Getting Physical With Social Media

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Sorry kids. I’m not talking about the latest trend in Facebook dating or the best strategy for a 2am tweet to get you a little… hmm, hmm.  Perhaps we’ll talk about that another time.  Right now, I’m talking about what looks to be the growing trend that our physical world is being ubiquitously peppered with links to the digital one – much of it via social media.  “What? What?” you say, “Is this a good thing, Tony?”  You betcha, it is. Now of course, just about all good things can be perverted but for the sake of this conversation, let’s focus on a few of the trends below that I feel have enormous, untapped potential.


So what exactly do I mean when I say: “Social media is integrating with the physical world.”?  How exactly is social media getting physical? I’ll start off by giving you a simple, hypothetical example.

How about a “physical like button”? Point your phone at a physical object, click one button and you’ve “liked/shared” it with your social network.

So imagine this: You’ve managed to find yourself seated at a quick service burrito place which you’ve just discovered during your lunch break.  One bite of that signature menu item you took a chance on and whoa!… that’s some spicy fresh burrito heaven you’ve just been catapulted to! Good thing you were seated ’cause your knees would have buckled under the influence of that flavor induced delirium.  The next thing you’re naturally driven to do is tell somebody about this – share it.  But hey, what’s this?  On the wrapper of your burrito is a curious little printed graphic that you recognize as a QR code next to a Facebook ‘Like’ button icon.  Sweet! You whip out your smart phone, point, click and voila: up pops a window on your phone where you happily type “BEST freak’n burrito EVER!”.  You go back to chowing down on that tortilla wrapped culinary wonder as your 462 Facebook friends become instantly envious and your co-workers throw their carrot sticks across their cubicles in a jealous rage.  Ahhhh, yes.  You’ve just shared your experience via a like button printed on a physical piece of paper – a “physical like button” if you will.  And your smart phone was streamlined enough to make it as easy to share with your social network as it would be to talk to a friend sitting next to you.

We aren’t there just yet, but we’re close.  Simplicity is key.  Everyone is jumping on the QR Code bandwagon right now, but much of it is clunky at best and more trouble than it’s worth from a user perspective.  It needs to be effortless and natural feeling. An app that can boil everything down to a one click operation is in order.  Maybe further down the road an actual ‘like’ or ‘share’ button physically on your phone.  Point and click = you’ve shared.

Want to take it one step further?  You might not even need the QR Codes.  The ability for your phone to intelligently recognize things (e.g. Google Goggles) might allow you to like/share physical objects without cluttering them up with bar codes.  And what about people?  Who wants a barcode tattooed to their forehead?  Enter facial recognition. Point your phone at someone you just met and with a click, ask Facebook or LinkedIn to have a look and show you that person’s public profile.  Instant connect.

So to put it simply: Using your phone as a mouse/pointing device and your screen, you are becoming eerily enabled to interact with objects in your physical world like you have been on your computer.  Point, click, connect/share.

Next up: Commerce, my friends.  See something you like?  Say you’re totally envious of the fantastic handbag you’ve noticed proudly hanging from the shoulder of the fashionable woman in front of you at the Starbucks – you must have it!  Point your phone, which recognizes it as a Jimmy Choo, does a quick search and lets you know there’s a hot deal on it going on right now at Score!… Order it….  Hit the ‘like’ button and brag about YOUR hot new Jimmy Choo to your friends on Facebook.  All in less time than it takes for her to order a double short soy latte.  Now here’s a second thought… did this just allow you to avoid having to ask this woman about her bag… thereby allowing you to avoid a social situation in real life?  Hmmm….

This blending of digital with physical is sliding into place all around you.  Whether or not you noticed it, social media has been slyly nudging up to you everywhere you go in your “physical” world lately.  How?  Digital displays are becoming common place beyond your home and office (such as in-store flat screens, digital billboards, interactive display walls).  We’re practically surrounded by these things now. Twitter streams are even popping up at gas pumps and on the walls in elevators.  Also, these days the phone in your pocket is likely to be a smart phone, basically a tiny wonder of mobile computing that can be “aware” of it’s physical environment with the help of a built in camera, GPS and the seemingly endless resources and power of the Internet.  Not mention the tsunami of tablets about to saturate us all.  Where there are screens and buttons, there is likely to be Internet and where there’s Internet, social media is bound to be there in some form or 500 shareable options of another.

Once again, think of it in simple terms:

  • Screens and buttons are becoming not only ubiquitous, but these days feel almost as natural and ever present as your own shadow: providing you with all the digital access and social media fixes you need throughout the day.
  • Technology is becoming smart enough to allow people to interact with real world objects such as they do digital ones online. Just point and click.
  • The addictive nature of social media drives demand and opportunity for engagement anywhere and everywhere.

Basically, this enables social media to invade your physical world in just about every place you go – and I mean EVERYWHERE. AIS Media recently surveyed Facebook readers to find that nearly one-third (27 percent) of respondents reported that they read Facebook while in the bathroom. Believe it or not, there is even a popular iPhone app called iPoo, that instantly connects users who are… well… doing their business on the porcelain throne.  It even boasts a GPS mapping feature to plot out your physical location in relation to others involved in a similar “transaction”.  No kidding.  So yeah.  Getting social everywhere.

I can tell you from personal experience, that marketers are hard at work, toiling away and brainstorming at how to reach people with their digital campaigns, leveraging every possibility where your physical world might be digitally enhanced.  I know that I’ve recently ranted about the level of digital noise that seems to be trending up and creating an annoyance, but I have high hopes for all the really great stuff that will come of this blending of digital and physical.

Even NPR saysFollowing the digital revolution, many advertising agencies are looking for similar ways to bring the digital and physical worlds together. It is a new trend that is producing some of the most interesting and successful campaigns“.

What are all the ways we can get creative and get physical with social media?  The possibilities seem not only endless, but also jammed packed full of usefullness and fun.

Think about it.  Share it.

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About Tony Kinard

Digitally Innovative, Obsessively Creative, Fearless Advertising/Marketing Exec. For 16+ years I've had the honor of working with brilliant ad agencies, digital marketing innovators and technology vanguards. It's been amazingly fun and exciting work helping clients to successfully leverage tech innovations and new ideas. From scrappy startups to some of the best known brands in the world, I love the challenges they present. The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some great ideas!

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