Better Check Yourself… Before You Wreck Your (Digital) Self

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Just like that, the Web has gone from socially-optimized to socially-native. While many have voiced concerns (mostly around privacy), it seems that we’re traveling deeper down a rabbit hole to a place where society-at-large has never been. The implications of a social web bring us to a place where barriers to entry don’t exist, where the world becomes flat, and where information, although democratized, is the source of true influence and power.

But you know that. And this post isn’t about where we’re going. It’s a look into where we are. Right now.

For most of my teen and post-adolescent self, social interaction has been a huge component of my digital experiences. From AOL chatrooms (Anyone remember the mating call, “a/s/l/nat/pic?”) to my MiGente page in college (No, I will not hyperlink to that page), to MySpace and now Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, I’ve voluntarily left a bread crumb trail of data that may (or may not) illustrate an accurate portrait of who I am (or how I view myself). Through the years, the platforms enabling  that have allowed us to create  digital identity’s existence have become more sophisticated as advances in technology naturally allow them to. In addition, the pervasiveness of the social web has become the status quo for how modern society interacts, and a sense of accountability is beginning to descend upon what was once a harmless, leisurely activity turning bread crumbs into loaves.

Personal recommendations and the other side of that same coin – large scale understanding of social patterns – could be the trend that defines the next era of the internet just like easy publishing of content has defined this era. [source]

The New York Times recently published a great piece about how the “tell-all generation”, the under-30s who are an exploratory life stage, are growing increasingly concerned  with the perception of their “digital selves” as they mature because of the real-world implications of digital life (we’re familiar with the consequences of mismanaged reputation). In addition, certain “misuses of service” have led to the surfacing of predictable user types from deep within the depths of Facebook and Twitter. This new sociocultural implication of the importance of “digital etiquette”, combined with Facebook and Twitter’s non-consistent omnipresence having given birth to new rules of engagement… and the curated consumer (more on that later).

The question now exists: has the role (or at least perception) of social channels for the “tell-all” generation shifted? Are the Facebooks, Twitters, and Foursquares of the world viewed as our personal and social stenographers? It might sound a bit extreme, but the warning signs are clear: according to the Times article, users have began to mistrust the intentions of networks, adopting behaviors (un-tagging, un-friending, removing comments) that can only be described as “personal curation” to fully ensure that their digital reputations are maintained. Yes, it sounds time-consuming, and the thought of individuals having conscious outbound communication strategies is alarming, but it’s happening.

Self or personal branding, the rush to re-apply the marketing process from products to people… is the great converging point of the modern world. It pulls together Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame and Tom Wolfe’s 1970s notion of a narcissistic “Me Generation”. It links the marketing sensibility of post-war America, with its faith in brands as the engine of growth and wealth-creation, to the late-1990s explosion of reality television, the zenith of bourgeois individualism. And it’s all bound together by the internet’s ability to offer everyone the chance to self-brand.

-“How Marketing Has Gotten Under Our Skin”, Intelligent Life, Autumn 2009

Privacy and accountability aren’t the only contributors for increased cautiousness. The web community, and society at-large, have arrived at unwritten rules of engagement for how to “socialize”. Both GQ and Gawker have published hilariously-yet-intuitively accurate articles around those users or polluters that exist within all of our social circles. Chances are, we and our colleagues might unknowingly fit into one, or some, of those.

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Inpsirational Quote Guy!

So what does this mean for brands and marketers when their consumers are turning their backs on and/or becoming increasingly calculated with how they communicate and share content on the platforms to which marketers rely on for instantaneous insight?

The truth is, nobody knows what to expect as the implications of open personalization unfold.

But what is in this “tread lightly” social landscape, value will be more valuable. As manicured lives begin to dominate, the brands that knowingly play to the quick-to-click-off nature of the individual, and offer a reputation-conscious value proposition that will accomplish more- and ultimately make end roads into their lives. The most crucial commodity that exists is time and attention, and having a place on any “friend list” requires a willingly and consistent offer of true social currency as it relates to the brand-to-consumer dynamic. If reputation management is the endgame, brands that give people a mechanism to enhance what’s most important to them will likely enjoy life past the filter.

Image Credit: Arch Daily