Magazine article Marketing

Nine Rules of Engagement in the Validation Economy

Magazine article Marketing

Nine Rules of Engagement in the Validation Economy

Article excerpt

Consumers have become reliant on the validation that social networks can provide. Nicola Kemp asks what the implications of this development are for the marketers shaping brands' digital strategies.

Last October, a 27-year-old woman from the Netherlands was reported to have had an abortion after the ultrasound image of her child that she posted on Facebook received disappointingly few likes. She explained: 'I want my child to come into this world loved and wanted by his or her surroundings. When that turned out not to be the case, I needed to take action. I understand it's painful for the three people who did 'like' the announcement, but this is a decision I had to make.'

This tale is, of course, a fictional one, which appeared on Dutch satirical website De Speld. However, there is no denying that a wealth of strange consumer psychology comes into play when it comes to social validation.

The rise of social media means that the traditional trappings of success are no longer enough. Where once consumers looked to ownership of luxury brands to demonstrate their success, now recording and sharing their experiences with their networks is key to gaining social validation.

We like being 'liked'

Patricia McDonald, executive planning director at Isobar UK, says there is a 'near-insatiable' need for social validation. 'Sixty per cent of UK consumers agree that they feel good when someone acknowledges their posts online and there's evidence to suggest that receiving recognition in social media activity releases endorphins in the body, so it's a near-addictive activity,' she adds.

Of course, validation has long been a key pillar of marketing. Robert Chialdini, the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, explains social validation simply: 'When we are uncertain about what to do, we will look to other people to guide us. And we will do this automatically and unconsciously.'

The concept may be an old one, but social media has added an urgency and immediacy that has raised social validation as a priority for consumers and brands alike.

Omaid Hiwaizi, planning director at SapientNitro, says consumers are outsourcing more aspects of their lives to machines, in the form of the social web and the ever-growing 'internet of things'.

He explains: 'The joy and pain we experience as a result of stimulus from the digital ecosystems we live in symbiosis with, are just as profound as any emotions we experience in the non-digital world. Our unconscious reaction to social validation is identical wherever the stimulus comes from - something our conscious minds find incongruous.'

For brands, the benefits of social validation are clear: they can achieve real-world rewards in exchange for offering consumers virtual validation. However, despite the growing number of brands embracing social validation, success is not a certainty.

With this in mind, here are nine rules of engagement for successful social validation.

1. Embrace the age of influence

In the bubble of the marketing industry, where a strong presence on social networks is imperative, it is easy to believe that building social influence is an end in itself. Indeed, for some brands, it has replaced traditional socio-demographic segmentation as the key pillar of targeting consumers.

However, Toby Barnes, product strategy director at AKQA, warns: 'I've never seen any value in Peerindex or Klout; it's a false economy. The kind of people who build up their Klout scores exist in a world where only others in that world care.'

In essence, giving people with a high Klout score VIP access to a club-night might be a nice headline, but little more. Brands must think carefully when it comes to balancing consumers' social influence with their likelihood and financial ability to purchase their products.

2. Meet the Prosumer: when a 'like' isn't enough

A growing tranche of consumers are maximising the opportunity to interact with brands online, in search of both real-world and social validation. …

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