Our capacity to keep up with a constant flow of information has become a big topic, writes Mel Exon
Our capacity to keep up with a constant flow of information has become a big topic, writes Mel Exon
A view from Mel Exon, managing partner and co-founder, BBH Labs

It's time to take stock of social marketing, before our exhausted users do it for us

The development of the social web is reaching a tipping point for brands and users, writes Mel Exon.

Over the past few years, our capacity to keep up with a constant flow of information and FOMO (fear of missing out) have become topics of conversation that just won’t go away. There’s something fairly ironic about tweeting incessantly about trying to stay afloat in the Stream, but millions of us do. However, until last year, I was someone who would blithely brush aside those concerns: our little grey cells will learn to adapt, or a technology will turn up to do it for us, I would tell myself

Yet by 2014, for every article lauding the Stream and declaring the death of the web page ("Who needs anachronistic pages when we can have never-ending flow?"), there has been plenty else to give us pause for thought. Does everything we create and consume need to be real-time, responsive, agile and accelerated? Just how many Buzzfeed-esque posts does the world need? Don’t get me wrong, this is not about taking a big backward step into the past, but we can smell a tipping point in the air and it’s time to take stock as marketers, before our exhausted users do it for us.

At the start of the year, Frog Design went further, declaring "Faraday Zones" as one of its Tech Trends of 2014: the idea that we will seek out spaces and moments where we switch off technology entirely, citing the hug-it-out Camp Grounded in California as an example of this happening already.

Technology itself is getting in on the act, too. You may remember when Freedom launched in 2009. Perhaps ahead of its time then, Freedom is a paid-for service that disconnects you from the internet for eight hours. Much more recently, Yahoo! launched its news-summary iOS app, News Digest, at CES 2014. Designed to provide a summary of key news stories only, a graphic even pops up saying "Done" when you’ve read your digest. Yahoo!’s Nick D’Aloisio described the app as a pointed response to the fact that "people require a way to steer through all the news – it’s a tyranny of choice".

So what can we as marketers do? Self-evidently, at this point in the social web’s evolution it is not newsworthy or useful for brands simply to be present on social platforms, and definitely not if they are churning out inconsequential content that no one has time to view. Instead, here are a couple of ideas:

1. As content creators, let’s get some balance between what has been termed "stock" and "flow". These days, both are necessary. "Flow" is the constant stream of bite-size updates your superfans may be after; the demonstration that this is a brand with a pulse, a brand that moves at the pace of culture. "Stock" is the more durable, longer-form content that stands the test of time. Check out The New New for Converse Cons for a modern expression of this, or what media-owners like The Guardian are producing with their deeper, interactive pieces like Firestorm.

2. Your users are actively looking for trusted filters. As New York University professor and writer Clay Shirky surmises: "It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure." Brands are well-placed to offer a useful service here, sorting the wheat from the chaff regarding topics they share a deep interest in with their users. Take BBH clients Johnnie Walker and Mentos – they have radically different audiences and content, but each offers its users a carefully curated feed of relevant content.

I’d wager we’ll see the most evolved brands and their users taking a more judicious approach to content marketing and social presences, as the buzz that’s been baked into our response to new technologies recedes a little. So, while we will continue to dip into the rush of the flow ourselves, let’s also stay grounded.