Why are people so attached to their social media profiles? Researchers claim that millennials are the loneliest generation, we can have 1000 friends on Facebook, but not personally interact with any. Why can't people brand themselves as a cool, witty individual face-to-face? Well, the answer lies in research done by Jonah Berger, the Associate Professor of Marketing at Wharton. Contagious, a book he published in 2013, explains why certain products receive word of mouth, and how social influence shapes what we buy. Products that receive world of mouth are ones we enjoy and ones we share to build OUR identity. Millennials grow their "self-brand" online rather than in person and this is why:
Asynchronous Communication Mediums
To be completely honest, when I text, email or write to a person, I sound more intelligent because I can think about my words before publicizing them. Before publishing my top 5 free apps to have in NYC blog, I had time to choose the most interesting topics that I thought were worth sharing. It's the same with social media. When publishing about ourselves or a liked product, we can word a post in a more audience capturing way or enhance the material sent. If I recommend a brand, that brand will reflect my identity...who I am, what I like, where I go.
Facebook, twitter, text messaging, email, all of these are asynchronous, meaning information is interchanged intermediately. This gives the sender time to think about what they want to send, how they want to appear to the receiver. How many times have people found an interesting person through tinder chat just to find out they can't hold a decent conversation in real life? Many. Even on Youtube, a person can edit a video until they perfect what they want their brand or identity to be. Your brand may be excellent on tablet, on monitor, on paper, but maybe that's not the case in person. What we like can easily be expressed through writing and posts, but who we are is only expressed through synchronous communication.
Want to feel bad about your life? Go on Facebook and look at all the amazing accomplishments your friends are achieving. Little do you know that they only share information that makes them look good to broad audiences. If you are close to a friend, I bet you know that everything isn't flowers and rainbows in their life.
Audience size can predict whether you make yourself look good or bad. When a person is publishing content to a narrow audience, they share the bad, the useful, the secrets. It's the same deal if the audience is in the persons' "in-group." Differently put, "narrowcasting shifts focus away from the self and toward others, which simultaneously encourages people to share (1) more useful content and (2) less self-presenting content" (Barasch & Berger, 10). Consumers are attached to their media profiles because they can broadcast their highest life events and brand themselves as the person they've always wished to be. Who likes to make mistakes? Some people don't mind considering you learn from them. However, who wants everyone to know about them? Probably zero.
We pick how much to share given the audience size and characteristics. We pick what to share given the time we have to think about the possibilities. We brand ourselves online in a positive light to gain more followers, more likes, more shares. Welcome to Generation like, lonely, tech & mobile.