionaires), their only goal was to meet girls at Harvard. Little did they know they were building an engine which in a few short years would unite people on many different levels, in networks of their own devise and volition. It is the realization that we are birds of many different feathers, and we can now match them one at a time with others who share that same stripe somewhere on their wings.

This engine helped elect someone by uniting people with a common cause, hope and desire. This engine allows me (and you) to peel back the layers representing the onion of our lives, drilling down to tribes of which we were once members (like the Class of 1977 at T.F. South High School). And this engine allows marketers to talk back to me in ways I will likely find meaningful.

Just try doing that in your little one-dimensional neighborhood.

Dr “Tribal Counsel” Gerlich

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