Guest article from Dr Paul Harrigan, Associate Professor of Marketing at UWA Business School

Social media has revolutionized marketing by enabling brands to tap in to one of the most fundamental questions of human existence: Who am I?
We’re driven to identify ourselves in order to make sense of the world. It gives us a sense of self – a place to stand amid life’s variables. The opportunity given by social media is for marketers to understand their audience to a depth that enables fulfilling their desire for enhanced identity, and boosting their esteem. Don’t worry; it’s easier than you think. Authenticity, transparency and collaboration are now crucial for business survival, and social media provides the prime platform to succeed in this new environment. Our research revealed the strategies enabling organisations to adapt to this culture, thrive in it and to experience their audience on a whole new level – and when they do? It creates identification with the brand that’s deeper than ever. What tactics and traits make this happen? We dug deep to find out.

Here are six things to know:

1. Acculturate and co-create with me.
Not only are we now determining the nature of the content we receive – welcoming what’s valuable and relevant in place of obnoxious, interruptive ads – we’re also influencing the very core of organisations – their identity.
We’re communicating who we want them to be with every like, comment and share, and those tuning in and adapting are discovering the power of social media marketing with the impact on their bottom line. They’re building relationships, getting to know their audience intimately and empowering them to contribute – to define and shape the organization and co-create its identity. This phenomenon is known as “two-way acculturation” – when different groups come into contact with each other and the culture of one or both groups is altered as a result. Take Dove for example– they engaged their audience by discovering body-image issues were a challenge they faced, made it the focus of their ‘Real Beauty’ campaign and had it form part of their identity. That’s what two-way acculturation and identity co-creation look like in action.

2. Don’t have a Kodak moment.
Why do marketers need to understand this concept? We could ask Kodak, except we can’t because they no longer exist. They didn’t understand their role in acculturating with their audience – they didn’t listen or adapt. Social media technology is shifting the balance of power in favour of the people – creating a democra-tech culture, and the onus is on organisations to embrace it or get left behind. End of lesson two.

3. Stroke my identity.
So, what do the people want? To feel better about who we are, constantly receive positive feedback and external validation, enhance self-image, to fulfill our opposing fundamental needs to both fit in and stand out, to feel we are better than others, and also to form groups who share our identity – (especially if our group is better than other groups so we can bond over our prestige). We also want to reinforce, validate and enhance our chosen identities, express them in the world to boost self-esteem and just repeat this process until we die. Maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but not much. It’s a fundamental human desire, after all.

4. We met online.
Have an online presence and use it. Social media is the ultimate platform for people and brands to acculturate in a way that’s mutually meaningful and beneficial. People have identity needs to satisfy and social media enables organisations to fulfill these. It’s also a great idea to create an online community of some kind. Bringing people together over a shared identity creates a sense of belonging, making them feel valued and respected.

5. Do you know each other?
Know your audience – really know them. What are their needs? Aspirations? What are their challenges and their values? Do the groundwork to get into their world. Go on social media, check out their interactions– read comments, notice shares, ask questions and get interested. It will make all the difference when developing your strategy.

5. Getting warm.
A little warmth goes a long way. It makes people feel supported, connected, strengthens relationships and in turn enhances brand image. Be this way in your interactions as much as possible. Try to be personal and act like a human (don’t over think “acting human”, identity is confusing enough already), and can use emojis and slang. Maybe just be human (because you are human – consider that validated and reinforced).

6. It all makes sense now.
Think about taking on a Sensegiving mindset to social media marketing. That is, giving cues through your content that encourages creation of meaning – it appeals our need to make sense of the world and allows co-creation of identity. Sensegiving cues can also be used to bring people together; it fosters embeddedness and strengthens collective identity.

Lastly, reconsider content – What need or identity motive is it fulfilling? Favour useful, entertaining or co-created content over purely promotional.

If we resonate with who a person wants to be – their desired identity – they’ll be instinctively drawn in and motivated to identify. It’s win-win.

More insights about this topic you find in Paul Harrigan research article here:

Dr Paul Harrigan, Associate Professor of Marketing at UWA Business School. Paul has been at UWA since July 2012. Before this, he was a Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Southampton in the UK from 2008-2012. Paul has been an Adjunct Professor at IESEG School of Management in France since 2011. His PhD, awarded 2008, is from Ulster University in the UK.