The Forgotten Half Of Social

Editor’s note: Jack Krawczyk is head of monetization at StumbleUpon, the discovery platform. Jack was a founding member of Google+ and tweets about stuff.

Have we forgotten that being social means connecting with the people in your life? In today’s world of growth hacking and viral marketing, we have taken social to mean acquiring likes and followers so that we can post a photo to Facebook or a quip to Twitter. Most often we forget the forgotten half of being social: intimate conversation.

Since we tend to communicate intimately (email, conversations, etc.) much more than we post to Facebook, it’s shocking that most products and brands are missing such a core growth channel to achieve success.

Intimate vs. Broadcast Communication

There are two main types of conversations that we enter into in our world: first, those meant specifically for a small group of people and second, those meant for literally anyone who will listen. We define the first group as intimate conversations and the second group as broadcast conversations.

Intimate conversations are those like “I read this article about Salvador Dali and I’d love to get your opinion,” “Where should we invest our savings?” — and my personal favorite — “Do these jeans look good on me?” They are conversations that create the potential for us to develop a deeper connection to the person we’re talking to. Their natively limited selection enables us to create a sense of connection with the people in our lives (or potentially place us in the dog house).

Broadcast conversations are effectively humblebrags that we cleverly disguise into brief snippets of content that make people want to feel more connected to us. These are things like, “the Salvador Dali exhibit at MOMA was INCREDIBLE,” “time to buy Apple stock… the iPhone 5 is amazing!!!!!” and “loving my new outfit!!!!” The everybody-look-at-me nature of these conversations inspires people to either feel connected with that person’s tastes or continuing a desire for future shared experiences.

This dichotomy of conversations recently inspired me to do some research to better understand the types of content that we prefer to broadcast versus those that we prefer to have a more intimate touch.

Understanding the Nature of Content

Communication is conducted through many media, though the main forms of intimate and broadcast communication take place in six main segments:

Intimate:Email, text/SMS message, and good old-fashioned conversation

Broadcast:Post to Facebook, tweet it, and blog about it

The launching pads for conversation identified were TV genres, social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Pinterest and YouTube), and 13 website content verticals.

I reached out to more than 550 people (friends, family, university and professional colleagues, and 400+ StumbleUpon users) and asked them the following question: What do you do when you find something you like on these platforms?

Based on their responses, the results show that there clearly are certain platforms and types of content that preference broadcast vs. intimate conversation and vice-versa. While the findings were driven within a statistician-approved 95 percent confidence interval, they serve as directional insights into our brains.

The data was broken down into two axes: the preference toward intimate vs. broadcast communication (x-axis) against the propensity to initiate discussion from content (hey, not everything is worth a conversation).

Defining the Nature of Your Conversation

The nature of conversation that your product or content generates is strongly defined by the nature with which it is personal to the user. Buying a car, picking a new pair of glasses or deciding what to do with your 401k? Chances are the best mechanism for inspiring a conversation is to drive toward intimate conversations. These are highly personal categories and often involve only the closest people in your life.

Making someone laugh, nerding out about tech specs of the new iPhone 5, or gushing about a new song you love? You have defined the key of what we discuss through broadcast mechanisms. These are quick, lightweight interactions that inspire a quick chuckle or feeling of connection.

Interestingly, content about sports, movies, news, and travel find a way to cross both chasms of conversation. Apparently we are all critics, yet seek admiration for our selections once we have made them.

From a platform perspective, there are three clear clusters. The platforms of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr all inspire conversation to stay within their ecosystem, while YouTube, StumbleUpon and Pinterest all cross the chasm to inspire conversation through both intimate and broadcast means. The third cluster was that of TV, which naturally yielded a propensity toward intimate conversation.

Scaling Conversations Into Your Product Strategy

It is without a doubt that the creation of Facebook’s Open Graph has enabled products to take off by empowering a solid distribution mechanism, but too often, these products are based on whimsical content verticals that are natively suited for social platform interaction. Left behind are the products that focus on more intimate types of engagement.

Can you imagine Bank of America building a mortgage calculator using Facebook’s Open Graph API so that users can post their numbers to their friends? While they may build it, it doesn’t exactly fit into the world of platforms like Facebook and Twitter – but what about email?

When designing your product or your marketing campaign, it’s critical to think about the type of conversation your product inspires.

Most recently, insurance company Liberty Mutual created the Responsibility Project to highlight various methods for the responsibility that new businesses, homeowners and car buyers must take to ensure safekeeping of their assets. Rather than pump “BUY INSURANCE” all over the project, they created content like “How to Disaster Proof Your Home.”

This content isn’t inherently Facebook or Twitter social, but it does yield value for its consumer. For this reason, each page on the Responsibility Project contains a link to email the content, as someone who discovers this content will more than likely want to share it with their respective partner. Unfortunately, not all creators are as focused on the native social experience.

Take Warby Parker, for example. I recently was in the market for a new pair of lenses, tested out an incredibly cool feature that plots the glasses on my face and creates a picture of it… and then asks me to post it to Facebook.

My insecurity radar went haywire. There are few things more stressful than asking my Facebook friends whether I look like a potential doofus in my contending glasses. If I had the ability to send this picture to my wife/style consultant to get the full picture of whether these glasses are a good idea, the social interaction would more closely mirror what my native use case would be.

This is just one example among many where the temptation of social media trumps the benefit of social interaction. If your product or marketing campaign skews toward native email distribution, don’t fret just because you can’t buy a Sponsored Story against it. Focusing on maximizing user intent and value will always yield the best correspondence with your product.

[Image sources: kdhutton, quickmeme; StumbleUpon]