We Are Our Scores: The Aspirational Self

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Editor’s note: Tim Chang is a managing director at Mayfield Fund. This is the third in a three-part series about the Quantified Self movement. Follow Tim on Twitter @timechange.

I left off last time talking about how gamification and the Quantified Self — the use of sensors and devices to gather and analyze as much personal numeric data as possible for new insights into the self–can help us have fun while getting closer to our ideal selves. It’s time to explore how that last idea has evolved in the past few years and how savvy entrepreneurs are putting it to work.

Each of us has that picture of who we want to be and where we want to go. This is the version of ourselves we want the world to see. Convincing others that there is no gap between that image and our real selves used to be the domain of public relations professionals and doting parents. But in this era of social networks and constant connectivity, we all take the reins of our own reputations.

This brings up what I refer to as the “Aspirational Self.” It’s what we do when we post to Facebook or Twitter — constructing and branding the person we want to be seen as, by portraying our most desirable qualities. You tweet on the Saturday night when you’re at the club with Kanye, not the following Saturday when your date cancels and you wind up doing the laundry you’ve put off for two weeks. (In many ways, social media itself is an implicit “game,” in which failed status updates and tweets are the ones which attract no comments or likes…)

Quantifying the Aspirational Self

So how do we further our Aspirational Selves? On social networks, we solicit “likes,” “shares” and “follows,” which are forms of approval and validation by others. Tallying those affirmations enables us to be ranked, attract a following, and achieve more perceived respect. This same need and new ability to practically measure and score our lives are what drives the Quantified Self movement.

The Aspirational Self and the Quantified Self dovetail to create a kind of feedback loop that drives self-promotional behavior in the user on social networks. Some of the smartest new companies have taken this aspect of the social networking explosion and used it as leverage on consumer behavior. The results are striking.

Bringing it to market

The healthcare industry has always sought effective ways to motivate patients to actively improve their habits. With that goal in mind, Healthtap enables consumers to ask questions of more than 10,000 certified U.S. doctors through a free mobile app. But despite how impressive and useful this is for end users, the company’s real spark of genius lies in how they leverage the root desires of the doctors through this notion of the Aspirational Self.

Doctors carefully answer consumer questions in the hopes of attracting “Agrees” from their peers. It’s a participation model driven not by monetary incentives, but instead by the identification and public validation or their individual sub-specialties. It turns out that while doctors may care what consumers and patients think of them, they care even more about what fellow physicians think of them. The more doctors “level up” in their specialties, the more their expertise and status is highlighted, leading to a better “score” that can be seen by other doctors and patients — an important consideration in attracting new patients or winning respect from fellow healthcare professionals.

Beyond the health sector, we’re starting to see the Aspirational Self being used to engage consumers in other areas of their lives.

Poshmark, a fashion app that enables users to sell their clothing directly to other users, takes what people do offline and heightens the experience with more measurable behaviors. People can host virtual “trunk shows” that many users can attend online. To attract enough buyers to their shows, hosts actively build up their reputation in the Poshmark community through likes, agrees, and followers. Aspiring fashionistas—or just women who want to sell a seldom-worn skirt—can become curators and emerging style icons, building up a following of their own, just by using the app regularly.

Multiplayer Marketing

We’ve reached the era of the Quantified Self — and quantified respect, too. Facebook and Twitter helped set this loose, and now it’s time for entrepreneurs to harness it and make it work. The implications for advertising are huge–what better way for a product or brand to reach new users than a recommendation from a consumer rated as an expert by his peers?

The implication for the consumer and his Aspirational Self are just as huge. If I buy one pair of an exclusive run of 200 Air Jordan sneakers, the first thing I’m going to do is tell people I got them. The purchase and the subsequent sharing of that purchase both become steps in attaining that Aspirational Self. Product promotion and self-promotion become intertwined, and, as the old ad slogan goes, they’re two tastes that taste great together.

[image via flickr/Michael Pick]