What “Social” is Really Supposed to Mean

Get them talking.

The power of “social” really hit home for me while shopping at Trader Joe’s more than three years ago.

At the time, I was drinking a lot of coffee and my favorite was Trader Joe’s Cafe Femenino.  It’s an organic, shade grown coffee from Peru and I couldn’t get enough of it.

So while shopping at my local store, I grabbed a tin of Cafe Femenino and tossed it in the basket.  A guy about my age – who had been perusing the selections with a befuddled expression – immediately pounced.

“Excuse me,” he asked.  “Can I ask you a question?  Why did you pick that coffee?”

So I told him.  We had a five-minute conversation about the coffee, about being fathers, and about living in Arlington.  We discovered that we knew some of the same people and that we each had a kid in the same elementary school (although a grade apart).  At the end of the conversation, he picked up a tin of Cafe Femenino.

“You convinced me,” he said.  “Thanks!”

It wasn’t until I was thinking back on the conversation later that I even realized I was trying to convince him to buy the coffee.  But I was.  I had become a brand advocate and through our social discourse pushed him into making the purchase.

That’s the power of word of mouth.  But it’s also the power of social.

I was reminded about this power again yesterday after reading an excellent post by Hugh MacLeod at Gaping Void.  You should read his post, but he says in part:

“The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the rea­son two peo­ple are tal­king to each other, as oppo­sed to tal­king to some­body else. Human beings are social ani­mals. We like to socia­lize. But if you think about it, there needs to be a rea­son for it to hap­pen in the first place. That rea­son, that “node” in the social net­work, is what we call the Social Object.”

MacLeod defines the “social object” as things that engage people.

So in my anecdote above the social object was the coffee.  My fellow Trader Joe’s customer and I both had the need to buy coffee in common and as a result we engaged in a conversation about the coffee.  But we also discussed other aspects of our life: our families and our community.  We connected to each other with the social object at the center.

The coffee was the bridge – the connector.  And that’s what good social media marketing should be about.  Creating the environment and the social objects necessary to get people talking, interacting, and sharing.

It’s important to remember that.


The Power of Word of Mouth

Gaping Void “Social Objects are the Future of Marketing”

2 Responses to “What “Social” is Really Supposed to Mean”

  1. But — and I write this with trepidation, George — how truly social was your conversation with that man that canvassed multiple subjects if you departed ways without so much as exchanging a business card or a desire to continue the conversation another time?

    When I complain about Comcast in a tweet, it’s not only nice that Comcast Bill and Comcast Melissa replies to me but that they follow me and desire me to tweet them directly the next time something comes up requiring their expertise.

    Take note of your favorite store’s cashier receipt the next time you buy something. The cashier’s name is usually imprinted near the top of the slip. This is more for corporate operations than your personal social experience — but a name and a means of contact go a long way, especially if you single out that employee in a Yelp review and get catered to a free order of chips and salsa the next time you visit the establishment (as what happened to me once).

    I’d love to know how that conversation with the guy you met at TJ would continue. Or if it ever did.

  2. Hi Ari:
    I don’t know what your trepidation is for. You provided some interesting fodder for thought. However, I would counter that not every meaningful conversation needs to evolve into a long-term relationship to have an impact.

    A company can’t possibly have a personal relationship with every single customer nor should it strive to (nor can individuals become best friends with every person they meet in a supermarket). That that doesn’t change the fact that conversations and interactions are better when they are social, friendly, personal, helpful and provide value.

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