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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 06-Jul-14


Sunday 6-July-14

The weirdly level playing field of social media

One of the best ways of getting ahead in business and life is to be different. If you are the same as everyone else, then you will get lost in the crowd and your message with it. It's all about attention, of course, which is a critical early step in changing minds.

However, standing out can be a bit of a problem. Imagine yourself in a party and you want to be noticed. So you speak louder. But then other people can't be heard, so they speak louder too, maybe a bit louder than you, so you have to up your volume as well. Before long, all you can hear is noise. This is the standout problem. As everyone tries to stand out and be noticed, there is an escalation of increasing effort. This can happen more slowly, too, for example in the clothes people wear. A person at a party wears high fashion clothing to get noticed. So next time, other people go fashionable too. Before long, the level playing field effect comes into play, where everyone wears expensive fashionable clothes but nobody gets the attention they seek. All that has happened is that the status quo has become more expensive. This effect also helps to create a ratchet on the level playing field, where nobody wants to go backwards. Wearing unfashionable clothing when everyone is looking smart may get you noticed, but in the wrong way.

A related problem is that, when trying to be different, rather than being attractive, you may end up in the weird effect. There is a fine line between interestingly different clothing and just plain kooky. People like others who are similar to them. They admire others who are bold and who they'd like to emulate. But they don't like people who are really different. If a person comes to an ordinary party wearing a rabbit outfit, would you notice them? Almost certainly. But would you go and chat with them? Perhaps not.

This happens in all kinds of places, including with social media. First of all it was just a place to chat and meet friends. Then businesses, large and small, realized that it was a good place to 'fish where the fish are', advertising and engaging with their customers. Some of the early adopters had huge success with this and were widely reported in the traditional media. Now it's kind of mandatory to have a wide range of social media campaigns, and those who do not tramp the fields of Facebook and treadmills of Twitter are considered out of touch. But how successful are these activities? Some, no doubt, work well, yet many will leave marketing managers floundering. The social media playing field is becoming level as everyone and their cat jumps into the pond. Consumers are drowning in the noise and the novelty that once drew them in is becoming boring and stifling.

The game never stops as the search for attention-getting fashion and novelty marches on. Things still go viral, and it's more than just cats and babies that get attention. Fashions evolve and you have to be wide awake to stay on the leading edge. You've got to be creative, too, yet whenever you step beyond the familiar, you run into the danger of just being weird. So you've got be brave, too.

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