So the anecdote goes, if you drop a frog into a pan of hot water, it will jump out. Sit a frog in a pan of cold water and slowly increase the heat, it will be unaware of the subtle temperature rise and eventually meet a hot and somewhat sticky end. You may not have realised it, we are now that frog sitting in very hot water. Thankfully, the anecdote is only metaphorical but it serves my point well.
My slightly creepy intro is a relatively accurate description of the subtle but important changes in the way we share social information. Whereas a mere six months ago (that’s three years in social-media years), we used to actively press buttons to ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ the things we felt represented us, the movement is now towards ‘frictionless sharing’, where no buttons need be clicked at all. The most obvious example is Spotify and Facebook. Six months ago, you clicked a button and clumsily shared your Spotify playlists with friends. Now you just have to listen to a track and it automatically appears on Facebook’s ticker. This new sharing philosophy works on the principle that you authorise it once and it does the rest for you, forever.
What’s not to like?
Well, quite a lot actually.
As ever, for every benefit there seems to be a bitter aftertaste. Take Foursquare for example. You go somewhere, you check in, it let’s people know. Simple. Now add a new service like Walkbase that automatically checks you in. You’d have some explaining to do if you pulled a sicky at work but seemed to have checked into every shop on Oxford Street on the same day. But on the other hand, by manually checking, you’re probably missing all sorts of deals in places you wouldn’t have normally checked-in at.
Your ill-advised wander around the shops also reveals more of the real you. With manual sharing, YOU can control how you are perceived. With frictionless sharing, reality enters the fray, exposing your habits or the smaller things you do that you would never usually share. If your guilty pleasure was a quick blast of Lionel Ritchie before you go out on a Friday, would you want your friends to know? In a slightly awkward update, Spotify acknowledged this quite early and implemented a ‘private listening’ mode to save your blushes. But this is the manual exception to the frictionless norm. Next time you log in to Spotify, frictionless sharing is switched back on again.
The need to think before sharing is becoming less important, or at least you are not in control as much as you once were. Both the need to think and the extent to which we feel we need to be in control may simply be a passing fad though. Like our poor frog, we may get used to it and just adapt. New technology has the potential to allow us to relax the rules around basic human traits. If everyone knows everything about you already, basics such as privacy, embarrassment or dishonesty suddenly seem less of an issue. We have the option to share so much that privacy may become a quaint, old-fashioned notion.
Inevitably, more sharing just generates more noise. Even Facebook itself has a good example of this. All this sharing appears on the fast moving ‘ticker’. It’s now like a banner ad to me, almost invisible. Mostly too dull and too quick to engage with.
But the big question is where is all this data going? Sure, some of it is ending up with your friends but a bunch of it isn’t. It’s a goldmine for marketeers or behavioural analysts. Where once they needed to coax information out of you with competitions or dull questionnaires, now they have to become experts in collating and analysing of all the data you are throwing at them. Companies like PeerIndex or Klout specialise in matching up a company’s promotion with the most influential members of the public, all by analysing their castoff social data. One of the main arguments against frictionless sharing is that you lack control of what happens to your data. But being targeted and rewarded with two Adele tickets just for being social may smooth over a few cracks.
Intriguingly, in a bit of a tech gaff, Facebook accidentally revealed a secret ‘add to interests’ option on the new brand timeline pages, suggesting Facebook is planning to use your interests to suggest new brands to you. So complete is their vision, Facebook assumes users want to be profiled. And do you know what, they’re probably right.
Whatever your views, frictionless sharing is here to stay. Understanding it, and more importantly, embracing it is probably the smartest thing anyone in marketing can do right now. The water is boiling. It’s time to jump.
You can also find this article on iMedia Connection.