What is facebook actually?

What are the deeper reasons why it is so successful?

In explaining these recent phenomena, the socio-evolutionary perspective will be used to touch on some key determinants of behaviour often ignored or simply unknown by marketers altogether.

Simply put, in recent history humans have been missing out on some key social needs as the world has advanced so quickly since the industrial revolution.

Individual organisms and groups have not had enough time to adapt at the same rate as the changes in their surroundings have morphed – cumulative cultural evolution’s frantic acceleration has out-paced our default evolutionary engine and we haven’t been able to socially adapt quickly enough.

But just before we get into a lot of reading, any skeptics thinking “How could nature or evolution possibly be so relevant to marketing??”, check this and this! 🙂

Why customer-centric engagement?
Of vital importance in marketing nowadays is not the fact that people are ‘in the centre’ of the brand-customer relationship, it’s why they should and do take up their place in the centre.

In short, it is the age-old need for connectivity, community and real-time influence for the better of the group that drives this quest for social control, not any addiction, laziness or selfishness per se – as some quasi-experts may Well Gladly try and have you believe.

Moreover, this “me-centric” engagement style is not a passing modern phenomena but a cornerstone ancient one which found itself paused and pushed into dormancy by the sudden onset of industrial development.

Collectively we are maturing as a species, and individuals are effecting change as they see fit in line with the opportunities our collective maturation and restored communal opportunities are providing. Indeed it would be great if we had more time and/or control – we’d certainly produce more healthy people than we are presently able to.

The most critically important thing for marketers to understand is the reason why people need to feel involved, entertained, amused, and engaged the way they do, and those answers can only be found in social psychological theory, the principles witnessed in anthropology, and most importantly an overall understanding of our evolution, plus some newly-evolved unprecedented tendencies which are starting to emerge.

The total individual and group dynamics which are present and observable now, in conjunction with the ancient software still playing an active and highly influential role in our minds and greater collective consciousness need to be decoded by academia and understood by business.

So get ready for some (user-friendly) scientific reading.

Actually hold that thought for a few minutes, I first have a beef …

I’m putting a pet peeve out there…
Pet peeve: The mis-use of the word ‘community’

Defining things correctly matters now more than ever!
When someone says something like “The Australian community …”, what on earth do they think they are they talking about? Who do they think they’re actually addressing?

There is nothing ‘communal’ about the relationship between Jo Blo in Footscray, Victorie and Bob Smith living in Esperence on the south west coast of Australia, no matter how many times a politician or anyone else indicates that such a relationship exists.

It’s even ludicrous to suggest that two people living in the same teeny tiny sub-section of the same city would have any form of community-based relationship or communal commitment to each other in the current living circumstances.

A community is an incredibly localised and very interconnected group of people with shared daily interests and interdependencies of immediate need. Referring to a country as a community is not only wrong, it can be seen as manipulatory and, if you’re awake, actually quite offensive.

As you can see, the incorrect defining of terms is indeed a pet peeve of mine.

For starters it’s nothing short of bizarre that there could be a five-fold dictionary definition of the word ‘community’.

Not only does academia need to be sorted out on this one, but in general the misconceptions that governments and large corporations hold and spread around on how people think, feel, behave and actually live ought be counteracted if not flat out corrected.

Poorly defined (or purposely falsely defined) words and terms should not propagated and upheld as some kind of benchmark of accuracy. Government need to be kept in check with the alteration and falsification of concepts.

Young marketers have the capacity to ignore bureaucratic tendencies and biases, and lead the way in updating institutionalised ‘dinosaur thinking’ and it terminologies.

Where does all this recent ‘consumer savvy’ come from?
It’s simple. Modernised citizens (not just city dwellers!) are becoming more socially advanced in their identities, seeking higher levels of actualisation (upon their primary needs and development as citizens having been pieced together by family, institution and state), and are on the whole developing into a more well-informed, fickle and even quite controlling force to be reckoned with.

This is what has caused the need for consumer-centric advertising and marketing campaigns. The consumer ‘being in the centre’ is not some surface trend due to them becoming sick of one-way advertising, it is a qualitative shift in the behavioural tendencies of this species that rendered one-way advertising superfluous.

This constantly strengthening, largely identity-based tendency towards (or towards the maintenance of) in-group self-determination is of course expressed in people’s shopping, spending and investment attitudes and behaviours as well, and it won’t be diminishing any time soon so ignore it at your peril, for it won’t be long until being out-of-touch will mean seriously out-of-pocket.

A new “collective warrior” is emerging (interestingly something which Karl Marx identified and foresaw conceptually) which will prevent the return of the warrior movements that we saw in the 1930s. We are seeing, and will continue to see, a much needed ‘blurring of the lines’ between “merchant”, “sage/creative” and “worker”.

This is a critical power shift to a new ruling collective with a hybrid identity that can effectively stave off the return of conventional world war and other childish group tantrums.

Admittedly we currently have a skewed earnings graph of billionaires getting richer than ever as the rest merge closer to the mean, but in time they will not be calling the shots and won’t be the only ones accruing decent wealth.

The basics rule over complexity
One thing remains true despite change – we still need localised social contact and a sense of interconnectedness at various levels to be able to exist in good health and harmony. No advancements can remove this need, though advancements can aid its provision, which is what we are seeing. A return to old with the help of the new.

An enjoyable or logically laid out website, a successful telethon, a memorable simulcast experiential marketing event, and an engaging facebook membership are all good examples of how a system, structure or technological user interface has been simplified or even ‘dumbed down’ in terms of outward complexity, so as to allow the complicated dynamics of human interaction and information transfer to occur smoothly and naturally.

At the same time as we are seeing advancement of technology we are seeing a return to basics in behaviour and the way in which great technology provides the required simplistic, and very human, social experience.

A simple equation: facebook = ease-of-evolution
The demand for basic user-friendliness is not because people are dumb, but because everyone expects and deserves an appropriate, non-cryptic usability level and because as social animals they require natural barrier-free communication flow.

Humans also want entertainment that is spawned from original or clever or genuinely informative information which occurs serendipitously and conveniently, and always results from natural communication filtration and broadcast, just as we see and require in a natural universe.

The outward-facing simplicity and user-friendliness of Facebook allows the occurrence of user-generated communication structures (evolution allowed to ensue more easily), which serves the key function of addressing individual needs and group anxieties or developmental needs which are very complex and mustn’t be interfered with.

The pressing urges of the greater collective foster and build both education and entertainment value in real time on facebook. Naturally.

Further, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc inspire a peer-to-peer dynamic which actually increases individual intelligence – I.Q. and to some extent E.Q. – which is a sure-fire winner not just with younger people but with all of us.

TV has done and will continue do the same (provided the correct channel is selected), just so long as it’s in tune with this ease-of-evolution that people are craving.

The more obvious psychological benefits of engagement platforms for society’s individual actors deserve a quick mention here too, such as interpersonal social learning/comparison, and the expressionapplication, or even experimentation of identities and life scripts, the grasp and development of community rules, the list goes on.

Handing over marketing control
People as a collective, now more than ever, are a ready-made unified vehicle of information digestion and natural progression.

Modern human communication is not only good for ourselves as people, but we can also propel any half-decent brand or company to soaring heights, IF the company and its assigned marketers are able to ‘get’ these concepts, and devise strategies according to the required dynamic and balance of power with the consumer, and most importantly become capable of predicting and/or fashioning how the dynamic will be in the future.

Marketers must provide freedom for expression (negative more important than positive), allow the truth-generating capabilities of the collective consciousness to function of its own accord (under the watchful eye of great PR custodians!), and allow people to shape the strategy towards, and structure of the path of reality as the collective sees fit.

As you can imagine, you need to understand some key principles of evolutionary and social psychology in order to position strategies to ensure that the desired behaviours and directions result naturally.

The key to the success of facebook is what it doesn’t complicate, what it doesn’t claim to be, what it isn’t, as well as how it is and will remain true to a number of key conceptual definitions, such as ‘community’, ‘democracy’, ‘expression’, ‘activism’, ‘civility’, ‘sway’, ‘justice’ etc.

Most importantly facebook’s delegation of control and trust to the users is what will see it live out this century, and possibly many more in its future form.

Understanding the foundation
It’s not the technology or any commercial “facebook business plan” that matters most.

There’s lots of tech out there with a brilliant business plan behind it which is nevertheless devoid of any simplistic relevant or on the whole brilliant idea, primarily due to the lack of awareness of human socio-evolutionary development and thus ignorance of the consumer’s related tendencies or needs – whether this is realised or not.

facebook was propelled to stardom mainly due to the way it satisfies newly-formed as well age-old primal human urges, not because of anything synthetic or conceptually “new” that it brought to the table.

A solid ‘litmus test’ you can peform when critiquing any product, brand, campaign, website, network, or offering you are building is to ask yourself “To what extent does this satisfy both a past as well as a present (or future/emerging) social or evolutionary requirement of these organisms and their collective consciousness?” This is fun and easy to do anywhere any time, and of course can be ever-so useful!

But before we drill right down into this ancient continuum concept thingy, let’s settle on a single definition of this most fundamental of words which facebook has nearly mastered and tries to obey correctly, and which most public figures have no idea about …

com·mu·ni·ty; an interconnected group of people sharing a common interest and/or similarities, all of whom are in regular close-knit communicative proximity to each other and are in some way interdependent on a regular basis.

The Continuum Concept
Almost every effective Ad or marketing campaign can be explained in terms of the extent to which it does or does not observe the concept of continuum.

As consumers of things we are not only individual people at a certain stage of life in a reified marketing segment. We are also individual children grown old, individual spirits elderly or youthful despite the age of our current outer casing, we are individual social actors on stage, and most importantly individual organisms carrying collective instincts, impulses, heritage and memories left over from eons of the collective experience. A sentient species’ experience millions of years old to date which has been designed almost exclusively around information transfer and storage.

Add to this that we are collectively capable of predicting the future and understanding such predictions as individuals beneath the surface of our minds, and you have yourself a number of marketing angles that need to be covered to make the work effective and lasting, as well as countless opportunities for mind share ahead of competitors in any market place.

The best thing about this very real and very true construct -the continuum concept- is not only how it can keep communications professionals on-the-level with an audience and maintain relevance through a focus on behaviour, but also how it can uncover the next ‘big thing’ in overall business dealings, strategies etc.

First, let’s digress for a moment to grasp this concept …

Example: SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is a mysterious phenomena that very sadly sees numerous babies pass away without explanation. Possible causes or contributing factors range from a poorly-tucked blanket (face-down sleeping then suffocation through carbon dioxide re-breathing from resulting entanglement etc), smoke/ing, premature birth, hot or cold room temperature etc. All of these factors are pertinent and do likely contribute possibly in pairs or greater to the occurrence of SIDS sometimes, or to use up-to-date terminology, SUID, the spectrum on which SIDS sits.

What is the root cause of SIDS??

Let’s add to the mix of attempted theories an evolutionary idea for researchers and medical professionals to consider seriously – yes you guessed it, I think the cause can be explained by the Continuum Concept.

Anyone for some quick study? 😯 …

The Continuum Concept purports that when an organism continually performs a behaviour and/or has a certain type of experience for a multitude of generations, then that organism cannot be expected to thrive if altogether different conditions are suddenly imposed, as it may not be able to successfully develop or perform all the behaviours required for survival in the absence of the original conditions.

To be brutally simple; Don’t grab a fish out of a lake, throw it onto the grassy plains and say ‘Go fishy, run!’ If you really need a fish to run, give it several generations to train how to do so, maybe set up some underwater exercise bikes for it to pedal with its fins for a few dozen centuries. 🙂

Change that is overly sudden creates problems, imbalances, and hence in the case of business, marketing, government etc, it creates opportunities.

Evolutionary theory would suggest that when any type of long-held behavioural context (e.g. infant sleeping arrangements for over 5 million years) is altered in a short period of time (like a few hundred generations), then that organism will be adversely affected, evidenced by examples of failed or maladaptive attempts to thrive in the new conditions.

For example, human newborns for millions of years have come into immediate contact with the skin-on-skin comfort of the mother’s body at birth. Supporters of the Continuum Concept would suggest that no one in their right mind should have a newborn human placed anywhere else other than in contact with the mother’s body in those precious first seconds and minutes. It is key for so many reasons that the newborn be put in immediate contact with the mother’s chest, reasons such as heartbeat familiarisation, smell/taste/breath recognition, not to mention a strong, immediate foundation of emotional security provided by the contact comfort, the list goes on but at the very least no one can argue that instant contact avoids an unnecessarily stressful episode for the newborn. The Continuum Concept requires that it be done simply because, for all intents and purposes, it always has been done for such a very long time, so you’re playing with evolutionary fire by doing anything to the contrary all of a sudden.

The extent to which infants require close proximity to adults at all times in the early stages of life is still to this day greatly underestimated.

During sleep, human babies regularly stop breathing, an unexplained apnoea that has them breathless for up to ten seconds at a time, even more. Research has also proven that babies actually start breathing again when a parent stirs or sighs etc, as if cued or stimulated by the audible breathing sound of others in the room. Yes you heard that correctly, when a sleeping baby who has stopped breathing hears the breathing or respiratory stirring of an adult they do re-commence breathing (Reite and Capitanio 1985). So, obviously due to millions of years of having carers immediately close by during the night (in the interests of primitive safety), we see that a physical weakness has developed between the brain and the respiratory system early on in life whereupon babies quite simply forget how to breathe. Or to be geekily correct, they physically stop breathing for  unexplained reasons.

Also, in contrary to the idea that carbon dioxide is all bad, research shows that carbon dioxide in small doses (such as from the mother’s nasal breath when sleeping together) does actually function as a breathing stimulus (Mosko 1994) actually causing the baby’s breathing to be maintained, and even strengthened.

Why is it then that so often in our “intelligent” modern societies (especially western) we continue shove children down the corridor in a room by themselves with nothing but an intercom to keep them company for most of the night?? Not clever if you ask me.

Human infant beds need to be as close to the parents’ beds as possible, with the mother herself immediately close by, ideally no further than 50cm away. If this is done, in combination with other recommendations from professionals who aim to prevent SIDS, the tragedy can be avoided. Research also proves that 0-6month year-old infants will also have more stable temperatures, healthier hearts, and have higher levels of growth hormones and key enzymes for healthy brain growth the closer they are to the mother during sleep.

Being in contact with and/or immediately next to the mother during sleep is what human babies have had, and hence have come to rely upon for over 5 million years, so no one in their right mind should assume that  a couple of hundred years later their requirements would be any different.

Where is “continuum” evidenced in modern marketing?
One easy-delivered example requires just one word – yup, facebook.

facebook does, among other things, observes the continuum concept beautifully.

In the same way newborn humans have been deprived of their nightly breathing training since the very recent onset of modernity, humankind as a whole has become more and more deprived of its original socially-stimulating community group as we have modernised so swiftly. Simply, the evolution of the collective ‘organism’ has been disrupted by the pace of change and we’ve not been able to ‘keep up’ or ‘catch up’ in some areas. I guess you could say a kind of social malnourishment has ensued since the onset of modernity – little things about our social realities that have vanished or scaled down too quickly.

It’s the simplicity and organic nature of the dynamic that facebook facilitates, and its information flow developed through and with user input and feedback, as well as it’s overall version of community being closer to our original, primitive definition that defines its success.

Simply, facebook hasn’t complicated things, it hasn’t placed irritating barriers or processes between people connecting and communicating naturally, regularly, and to their advantage free of cost.

Individual citizens have for too long been deprived of particular interactive interplay that goes along with actual communal social engagement, a general sense of belonging as well as visual/contextual reminders from relevant others, sub-culture type mini-groups, or just good-old best friends.

Feelings related to communality that we were not ready to be torn away from. facebook delivers on both the community and self-regulation fronts, and not only has a bright future but it will play a key role in the coming development of our species, similar to the way in which road systems have been critical to the operation and further development of our cities.

To see how strong the needs/urges are that facebook has both satisfied and created, just sit and watch like a fly on the wall your friends’ or colleagues’ reaction whenever facebook configures in some new changes or added functionality – talk about emotional outcry and going off the handle!

I’ve seen people lose their temper upon the first sight of something that lacks either naturalised interaction (the age-old communal dynamic) or user-centric control (the new beast of evolutionary burden), or even just because something new has turned up on their dashboard without their expressed prior consent! (to those I would say chill out and come on in for the big win! fb will retract anything the collective asserts is too annoying, it has to.)

What Steve Jobs did for product enjoyment and improving communication style, Mark Zuckerberg has done in a communication platform and real-time ‘identity fix’ that eventually almost all of us will not want to live without. Two different people and not to be grouped together necessarily in terms of calling them the same type of genius, but an interesting similarity in terms of the communication infrastructure they have championed.

In sum, facebook is a social band-aid, a veritable comfy couch all but slightly repairing a collective consciousness that was partially-damaged by centuries of relative disengagement. It elevates our social learning and development as individuals and on the whole. facebook is repairing a hole in our collective soul, providing a sense of belonging and the option of being in constant communicative proximity with (selected) others. Most importantly, it is laying the foundation for us to now evolve quicker towards our full potential moving forward. Stand by for these assumptions to slot into place over the coming years …

But wait, there’s more! …

What also deserves note is facebook’s other area of socio-evolutionary prowess (aside from collective consciousness attachment security) which is its observance of the concept of agency. The way that it also keys into a piece of new unprecedented evolution, ie the self-regulated community devoid of representative leadership.

So at the same time as fb satisfies urges still in high demand since times long past, it also ‘drives things forward from here’ in some ways, tapping in to a newly-evolved need – that is the phenomena of individual control over the social world of the self, coupled with the autonomous and leaderless control over the function and direction of the social group.

Indeed those marketing deliverables which are in touch with or satisfy both long-standing and the unprecedented emerging unsatisfied needs have always, and will always be the most successful.

In lieu of the above question, perhaps ask yourself the question “To what extent does this product, brand, Ad, PR campaign, event, app, tool, or offering satisfy both a ‘needs gap’ in the collective consciousness that has resulted from the sudden changes in the past few centuries, and tap in to emerging new needs (and thus trends) that bring long-term benefit to the collective consciousness moving forward from here?”

There are so many instances (often ignored) in Advertising, Marketing, and PR whereby a piece of social and/or evolutionary psychology holds the key to the strategic and/or creative answer.

Thus it’s a relief to know that the consumer is so powerful an influence in the modern marketing playground, because it signals that the collective consciousness is for the first time going to control proceedings in an influential way. And the collective consciousness if left alone to think and act will always tend to produce accurate, objective information and guiding principles that will not be detrimental to our species. A sorely need fix at this point of the game let’s be honest.

{ 1 comment }


Interesting. Long, but interesting.

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