The Role of Content In Building Social Media Identities
How identity is created and maintained through social relationships, brand associations, and now technology platforms, has been a complex area of study that involves such a variety of factors that its exact definition is still yet to be agreed upon across disciplines. The growth of digital platforms for creating, consuming, and sharing content has accelerated a culture of ongoing social identity construction. But what are the underlying factors that influence people to associate with one type of content over another?
Every digital platform that enables creation (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Google Plus, YouTube, Vine, etc.) also creates an opportunity for the creation and reinforcement of social identity. The quantity and quality of data that has become available from the digital platforms has empowered researchers and data scientists to help chisel away at how people define their own identities to leverage that insight for improving user experiences and marketing.
Millennials, digital natives that have “grown up” with these media platforms, are particularly skillful at leveraging digital media to manage ongoing social media identity creation. Each hashtag and strategically filtered Instagram photo are lines within the larger narrative of their lives. After all, it is very likely these social media platforms have directly contributed to the evolution of their social identities. Essayist William Deresiewicz observes, “We’re all selling something today, because even if we aren’t literally selling something (though thanks to the Internet as well as the entrepreneurial ideal, more and more of us are), we’re always selling ourselves. We use social media to create a product — to create a brand — and the product is us. We treat ourselves like little businesses, something to be managed and promoted.”
This cultural penchant for using digital platforms as a means of identity construction is leading to rich reserves of data for marketers and technologists. Insights from all these pieces of cultural chunks can lead to the design of better digital experiences. In a new paper published by Taylor, Muchnik, and Aral, social cues are studied to better understand how the presence of identity may affect behaviors online. According to their paper, Identity and Opinion, “Social information has been shown to increase click-through and conversion rates in a variety of domains including product adoption (Aral and Walker 2011, 2012),charitable giving (Tucker 2013), information sharing (Bakshy et al. 2012b), and the adoption of premium services (Bapna and Umyarov 2011).” The culture of social sharing and activity contributes to identity creation, increasing the likelihood of people to engage with digital platforms in the ongoing process of defining their identity.
Results from the study indicate that the most reliable predictors increased up-voting or decreased down-voting on a site include the presence of reciprocity (or the relationship the individual has with the person they are interacting with) as well as reputation. Deeper research into the influence specific categories of content have on triggering action and engagement online can be highly valuable in informing branding, marketing, and technology strategies. For example, if the roles of specific attributes within particular pieces of online content (i.e. color, wording, presence of 1st degree connections, etc.) can be better understood, content online can be better tailored to connecting with and reinforcing the identities of target audiences.
The availability and growth of new cultural data on a daily basis and more advanced technologies for making sense of it all creates huge opportunities for marketers. By using insights from data to fine-tune content, marketers can build stronger, more targeted and meaningful connections to consumers than ever before.