Social – from your customers’ POV

I was asked to speak at the Digital Charities meet up the other day. I spoke about social media – from your customers’ point of view.


Consumers of social media are getting bored. And I’m getting bored with social media too.

I wrote a blog post about this before titled “I’m bored of social media” which gained a lot of traction. The reason I think people shared it so much is because they too feel the same way. Also, the title perhaps is a little bit surprising considering what I do.

So, in this blog post, I ranted about the fact brands were using social media to talk about themselves too much, and that doing the ‘harlem shake’ and sticking a video up on Facebook isn’t always the best way to engage customers. And although this does work sometimes, and organisations having fun is important, it’s when it’s a pretence that I get bored, and customers are getting tired of it too.

What I went on to talk about was ‘‘kulturelle etterslep’ (which is a Norwegian term meaning ‘cultural lag’).

kulturelle etterslep

“The term cultural lag refers to the notion that culture takes time to catch up with technological innovations and that social problems and conflicts are caused by this lag”. — Wikipedia

It means that we’ve moved on from believing the hype. That we, as consumers and customers, can see whether your employees are really happy and whether or not orgs are being truly authentic in what they do.

Condescending Corporate Brand Page

Have you seen the Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook? It showcases hundreds of examples of the issue I’m referring to.

Facebook algorithm

Content has been described as ‘the new currency because it has meaning beyond its data”. But some organisations just create content for content’s sake. This isn’t good enough anymore.

The importance of this can be shown by the constant changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithm – facebook shows me what it thinks is most important to me, based on what I’ve liked/shared/read in the past, what my friends are liking/sharing/reading and what’s trending etc. It’s no longer just a choice for customers/consumers to ignore your messages.

Today I’d like to discuss

What makes content engaging

And then how to take your content to the next level, by solving the ‘kulterelle etterslepp’ problem.

Social Object Theory

The Social Object, is essentially the reason two people are talking to each other (as opposed to talking to somebody else).

Human beings are social animals and we like to socialise IT. But there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place.

That reason is referred to as a Social Object.

Example: The other day, I got on the bus and it happened to be the christmas bus – stagecoach had dressed up one of their buses for a week with xmas decorations and a santa and his elf were on board collecting charity money & xmas music played. A lady I sat next to started a conversation with me about stagecoach and what a wonderful job it had done to brighten her day up. I looked around and realised that lots of people were talking – very unusual for a bus journey! I realised Stagecoach had created a social object from its journey, by doing something a bit different.

Brands that get this wrong think that the brand/product/service itself is a social object and that’s enough to start a conversation. But, engaging with customers means finding a ‘social object’ that is interesting for you customers, and relevant to your brand.

A good example of this is Dove. It recognised that its customers were interested in self esteem issues and it joins in conversations about beauty standards.


Jonah Berger author of contagious why things catch on, did some research into why people share things & what makes content go viral. He came up with STEPPS.

1. Social capital

“Resources that an individual or group accumulates due to their membership in social networks or access to others”

This idea refers to the fact that most people are self-interested – they share things to gain social capital – so the content needs to do something as a result of someone sharing it. i.e. make that person seem clever, knowledgeable, interesting etc.

Essentially it means content must be consumer-oriented. And also that content needs to be new/inspiring/extraordinary.

It’s what motivates people to share the latest news/gossip before anyone else. It’s why people like sharing their holiday snaps on Instagram, checking in to exotic places on Facebook or sharing opinions and answering questions in online forums.

  1. Triggers

By Berger’s definition, a “trigger” is something that is easy to remember about a product or idea, helping to ensure it stays top of mind.

When you are sharing information on social media, it is important to think about what will connect the audience to the story/post. The external triggers can remind your audience subconsciously about the content you are creating.

The example, the “Friday” song is particularly popular on Fridays. A better example of this is from the British Foundation who used the song ‘Staying Alive’ to help people remember how to do CPR.

  1. Emotions

Emotions connects to arousal, and arousal helps to motivate people into action.

Emotions connected with high arousal for example are things like ‘anger’, ‘awe’ and ‘anxiety’.

When I spoke about my blog post earlier entitled “I’m bored of social media”, I mentioned that I think it was shared a lot because people felt the same way and it was surprising – I wrote it from an emotional point of view rather than a scientific / academic point of view. It’s because of this, I think people related to it on an emotional level and were motivated to share it.

  1. Public

Social proof and the herd mentality are all driven by the desire to not be left out and to fit in.

As a brand, you need to make things as public as possible. This means making it easy to join in or share.

This was one of the reasons I think the ALS ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ campaign was so successful.

  1. Practical value

This appeals to our altruistic side – it’s about helping others and is receiver oriented.

There are tools to help!

Checkout – a website that shows you visualisations of questions associated to any word terms. It’s made up of search terms people have actually searched for on the internet. It’s purpose is to help you create content that answers the public better.

  1. Stories
  1. Tell the person next to you what you or your organisation does in a couple of sentences
  2. Now tell the person next to you a story about your organisation (e.g. how it first started or something that you’ve done recently)

Which was more interesting?

We’ve always liked stories. They help us make sense of the world. Information must be part of a narrative that can be retold.

Google do this well to humanise the interface.  Also, Banardos uses their ‘customer’ stories to bring what they do to life so that other people can relate.

The next level

Although the STEPPS framework may help your content go viral, it does not mean that it will provide you with any real value.

Making content go viral is the easy part. The truly rare thing is understanding how to create value from the content you produce.

To create valuable content, your content strategy and every piece of content you create needs to start with why. Why are you creating it? What’s the point? What’s the purpose you’re trying to achieve?

The solution

So, how can the ‘kulturelle etterslep’ problem be solved?

I think it’s down to three things

  1. Authenticity
  2. Purpose
  3. Relevance

Purpose, authenticity and relevance are the key drivers for content, and should be in the DNA of your content strategy.

The kulturelle etterslep problem can be solved if orgs start looking beyond the digital tools and start focusing on authenticity, trust, purpose and meaning. It is this which will shine through content and that which will engage customers.

I’ve listed some STEPPS to help your content be more engaging, but really, social media requires a bit more work, a deeper understanding of your customers and a fresh look at what you measure and value. It will be worth it in the long term.

If you do this, and invest in developing a culture which is truly authentic and has purpose and meaning, then your social media will look after itself.