The Social Experience Economy

Social technologies will give brands unprecedented access to groups of connected web users

Don't look now, but the wheels for the next era for digital marketing are already in motion. A seismic shift is happening on the web, which will shift brand experiences that are isolated and built for individuals to ones that are connected and built for social groups. It's a shift made possible by new social technologies and herald a future in which, if you create genuine value, people will socialise with and around your brand. However, agencies will need to change the way they think about and build brand experiences to take advantage of these new technologies.

In Pine and Gilmore's The Experience Economy (1999), they claimed that "those businesses that relegate themselves to the diminishing world of goods and services will be rendered irrelevant. To avoid this fate, you must learn to stage a rich, compelling experience." In the social experience economy, businesses will learn that the most compelling experiences will be those that are connected to a new ecosystem, powered and made semantically relevant by social technologies.

The new ecosystem will be based around what is known as the social graph. By that, we mean the global mapping of everybody and how they are related. To date, the biggest barrier to creating this ecosystem online has been that everybody has been building and duplicating their family, personal and business relationships across different website platforms. However, as these platforms start opening up the social technologies that power them, the walls will come tumbling down.

The social catalyst at the forefront of this step change is Facebook, which recently overtook Google to become the most-visited site in the US and is fast approaching 500 million members. At its April conference, Mark Zuckerberg laid out Facebook's plan to turn the whole web into "instantly social experiences". The vision is bold but substantially backed up by Open Graph, a new suite of application programming interfaces and tools that enable brands to integrate with Facebook's social graph to drive registration, personalisation and traffic - whether through applications on Facebook or external websites and devices.

This means that people will start to be automatically connected to their personal networks across a number of sites, without even needing to explicitly sign in. So, if have either of us in your social network, you'll automatically start to see the things we "like" on the sites you're visiting. You'll even be able to chat to us through that site if we're online. What's more, authors of content that you "like" can now start contacting you through your news stream (if you grant them permission) for all your friends to see.

Scary? You ain't seen nothing yet. As site owners start adopting these new APIs and tools, Facebook and its social graph will soon be knitted into the very fabric of the web. It doesn't take a genius to imagine how powerful this will make Facebook in terms of the data it can use to create personalised and social advertising opportunities. A power struggle for ad budgets is on the horizon between Google and Facebook, or rather the currency of hyperlinks versus social connections.

As social technologies become knitted into the web and allow people to instantly and automatically connect to their friends though any device, opportunities are opening up for brands to create compelling social experiences. We've identified three types: marketing, shopping and product.

Social marketing experiences connect networks of people around a brand's promotional activity. The most popular way for brands to do this has been to build simple experiences within Facebook fan pages as destinations for advertising. Over the next 12 months, expect to see a significant increase in the number of brands experimenting with Open Graph (which has superseded Facebook Connect) to create social experiences on their own web properties and in promotional areas on third-party media sites.

Social shopping experiences connect networks of people around the research and purchase process. Two examples of brands that are already using Facebook technologies to build social shopping experiences are Levi's and easyJet. The new Levi's Friends Store allows visitors to "like" products but also automatically shows them which products their network of friends "like" within the online store. EasyJet is an example of a brand that is building functionality within Facebook, using social functionality to add value to the group travel experience. Its holiday planner helps people make group decisions about where they want to go, how much they want to spend and which dates suit everyone in their party.

Social product experiences connect networks of people around owning or using a product or service. A good example is Spotify and how it is staying ahead of new competition (such as mflow) by fully baking social technologies into the product experience, enabling its users to subscribe, publish and collaborate on playlists through Facebook and Twitter technologies.

At AnalogFolk, we believe that to build brands that thrive in the social experience economy requires a new set of skills within agencies, moving from user interface design to social experience design. Unfortunately, this skillset isn't held by any one individual; it requires creative collaboration between a team comprising strategist, social media planner, technologist, user experience designer and interaction designer. This team must stop thinking exclusively about experiences with isolated and individual users in mind, where the ROI is simply conversion. Instead, it needs to plan experiences for connected groups of users, where the ROI also includes social momentum created through sharing, word of mouth, referrals and evangelism. See you on the other side!


- There's a shift on the web, from isolated brand experiences built for individuals to connected ones, built for social groups

- Brands have opportunities to create marketing, shopping and product experiences powered by social technology

- To build brands that thrive in the social experience economy, agencies require new skills, moving from user interface design to social experience design.

- Matt Dyke is a founding partner and Kevin Sutherland is the creative technology director of AnalogFolk