Humanity Really Is The Killer App

Being human keeps coming up again and again as a tactic for digital marketers to attract and retain consumers, but it's amazing how the lessons from the greats do not percolate down. Take LinkedIn hitting 20m users in the UK. Usually, when a top exec is asked why a tech unicorn they represent is doing well, they trot out a list of features and USPs. However, when Marketing asked the site's Head of Consumer Marketing, Peter Maxmin, why it had climbed to 20m, his answer was simple -- it's all about being human.

It's the same with Facebook. As I read Oxford University researchers delivering some very obvious news today, I had to smirk. Facebook friends, it turns out, are just loose acquaintances rather than real friends. I'm not sure you need to be an academic to realise that, but I suspect there are still some people out there who believe that because a picture of their kittens got a hundred likes, it means they have a hundred friends. Just ask who wants to look after your cats during your summer holiday and then you'll see how many friends you have.

Facebook thrives on us wanting to not only feel popular, but to appear well-liked too. There isn't a person out there who hasn't wondered why their picture of the family dog didn't get a single like, yet someone else putting up a similar picture gets dozens of likes and comments. There isn't a person out there who hasn't been dismayed at the realisation that they know a vacuous person who, it turns out, is devoted to posting pointless selfies and pictures of their dinner -- yet still they're getting loads more love than photos of your family dog and the kids in the pool. It's what Facebook feeds off. It uses our need to feel liked, to be one of the popular kids at school, to encourage us to widen our social circle. This has the obvious benefit of us widening the circle of friends to look for more validation, which in turn, brands can tap into. And it is, of course, the advertisers who are paying for Facebook -- not us. It perfectly sums up the axiom that that if you're not paying for the product -- you are the product.

LinkedIn makes more of a point of this appeal to the human in us. The Marketing interview with Maxmin is worth checking out because he sums up the very simple fact that we all know if we look beyond accepted wisdom. Basically, we're not all a simple, homogenous demographic. Although we may be to a certain extent, we often share more with people who are in a similar position to us, regardless of what class a marketer would put them down as or how much money each of us earns. It's very apt for careers. People from different backgrounds can have very similar experiences and requirements from a social network for professionals, so surely it's better to look at people as individuals. Where classification is required, it's far better to look at what they want from you -- the site -- rather than what they're likely to need judging by how much they earn, where they live, how educated they are and what car they drive.

The beauty of digital is that people can tell you all the demographic detail you need for general assumptions but their behaviour will also tell you all about them as an individual. It's when brands start treating us as human beings and understand our behaviour that digital marketing can come into its own.

So today's headline news about Linkedin doing well in the UK and Facebook friends not being all true friends in reality made me stop and think. It might sound like an axiom that could end up as a cliché but humanity really is the killer app.

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