Tuning In to the Social Mind Meld

[May 14, 2010]

From the magician at the county fair to classic science fiction, TV, film and digital space the concept of mind-reading has long been a topic of wonder. Some people even find it tempting to speculate what animals might be thinking, if only you could somehow make their thoughts audible.

While the mystic power of telepathy still hasn’t manifested itself in the general population (maybe it skips a generation) if you spend enough time in social networking/link sharing space you can get a rather detailed picture of what people are thinking. In fact, I reckon nothing can cure you of the yearning for special mental powers faster than 20 minutes on Reddit, Fark, Propeller, Shoutwire or for that matter, Mashable. At the very least, you’ll come away with a much more precise understanding of the phrase “too much information.”

As disturbing as are the most cynical comments that crop up on these sites, they do offer a convenient pulse-taking mechanism, especially if tempered with a little common sense. Fact is, given the opportunity to read, day after day, what’s on a wide swath of the world’s minds, your approach to digital marketing should change radically.

Where have they been?
Of course, part of what goes on in the comment boxes at these sites is pure theater. Particularly on Reddit, the game of gross-out one-upsmanship does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the minds responsible for it. What can’t be discounted, as I see it, is the impact this state of mind has on users who might, just a click in the future, be arriving at a home page near you.

Coming directly from an environment that feeds on the dark underbelly of human cynicism must surely color a visitor’s perception of, and reaction to, your message. Given that, it’s probably wise to ensure there’s nothing on your pages that can’t pass the “Really!?!” test. Unfortunately, that may well include some of the cherished language your client or your company has been wearing close to its heart for over a decade.

Mapping mental states.
Looked at more broadly, the issue of “where have they been” is, I think, relevant to all audiences. Knowing where your target is hanging out online is crucial to the reception of your site. While Facebook and Twitter get an enormous amount of press, you need only spend a short time in the wider world of digital social interaction to realize there’s a lot more going on than status updates, “like-ing” or following @aplusk.

Your audience is thinking, feeling, yearning, criticizing, laughing—and zoning out on the incredible glut of information squirting out of the digital feeding tube and any one moment. In light of that, figuring out where your customers have just been is at least as important as managing their user experience once they land on your home page. Think of it as a kind of GPS for mapping out their mental state.

Thoughtful rethinking.
When you realize that the amount of time people spend online is now quite staggering, even by conservative estimates, the chances of someone coming to your site directly from a social site are very high. Remember, they’re going to be in the state of mind evoked by where they were last. That suggests you need to pay careful attention to your site’s opening gestures. Do they help your audience shift gears quickly, from mocking Lindsay Lohan to grasping the benefits of a Roth IRA?

In a certain sense, there’s nothing new here. The human mind has always had its subterranean depths. The only change is that, through some kind of hypnosis, social space has seduced people into blurting things out that would otherwise stay hidden. Used thoughtfully, this aerial view of the human psyche gives us a powerful way to fine tune our empathy for the people we want to reach. Along the way, it should also reshape our entire approach to selling our wares.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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