The social world of serendipity

This is from an article I wrote for Pharmaceutical Marketing Europe

No one would disagree with the premise that social media has changed how we communicate, but when it comes to the discussion of how best to use social channels, there is still disagreement around the extent to which brands should focus on placing content or planning for organic discovery. 

With the emergence of social media came an evolution of the paradigm for digital content discovery: the primacy of search to deliver trusted, timely and valuable information has now been displaced by sharing. 

And here lies the importance of serendipity. With our social feeds acting as a vehicle for the accidental, but delightful, discovery of something useful, we find content that we didn’t even know we were looking for.

Some people will tell you that the era of social media and serendipity is over, and that social campaigns should be planned for at the same level of detail and accountability as other cross-channel campaigns. Perhaps so in major consumer categories, where branded content – or its hip new cousin ‘native advertising’ – seems present at our every social turn. But in healthcare, serendipity is a phenomenon yet to be fully explored. 

Real discoveries of serendipitous content can be thought of as ‘happy accidents’. For the pharmaceutical industry, that can sound worryingly synonymous with ‘unsolicited’, but this simply highlights that the power of social for pharma lies within disease awareness. 

As digital pharma teams, we spend a lot of time placing our content exactly where people go looking for it – the familiar truism of ‘fishing where the fish are’. But this isn’t really enough. If social is to deliver on its potential for serendipity, pharma teams need to do more than sit back, relax and hope that their audiences visit the Facebook page their agency sold them – they need to provide the prompts that are so necessary to encourage voluntary sharing. 

This is achievable by focusing on three key things:

1. Understanding behaviour
To plan for success through serendipity, understanding the psychology of sharing is a must. As individuals, we share content for a number of reasons: to say something about ourselves and what we stand for, to add perceived value to our communities, or simply because we love it. If you are on the receiving end of ‘the share’, you just might stumble across the information that drives you to an action that ultimately results in a diagnosis.

2. Understanding audience personas and journeys
When it comes to social media, there is no ‘one size fits all’. Therefore, profiling your audience is key. By understanding the demographics of the social journey, as well as the implications of these on trust, preference and expectation, you can organically become part of the conversation.

3. Actually adding value

The chance of serendipitous discovery is more likely when we offer something – be it advice, content or a service – without asking for anything in return. This means actually listening to insights and meeting real identified needs, instead of following social suit with a Facebook page.

If you are still wondering where your social efforts are best placed, turn your attention away from Facebook towards StumbleUpon – a giant collection of the best pages on the internet, seemingly generated at random for your viewing pleasure. How do they do this? Understanding preference, behaviour and personas. Serendipity at its best.

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Ever heard of social petworking?

boo the dog

Social petworking – believe it or not it’s a real thing. Not only is it real, it’s growing at a phenomenal rate.

If this is as new a topic as it was to me a few months ago, then let me introduce you to some of the sites leading the way.

First of all we have My Social Petwork – the Instagram of the animal world if you like. This network is based on our love for those cute doggy snaps and the videos of kittens doing crazy things that we just can’t take our eyes off of. Users rate photos and videos of people’s pets (and there really is a whole array – giant snails feature on the home page…) with the aim to become the highest rated photo or video of the day. If we look at the activity all over our Facebook feeds, it is quite clear there’s an audience for this type of community. And I’m just talking about the owners – thats not including the 1 in 10 social profiles that are actually for pets themselves. If you’re not familiar with it, take a look at Boo’s profile – the most popular dog on the planet, or so the 7.3 million likes would suggest.

Then we have the interestingly named Yummy Pets – the self proclaimed Facebook for pets. This takes it up a level – owners are no longer owners but indeed ‘pet parents’. I think there’s a lot to be improved on the branding (‘click here to discover yummy pets’ seems a somewhat strange invitation), but with 150,000 members, there’s no arguing its popularity. The community is very much built around what we are used to seeing on the ‘human side’ of social – profiles, status updates, photos, and lists of friends and fans. Having started life in France and launching this year in the UK, it’s certainly a booming business.

Now I’m no huge animal lover, but I do love social media, and I get where this adds value. There’s clearly a lot of pet owners with a whole lot of time on their hands, and that’s no bad thing for the petworking community, but where the value is really added is when these communities can be used as a resource for improving pet care. As examples, the sponsored ads within Yummy Pets take people to practical pet services, the blog provides helpful updates on keeping your pet healthy and of course the VIPets section – it’s always vital to keep up to date with celeb pets…

So my conclusion on the trend that I was initially pretty skeptical about is that it makes complete sense. As a generation we love social media, as a global population we love our pets, ergo we love social petworking. And if you’re still not sold – take a look at this infographic on the top social networking stars (the numbers are a little outdated, but they are still very much stars). Engagement numbers we could only ever dream of!

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So where did you two meet?

heart blog

I truly believe that social media has changed how we behave as a society. ‘That’s ridiculous!’ I hear you cry. But let me explain.  Over the last ten years as social media has grown to what it has become today, the way in which we interact with people has changed. And I don’t mean that we now interact online – it actually goes beyond this. Look at our offline behaviour and how the online versions of us have become our reality.

I think a perfect example that demonstrates my point is when you look at online dating. I remember a time not so long ago when admitting to having met someone online was very much taboo. If at all possible, you’d try and quickly think of an alternative story when someone asked ‘so where did you two meet?’ But now, it’s no different to meeting someone in a bar on a Friday night. It is no longer judged, but commonly accepted as part of the dating process of the 21st century.

Even greater than this is the way that social media now adds value and credibility to our offline lives. By this I mean the way in which popularity is now the number of friends/followers/connections, and the number of likes you can get on a post. Being opinionated is triggering 50 comments on a post and evoking heated debate. Cool is now being the social media hipster (check out this video of these hipsters +50 years) who shares that awesome content that you haven’t seen yet. ‘Did you see the video Lauren posted last night?’ ‘Yeah, where does she find this cool stuff?’

Social media by its very nature gives us access to people that ordinarily we may not interact with on a daily basis. It’s changed our expectations in terms of social interaction, the opinions we form of people we are yet to meet, and our perceptions of human behaviour. It has made us more informed and taken away almost all elements of surprise. Before we meet someone – either on a professional basis or a personal one – we will almost certainly have looked at their respective LinkedIn or Twitter handle. And if they don’t have one? Well, we begin to question whether we should be meeting them at all!

I wonder if sat in his college dorm room Mark Zuckerberg ever imagined he would be shaping societal behaviour? Can we go back and find the time where our online lives began to shape our offline lives? To our offline and online selves: ‘so where did you two meet’?

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