Who Are You (Online)?

We know that social media allows people the ability to express themselves in real time (if desired), reflecting their tastes, their affinities and their passion for everything from entertainment choices to food, from kids’ stories to frustrations with acquaintances. It has also helped some brands achieve higher profiles than they might otherwise garner through traditional media. Check out “5 Brands That Are Surprisingly Successful On Facebook.” But what happens when we want to explore, search and test things out? Do we want our explorations to be broadcast? And if they are, does that change how and what we explore? A Finnish research institute says yes, at least when it comes to music.

Are you an online shape shifter?

Digital Music News today published a story about the findings of the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology that showed that peoples’ projected taste in music changes in a social environment. The study, “concluded that people – particularly younger people – don’t necessarily lie about their music tastes, they just suppress certain things and accentuate others.” Can’t you just see the not-so-edgy hipster suddenly altering their Spotify playlist to veer away from that Rhiana track that they secretly love to be sure that their friends don’t pick up on it, while switching to a stream of Feist’s new record?

When Facebook made its latest round of changes there was some quick press to outline how people may want to change their settings to avoid having their actual browsing habits reveal embarrassing information. To be sure, a pop music guilty pleasure is a far cry from socially damaging compared to habitual browsing of lad mags and having to explain that to a significant other, but the fact remains that social networks would love for our entire online lives to be documented – because it gives them amazing amounts of information that can be used to better sell advertising.

The implications for marketers, brands and organizations are potentially enormous, both positively and negatively. They also underscore the importance of knowing your audience and communicating in an authentic way. By seeking the right audience, you allow those people to carry your message to networks that are, presumably, filled with others that trust their peers and have similar, or at least adjacent, tastes and sensibilities. If you miss the mark, your message is carried in directions that can have nothing to do with your goals and vision for a project or product.

On the other hand, sometimes people want to try things by themselves. Allowing for your audience to have public and private opportunities to test your product (as well as a trigger to ask the private testers if they’d like to share), displays your trust and respect of your audience. It also shows your own confidence that you’ve designed the right thing for the right audience, and that you’re willing to let the product or content inspire people rather than forcing them to broadcast something before they’re ready.

Anyone have any experiences with things like this? Do you alter your habits when you know that people are (or could be) watching? Does it make you seek out things that make you look more, or less, adventurous? More eccentric or more “normal”? These are interesting times, as we learn, in real time, how our new technological resources are affecting our behavior.

Because you can't go wrong with Nutella