Bowerbirds, one of the amazing creatures on our planet, could be found across the forests and shrublands of Australia and New Guinea. They are famous for their unique courtship behavior, where males build an elaborate nest and decorate it with sticks and visually fascinating, brightly colored objects(rare to find things). The nests vary in different shapes and sizes. Some of the structures rise to nine feet off the ground.
The Bowerbird works hard in differentiating the nest from other nests by decorating it through painting and arranging the objects. These nests serve only one purpose — to attract females. They will not be used by females to lay eggs or raise young ones.
The nest is a way of showing the male’s uniqueness among its peers to the potential female bird.
The bird is in a rat race to build an identity and show it off.
THE SELF AND SOCIAL IDENTITY
We, humans, are also in a rat race to build a nest of social status, a unique identity, & show it off to others to attract power, favor, or mate(s) and all our public purchases/consumption/behavior is a way of achieving those goals. We use some brands and products to construct, maintain, and express part of our identities.
A person may say that he or she buys things for personal enjoyment or personal needs and not for showing off, but research shows the opposite.
Take the case of purchasing a car. We need a vehicle to take us from place A to place B. Almost all the automobiles have the same working mechanisms and would satisfy the need. Yet we all prefer different brands for various reasons. The car is not just a means of transport but a coveted status symbol for us whether we like to admit it or not.
In one of the focus group tests, a group of people was asked: “What would your friends think of you if they saw you driving this new car?”. They responded with an air of subtle arrogance, “I don’t care what others think of me, I just want to get from point A to Point B”.
Shortly later, the same group members were shown several car concepts and asked them about their preferred choices and the reasons behind those choices. Almost everyone chose a car that they strongly felt had the ‘head-turning’ looks. Deep down, everyone desires recognition and attention from others. They want to communicate their identity.
To summarise, brands that help people to broadcast part of their identity could quickly build a sustainable business.
Example — Apple’s iPod was a revolutionary product, but the white earphones were a game-changing innovation. Before Apple came along, every other earphone’s cables were black.
Apple knew that iPods would be staying in pockets when in use, and there won’t be any way to help people to grab the attention of other users. So, it was a stroke of market brilliance introducing white cables.
Once you were used to seeing black cordages, a white cord grabbed attention. It broke the familiar pattern. After this, every time you saw a white cable, you unconsciously think about the Apple Brand.
It is not about how a customer feels about our product but about how others would see, think, and feel about the customer while he or she is using our product.
FACEBOOK and SOCIAL/SELF IDENTITY
Facebook successfully leveraged the above evolutionary behavior of humans.
While other brands helped a customer to show only a part of his/her identity, Facebook enabled a customer to relay his/her whole identity — both social and self.
It’s not about what a product can do for the customer, but what customers can do with the product.
Facebook and Evolution Of Social and Self Identity
Initially, Zuckerberg started the Facebook project only as a communication tool, mainly, to help students at University, share more information with each other. However, over a period, users began to employ it as a means for Self Expression — They recognized that they could project multiple aspects of their self, hitherto unknown to other people.
How did Facebook help a user to build and broadcast an identity? — Even though the earlier website didn’t have enough tools or features, people found creative ways to project a better version of themselves.
- Photos — Photos played a critical role in constructing identity. Students hated their photos in the institute directory that was taken by college photographers. It had below-par light and was unattractive. On Facebook, they had the freedom to decide what kind of image they wanted to share. The students began uploading and changing their photos frequently. Most of them chose images in a way to reinforce their identity.
- Profile — Profile information was another element that helped in constructing an identity. It allowed students to broadcast information about their work, political thoughts, hobbies, favorite books/shows/movies, relationships, nicknames, and other details. It was a tool that projected one’s likes, dislikes, needs, interests, and desires.
- Status Message — Another feature that students used extensively to steer and strengthen the identity was Facebook’s status message. Most of the students creatively used it to relay a political opinion or humor or practical information or life experiences or something else about self. More than any other feature, the status message became an essential ingredient in building the identity.
- Comments — Users also made conscious choices about what to comment on friends’ profiles and status messages as it had to be consistent with the identity they were trying to build.
- Competing For Friends — Initially, when a student joined, he/she found that the visible extension of his/her social network conferred a higher status to his/her identity. So, students competed for friending as many as people. He/She also realized that tweaking the profile would help in attracting more friends. Let others be proud to become friends with you. So, students spent considerable time in building/updating the profile.
- Groups — A person’s social identity is also defined based on his/her group membership(s). Tajfel (1979) wrote that the groups (e.g. social class, family, football team, etc.), which people belonged to, were a source of pride and self-esteem. Being part of Facebook groups gave users a sense of social identity and a sense of belonging to a bigger world.
So, through profile information, photos, groups, and status messages, students constructed a self and social identity. It revolved around what he/she thought about who they are and how others should judge them.
Identity For Adults — Later, Zuckerberg opened Facebook to other user segments — to adults. However, the core value proposition of helping a customer to broadcast his/her identity remained the same.
My Identity — I’m a designer, part-time business strategy blogger, husband to a scientist, doting father of a young girl, home-maker, cricket lover, and avid reader. In the real world, when I met other designers, I discussed only Design. When I met marketing people from other companies, I have discussed business strategies and not design. My daughter’s friends’ parents have seen a different side of me. But on Facebook, everything is revealed. All my multiple identities are merged into a single global identity.
The social roles, activities, possessions, groups, we assign to ourselves depends on our social identities we have in our mind and collectively, these identities form our global self —Facebook helps us to broadcast that identity.
FACEBOOK AND BROADCASTING IDENTITY
We have already seen that product adoption would explode when the product has something that could help people to relay part of their identity. So, for Facebook, it is not enough to allow people to construct an online personality but also to enable them to broadcast that identity to others.
Let’s see a couple of features that helped users to disseminate their identity.
The first significant feature that prompted customers to use the website was the introduction of photo albums.
The Rising Action — When Zuckerberg launched the photos album feature, it allowed users to upload photos & include them in online albums and enabled others to comment on them. However, it lacked a crucial element —How to help people advertise themselves?. Something like iPod’s white earphone cables.
The Denouement — In the meantime, Facebook’s team observed a critical reason behind the Flickr website’s success. It was their new feature called “tagging on photos” — It allowed users to search for images based on the tags. It revolutionized the photo hosting service.
The Solution — One of Zuckerberg’s teammates, Hirsch, suggested an idea — He said, “You know, the thing I most care about in photos is, like… who’s in them.”
That turned out to be the breakthrough idea for Facebook.
Facebook introduced the feature where the names of the people could be tagged, and the marked person would receive an alert message.
And, the feature also brought out a more substantial benefit to the user — Not only the tagged person but also his/her friends would receive the information — A viral reach. It was a first of its kind in the social media market.
The Result — After launching the tag feature, the uploading of photos exploded. The users saw it as an opportunity to convey a message, exhibit friendship, and more. Images became a form of communication.
David Kirkpatrick writes that photos had become, in effect, more articulate.
Another critical feature that helped people to broadcast their identity was the News Feed.
In the beginning, whenever a person updated his/her profile or uploaded a new photo or wrote a status message, his/her friends won’t be knowing it unless they visited the profile. Each person would have hundreds of friends. It would be impossible to check everyone’s profile as it was a tedious and time-consuming process.
So, if there’s no way to broadcast your identity to others, then what’s the use of profile changes or uploading of photos?
The Denouement — One day, Zuckerberg thought — Rather than a user going and searching for people who changed their profile information, how about bringing those data to him/her?
How to bring the information to users? The answer was to build a page that showed not only the latest photos your friends had added but all the things that had recently changed on the profiles of your friends. It would also show what friends liked/commented on or the group they have joined. Facebook called it NEWS FEED.
News Feed highlights what’s happening around him/her in each person’s profile —The page updates personalized stories throughout the day — It showed not only the latest photos your friends had added but all the things that had recently changed on the profiles of your friends.
The Broadcast Algorithm —The main function of News Feed — Instead of sending information about you, you update about yourself on your page, and Facebook would push the content to your friends. What a way to broadcast your activities!.
It enabled dramatic reach of the posts(Ability to broadcast an identity to more number of people) — It began an era of Viral Explosion.
News Feed led to the exponential growth of users on Facebook. It supplied an endless stream of information and kept users glued to the website.
The feature became the epicenter of Facebook’s success.
FACEBOOK and THE TRUE IDENTITY
Facebook is about revealing one’s true identity. When people argued that adult users should have both a work profile and a fun social profile, Zuckerberg replied, “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end. Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” He also believes that by openly acknowledging who we are and behaving consistently among all our friends, we will help create a healthier society. Zuckerberg adds that people will be held to the consequences of their actions and be more likely to behave responsibly.
To develop loyal customers, have something in your product/service that would help them to broadcast part of their identity.
References: The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick, Hooked by Nir Eyal, Nudge by Richard Thaler, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.