Love it or hate it, Facebook was the fusion of all the existing social media platforms, and with the addition of a few more features, something finally “clicked” with the public. Although originally planned as a way of connecting college students (it was started at Harvard, and in the first month over half of the student body had signed up!), Facebook became a way for people to connect, follow, watch and communicate across the country. We could stay in touch with our old friends, and meet new ones through them. This was hugely important at satisfying our “need to belong”. We could easily find like-minded individuals, and reinforce our sense of self-worth and value to society. Nothing else can explain the vast and rapid growth of Facebook, which went from 5.5 million users in December of 2005, to 100 million users in August of 2008, and cracked the one BILLION user mark just eight years after launching. People don’t engage unless they have a strong emotion giving them the energy to do so, and Facebook created that emotional energy surge at just the right time in our societal evolution. It really was that heavy, and it really was that significant, and keeping that in mind, let me show you one of the evolutionary paths that failed miserably.

As all these people started getting together, people realized that all these eyeballs were worth something. In fact, they were worth a lot. But they had to be approached properly, or it simply wasn’t going to work. To explain this distinction, let me give you an example of a social media discussion. You’ll see where the train comes off the tracks.

TOM:  Man, I had such an amazing weekend. We went to the movies, then we just walked on the beach until sunrise. It was amazing!

SUSAN: Did you know that Sherry was pregnant? I’m so excited for her! 

NATE: We really rocked the house last night. The audience was INCREDIBLE! Super shoutout thanks to everybody in Houston for such a great reception!

TERRY: Seven billion people on this planet, and I don’t have any friends. Why doesn’t anybody like me?

ABC-AUTO-SALES: Great cars cheap! Call today and ask for Chip. 813-555-1212

LUKE: Hey guys. We’re throwing a party for Lisa’s retirement. Anybody got ideas about where to go and what to get her?

 Did you see the “sore thumb” post? It’s pretty obvious. The guy from the auto dealership is using social media as an advertising medium. He doesn’t care about the community. He doesn’t belong to any group. He’s just standing out there, waving his banner, hoping somebody notices. Except that doesn’t work well in social media, because the emphasis isn’t ON media. It’s on SOCIAL. 

Here’s the trick, though. Did you notice the OTHER “commercial entity” that was also posting in that thread of comments? Did you see the business that was reaching out to its customers, acknowledging their participation in a corporate event?

It was NATE, who obviously plays in a band that performed in Houston the previous night. He used social media to interact with the band’s fans, reaching out to them to acknowledge their efforts and what made them special to the band.  The message was personal, and it was sincere.

Given this emotional context for social media, it becomes obvious why emotions must be a serious part of what you say or do when using social media to communicate with your customers and prospects. This is probably as good a place as any to discuss the importance of emotion in the marketing of a product.

There’s a sign on the wall of my studio that says “What people don’t feel, people don’t remember”. It may sound like a bumper sticker, but in fact, it is well documented (although sometime debated) in psychological research. In 1977, Brown and Kulik posited that there was a biological mechanism in the brain that leads to remembering important, but unexpected events with near photographic accuracy. Although the accuracy of the recounted memory may be subject to degradation, the details of the memory seem to be retained better when the memory is repeatedly recounted. In fact, my own research into neuroplasticity suggests that an emotional event touches on many more areas of the brain, and thus creates a stronger neural “impact” zone. The more synapses that are created by a new memory, the more likely that memory is to “embed” itself into your regular thought processes. When you repeat the details to yourself, you are reinforcing and strengthening that new set of synapse connections.  Generally, you repeat the details (usually verbally while recounting the event to others) and they become more and more deeply entrenched as the synapse connections become stronger and stronger. 

Now, let’s put that into English.

For this example, we are going to think of the human brain as a bunch of very thin, soft wires, all laid out in neat rows, very close to each other, but not touching. Each of these wires has energy flowing through it, but because none of them are touching, the energy just passes through them from one end to the other. But then, something happens. Imagine an incident that occurs is like a small rubber ball that drops onto the wires. When the ball impacts the wires, it causes them to bend and warp, and some will touch each other. If the impact of the ball is strong enough, these new connections between the wires may “stick”. As these new connections are made, the way the energy flows through them is altered and those new pathways for the energy change the energy. 

I know this is getting a bit esoteric, but stay with me. There’s a reason for it.

Now, two things will cause the new connections to stick, and stick hard. Once those connections stick, they become permanent memories. What are the two things?

One is the weight of the rubber ball.  If it is a BIG event, even if it doesn’t have a lot of emotional importance to you, it will stick. Maybe your office moved to a big, new building. It didn’t matter to you or your work or your marriage, but the move itself was big, and now that you are in the new building, it is a constant reminder that it is not the old building. 

The second thing that can cause the new connections to stick is the energy that is being pushed through the wires. If you have a highly emotional event going on, then your brain is creating and channeling massive amounts of excess energy through its wiring. Whether it’s fear, or sympathy, or sexual arousal, this energy is being channeled through the wires of your neural network. And if you have an event that makes an impact while this increased energy is flowing, it can cause the wires to “fuse” together from the excess heat of the transfer (metaphorically speaking, of course). Once the energy makes the jump, just like real electric wires, they don’t want to let go. As long as you still have the emotional energy tied to the event, the new connections between the wires will become stronger and stronger. And, the more you repeat the details of the event by recounting it to others, the more you will arouse the initial energy, and thus you will cement the connections in place. 

Now that is an amateurish mash-up of a lot of brain biochemistry, shoved into one paragraph so that you can have a usable context for understanding marketing. It almost seems mercenary to discuss it in this fashion, but I’m not here to put a value judgment on it. I’m just here to tell you how it works, and why it works. But the fact remains, regardless of the morality, it does work.

This also explains why some people will get some facts exactly right when they recount an event, and others can be completely fictitious, but still be thought of as entirely real and accurate. As we recount the story, we will describe details we absolutely remember, and as we engage in the description, we will sometimes embellish the real memories with ones we think SHOULD be there, because they make sense. For example, we will remember that when we heard about Dad being in a car accident, we were standing with Mom, who was wearing her blue coat with the teal scarf. We remember it that way because Mom always wore that scarf with that coat, however it turns out that the scarf was an accessory that was added two months AFTER the car accident. But, because we identify that coat with that scarf, we overlay the two memories and they, although inaccurate, become one. And we will be absolutely certain it is 100% true, to the point where the receipt for the blue scarf being dated two months after the accident must be some kind of mistake, and it will be dismissed as some kind of inexplicable anomaly. The human mind is that confident.

I know, because I’ve done it.  The year was 1977.  It had to be, because I was old enough to be hanging out at Dave’s house playing wiffle ball, but it was before we moved away from Charlestown in 1978.   I remember Dave telling us about a movie he had seen that was simply outrageously funny. It was a spoof of disaster movies called, “Airplane”.  He told us about the jokes, and about how it was so different from any other movie they had made.

Sounds like a perfectly legitimate memory, doesn’t it?

Except “Airplane” wasn’t released until 1980.

Somewhere in my mind the incident of someone describing that movie has become overlaid on top of the memory of playing wiffle ball at Dave’s house. They are inextricably intertwined, yet they must be separate.    

So what does any of this have to do with online marketing?  In a word: everything.

If we are going to be seeking to influence the way people think, it’s good that we understand the process by which they think, learn, and pay attention.  It takes a knowledge of the system if you expect to use it to your advantage.

The first thing we have to look at is emotional sincerity. It is the easiest, fastest, most direct way to get somebody to notice (and remember!) you or your business.  It’s also the easiest thing for a prospective customer to sniff out as phony. Content that is forced, aggressive or out of character is quickly recognized as mercenary and will cost you dearly.