The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health and How We Must Adapt by Sinan Aral

7. Hypersocialization

  • Now that our social life includes social media for many of us, we are more likely to be influenced by our friends’ behavior than before. This is what Sinan means by hypersocialized. Our behavior is also influenced when we exercise together as group runs and rides are significantly longer than individuals. Friends who share their exercise data via social media cause others to exercise more. When you see your friend increase his distance and/or speed, you are more likely to do the same. We also find that social media drives our news consumption and increases how much we read. People are more likely to read links sent by social media friends than they are to engage in their own searches.
  • Since 2013 more romantic partners have been introduced by social media than by friends and family. This brings up a lot of unanswered questions regarding how this new type of dating will impact our future. With dating apps, we can find out a lot about someone by reading their profile in an anonymous manner. It’s clear that the Hype Machine is changing how we date by altering how we signal one another socially. It also manipulates our emotions. People who consume more negative news post more negative words while people who consume more positive content post more positive words. (Doug: I have seen friends get angry after watching lots of negative news reports. I tell them that if your news makes you angry you should consider not watching it.) It should be no surprise that you don’t inspire people in a good way by feeding them hatred, vitriol, and negativity.

8. Strategies for a Hypersocialized World

  • 1. Network Targeting. In addition to using the information a company has about a person, it also gathers data about a customer’s friends. The concept is homophily which is the human tendency to make friends with people who are like themselves. If you have a friend who has adopted a product or service, you are more likely to do the same. This makes you ripe to be targeted by that company.
  • 2. Referral Marketing. In addition to predicting your preferences, your network connections also influence your preferences. Many companies incentivize referrals by paying for referrals that result in new customers. Since you trust your friends more than ads or politicians, word of mouth is the most valuable source of brand information. Just because people with adopter friends are more likely to adopt, however, doesn’t mean that their friends influenced the decision. It could simply be homophily or some confounding effect.
  • 3. Social Advertising. When we post content we tie our identity to it. This signals to those who follow us what our preferences are. If you display a social cue with a friend’s name on it click rates and like rates will increase. The more friends associated, the bigger the impact of likes and clicks. The amount of lift generated by social cues varies by categories with food, fashion, and cars getting the most lift and credit cards and e-commerce platforms getting the least. There is also a discussion of WeChat, the Chinese social media platform, here. It’s a bit like a Swiss Army knife in that it can do just about anything that all of the other apps can do. It’s also protected by the Chinese Communist firewall, that blocks things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
  • 4. Viral Design. This involves designing products so that they are more likely to be shared socially. This is not new as religions are usually designed to be evangelical. (“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15) Here you are looking for emotional arousal. Fake news, be it on the right or left, is designed to be viral by its emotional nature. Automated notifications like those sent out by Instagram are another example of viral design.
  • 5. Influencer Marketing. The Hype Machine made influencers accessible and allowed them to establish careers around influencing others. It scaled their influence by scaling mass persuasion. And all of us now have the tools! Just because you are popular, however, does not mean you are influential. When companies look for people to “seed” their products with they can try celebrities, but they tend to be expensive. Also, the more connections one has the less influence one has per connection as engagement weakens as the number of followers grows. More ideal are a larger number of “microinfluencers.” Their reach may be smaller, but they have a firmer grip per follower. They are also less likely to overlap.

9. The Attention Economy and the Tyranny of Trends

  • Attention is the currency of business. It is the lifeblood of brands, politicians, and government. It is valuable as it is the precursor to persuasion. Attention is what social media platforms sell. The two critical metrics are the number of users and the time of their engagement. The price of attention varies by platform. With access to personal data, microtargeting is possible. It can be based on demographics, behaviors, interests, and personalities. Platforms often communicate with each other so when you search for an item on one it immediately shows up when you go to another. In places like Europe where laws restrict access to personal data, advertising is less effective.
  • By analyzing your likes and posts on Facebook, it is possible to determine things like gender and other demographic variables. Analysis of your search and shopping behavior, however, can make ads much more effective. Microtargeting is a $20 billion industry in the US alone. Microtargeting becomes more effective as the size of the market niche decreases. Analysis of personality traits like extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience improves persuasive power.
  • Platforms look at our reactions and promote trends. Once something trends its impact can explode. It’s a feedback loop that amplifies specific content. Fake news which is usually shocking, salacious, unexpected, and surprising can take advantage of trending. Novelty grabs our attention and encourages us to share it. What keeps our attention in the long run, however, is authenticity. Average impacts are poor indicators of social media’s influence. Strong impacts of subgroups can get lost in the shuffle if you look at averages.
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