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The future of social: Learn from cavemen and babies

Posted on 10 Oct 2011 at 18:16 pm by Morris Sim, CEO, Circos Brand Karma

Where is social going? Here, on the eve of our 6th anniversary, are my thoughts.

Meet the creators: Video is the language of social

Meet Mike Corey (pictured right). He’s a 26 year-old videographer who loves to travel from Toronto, Canada. Recently he used his previous body of user-generated-content to win the Cathay Pacific Around the World in 80 Days Competition, and subsequently, had a trip of a lifetime, gathered more fans around the world, and created a ton of great content to bring the Cathay brand to a new generation of travelers. Mike is now up for a hosting gig for a reality show in Canada. Good luck, Mike.

Meet Bunyao "Bruce" Liu (pictured left). He’s from Hsin-Chu,Taiwan. He posted his student project at Savannah College of Art and Design, "Deadline," on YouTube in 2009. It was a stop-motion animation short film using Post-It notes. Today, as one of the most popular video of that genre, it has garnered over five million views, making him a highly sought after director. The Taiwanese government recently commissioned him to make a piece for its Centennial Celebration, you can see it here.

The awesome thing is … Bruce is only 26-years old, and he has already travelled the world to tell brand stories. Enjoy his follow-up, Sticking Close to You

Meet Dan Savage. He’s a 47-year old gay American author. He and his husband (pictured right) created a video on YouTube for bullied teenagers, telling them that "It Gets Better" in response to numerous teens that had committed suicide. The video started a movement, and has gathered over 20,000 video entries, including messages of hope from Barack Obama, and employees of Apple

Mike, Bruce, and Dan are the future creators of social – they represent a new generation of global citizens who use videos to shape our views of the world, and each other, through their eyes. Each of them expressed a relatable point-of-view in a special way. And through their views, we were inspired, entertained, and moved. Each is a reporter, a studio, a network, and a broadcast channel. You may never meet them, and they may never have another hit, but their digital footprints have already made an impact on the world through social.

Truthfulness of the content: Jackie Chan is not dead, again!

How many times can a person die? If you’re Jackie Chan (pictured left), the answer is twice (so far), just in 2011.  In March, Chan’s heart attack was widely tweeted; except he hadn’t suffered an attack.  In August, an “RIP Jackie Chan” Facebook page started. Today, it has more than 400,000 fans.  But as of the writing of this post, he is still alive.

There are truths, lies, and then, there are opinions. Political campaigns have tried to obscure truths via opinions and validate lies with opinions.  Like magicians using sleigh-of-hand to create illusions, people in power, or wanting to be in power, are good at using data and their opinions to create a belief that eventually become accepted truths.

Here are some examples from past and current history:

•  Earth is flat.

•  Stomach ulcers are caused by stress, alcohol, and spicy food.

•  The HPV vaccine causes mental retardation.

Because we arrive at a certain belief by connecting dots of information, people who are good at manufacturing ‘believable or hard-to-verify content that looks like information’ are particularly dangerous in social.

The NewYork Times, a venerable publisher, has the motto, "All the news that’s fit to print." This is an ethos that has generally worked over the years, and we accept what’s published as nuggets of fact. However, social media, which contains way more content, has more opinions than facts. A lot of harm can be done when opinions are interpreted, or worse, misrepresented as facts, particularly as they relate to one’s health, family, finances, security, culture, religion, and government.

There are a lot of opinionated people. Intentional or not, they can obscure truths.The mosaic of their opinions creates "truthiness". If you want to rely on opinions, you’ll need to step back to see what the mosaic of information is really showing.

Hence, ambiguity of veracity is the future of social. Jackie Chan – may you live in peace without another death hoax.

The trusting consumers: We are babies

In the age of social, consumers have access to what effectively is an infinite source of content for every purpose created by ever more people who reporting news and telling stories at all times and from everywhere. On the other hand, consumers will have to sort through an unprecedented amount of information to discern between truths, lies, and opinions. How will it happen without the rational mind exploding?

This will come down to how we use our mind and our heart together. We can use our intellect to process, filter, and select the content that we best believe to represent truths, and then rely on our feelings to trust the sources that originate truthful content.

From an evolutionary perspective, this isn’t new; we have this encoded in our DNA from the caveman days.

We’ve evolved to react instinctively to environmental cues to keep us from harm and to draw us towards safety, comfort, and happiness.The five senses that monitor the physical world are hardwired to the brain and we react without having to think. For example, we have the urge to spit out bitter things (associated with poison) but prefer sweets (sugar as a source of energy).

We’ve not developed instinctive reflexes to cues from the digital world.  However, our caveman ancestors did develop ways to perceive and interpret cues from their social environment – namely, information about other people: their relationship with you and with each other, and most importantly, who you can trust and rely on.

You can see this in babies. Babies spend their early days after birth recognising facial expressions and body language so as to determine who their primary caretakers are. They then learn to interact with them to ensure their own survival by expressing joy, surprise, pain, sadness, and fear. They instinctively know that their primary caretaker is a lifeline – a source that knows and can provide all that which is good.

If babies instinctively develop a sense of who to trust, what happens in adulthood?  Who adults trust determines everything from who they hang out with, who they marry, who they give their money to, who they receive advice from, and who they buy from. As the physical environment nowadays isn’t as menacing as our caveman days, our social senses are utilized even more to deal with modern life.

Therefore, as the explosion of content creates information overload, human beings will do what they have always done: observe the Creators’ actions (in this case, their content) to see whether they can be trusted, and if so, trusting what they have to say about the world.

Will this lead people to the wrong conclusion and to take the wrong actions? Yes. Human history is full of lost causes and awful purposes led by flawed people Social won’t correct that.  In fact, because social is orthogonal to morality, it may actually realize wrongful causes by providing channels to accelerate strangers trusting one another.

But the future of social is about trust – both as a noun and as a verb – and as a result, it will involve both the mind and the heart.

The Conclusion: Social Is Irrepressible

The creators, the content, and the consumers are all driving and being driven by the future of social. These three parts are intricately linked, and each can benefit or be harmed by the future of social. And they will.

Khaled Mohamed Saeed (pictured left), aged 28, allegedly videotaped Egyptian police dealing in drugs. He was brutally beaten to death by two plainclothes policemen in broad daylight while sitting in a cafe, but the police insisted that he had died swallowing a packet of hashish. 

His friends posted his post-mortem picture (pictured below) and later, the videos, and a revolution began.

"We Are All Khaled Saeed” – a Facebook group, gathered hundreds of thousands of followers, and some 6 months after Saeed’s death, became a rallying and organizing point for the protests in Egypt that eventually led to the end of a regime that had in power for 40 years.

Very few Egyptian protesters met Khaled Saeed.  But he was “The face that launched a revolution." His content united strangers across Egypt to risk their lives and stand up to an oppressive dictator.

Central to the future of social is the power of content to create trust between unknown creators and anonymous consumers.  The trusting bonds developed between people are strong enough to overthrow governments.  It is such a powerful medium that people in power will undoubtedly try to constrain or eliminate it.

But just as the human spirit is irrepressible, so too will be social.

Note: Morris Sim will be speaking at the WIT Conference, Oct 18-19. 

Tags: social media , language of social , creators of social , trusting consumers , Mike Corey , Bunyao “Bruce” Liu , ackie Chan , Dan Savage , Jackie Chan , Morris Sim , New York Times