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For this article, I thought I would visit a subject that I haven’t touched on since my studies at University, but one that still stimulates my mind everyday. I’m talking about Sociology, and in this instance I’m talking about how it relates to the world of Digital Marketing. Why? Because it’s fascinating and it’s something unavoidable for all of us. The internet, although structured and maintained through technology, is essentially a fluid and social medium where people (players, consumers, avatars, civilians etc.) operate on a whole new level of behaviour and personal expression. Putting it simply, online behaviour and interaction is weird.

The ‘social’ is like an invisible force that pulls and pushes behaviour across all mediums; it is the force behind our identities, our tastes, our buying habits, and pretty much everything in between. From a digital marketing perspective, it is the force that which we wrestle with on a daily basis trying to make sense of this behaviour and that intention often without absolute certainty. We implement quantitative-based tools to measure and map behavioural data and campaign KPIs in an effort to make sense of what is happening but always with an element of indeterminability (of course, we can claim confidence in outcomes but it’s never absolute). Take for example the humble pay-per-click advertising campaign: at its very foundation is the requirement to understand online social behaviour (past, present and the forecasted future) from keywords/search terms used, ad copy and the language or tone used, demographics and categories shaped by common interests and traits, and the destination or landing page that is often customised and multiplied to appeal to different groups. When it comes down to it, creating online marketing or advertising campaigns is essentially creating social experiences that are (hopefully) carefully curated and designed to appeal as closely as possible to the desired audience or market. We’re all social animals by nature so this is often a sub-conscious experience, but the challenge is how do we consciously or intentionally form a campaign that takes into consideration mundane social conventions and habits that we’re hardly aware of in our everyday lives?

Social Capital is one answer.

By this I mean the currency we use to create and build identity, trust, authority, popularity and connections or networks. Social capital is all about groups and how we aspire to be included or acknowledged by others according to our own desires or projected visions of ourselves. I’m sure a lot of this will ring true for you, especially if you think about the Web and the evolution of social media where everyday people are building social capital and currency. It is continually being amplified as the web and technology develops and becomes more accessible via smart devices and a lowered barrier to participation and opportunities for success (just look at the onslaught of Youtube sensations).

Brands are increasingly having to weave the social into their very fabric especially when it comes to the online marketplace where influence, trust driven by peer-to-peer reviews, and cohesion are just a few of the major factors that determine success and positive performance across digital channels. That’s why it’s common these days to see most brands engaging on the day-to-day level of social media in an effort to cultivate and leverage a community of loyal followers, customers and brand-ambassadors to communicate their unique offering and hopefully convert others at different stages of the funnel across various mediums. Digital Analyst and Anthropologist, Brian Solis, sums it up nicely:

“ Today, conversations are markets and markets are conversations. And the forums for these conversations cultivate a tight, unswerving and mostly unforgiving community and culture. Participation requires observation in order to understand the sociological landscape and the dynamics that define each community. They are after all, populated by people, not audiences.”

So, how do we achieve social success in digital marketing?

It’s about being smart and acknowledging the inherent flaws that we all share. It all comes down to the experience and whether the user is having a positive experience according to their social values and capital. Analytics and measurable data are crucial to mapping behaviour and establishing a platform from which to launch consistent testing in an effort to pull out those patterns and trends that lead to positive results. Only with research and testing can we get any closer to understanding the sociological landscape. It’s something that cannot be ignored and should be embraced holistically.

So, if you’re one of the few left in the objective camp smugly toasting your marshmallows, why not invite those subjective hippies next door to join you – it could be a very profitable marriage.