The most basic role of the social object is driving conversation. In the business applications discussed previously, the social object brings participants together based on a common interest around which a conversation occurs. It also provides a relevant context for a brand, product, or service. Pepsi’s The Juice program built around its low calorie, all-natural Trop50 orange juice provides an example of the central role of the conversation in a social setting, and the role of the social object women’s health and well-being while clearly tying the customer and product together. This clear connection is important: Recall that a basic fact of social media is that in comparison with traditional media, it is harder to interrupt. This differentiator plays out in two ways: First, because it is harder to interrupt the activities of participants directly like the way you can interrupt a TV program with an ad or an online page view with a pop-up—your activities with regard to your business objectives have to have an obvious relevance. Otherwise, you’ll be ignored (best case) or asked to leave (worst case). The Social Web isn’t a marketing venue, though it is a very powerful marketing platform.
Second, because it is harder to interrupt (if not impossible), your message, your value, and your contributions to the community must be delivered within the existing conversation. In an analogy to TV, think about the difference between product advertising on TV versus product placement within the TV program. In the case of product advertising, there is a clear distinction between the program and the ad: In the case of product placement, the product becomes part of the program.
Your participation in communities built with or around social objects is much closer to the product placement model. While you cannot “buy placement” on the
Social Web, your participation needs to blend with its context in the same way that effective product placement does, to be part of the community rather than an interruption, or called out with a “brought to you by” message placed alongside it.
Beyond building conversations, social objects and your business relationship to them provide the foundation of a strong connection to your audience in a branded community or to the participants in or around a lifestyle, passion, or cause-based effort. Again, consider a comparison to traditional media and the factors that drive advertising effectiveness. At GSD&M, we did a lot of work to quantitatively understand the relationship between what someone was watching and the types of advertising that would likely be of interest to that person. During adventure programming, for example, we’d place advertising for the Air Force that built on one’s sense of accomplishment in overcoming challenges.
The same relationships apply on the Social Web, and in particular in the communities that you build around or those you create yourself. Because there is a central theme (arising out of or facilitated by the social objects associated with the community), you have a direct path to a stronger connection within that community. Dell’s “Digital Nomads” program relies on this aspect of community design to create a strong link to one segment of its customer base. By creating a place where tech-savvy individuals can talk about their own use of technology, Dell has a created a natural conversation around its own products. Note, however, that at no point does Dell interrupt or hijack the conversation for its own purposes: Instead, the community platform facilitates an engaged conversation that includes and references Dell products.