In 2004, my family adopted a 3-week-old grey-striped tabby, and because it was an election year, we decided to name our new kitten in honor of leading Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry. Over the past seven years, “Waffles” has been an interesting part of our daily domestic lives, and in that time, I’ve learned a lot about cats, and in the process, also learned a lot about humans, and by extension, I’ve also learned a lot about social media – because at this moment, humans are the predominant species populating the world’s various online social media communities.
1.1 “What’s In It For Me?”
Cats and humans are identical in that we both seek to answer the same driving question; a compelling, visceral, life-force motivation that informs all of our other actions, namely, “What’s in it for me?” Unlike dogs, which seem to revel in “fetching” and other acts of service, cats and humans default to the same worldview perspective – a posture and preference to be SERVED, rather than to SERVE. A dog thinks, “My master feeds me and cares for me, he must be God,” whereas a cat – given the same scenario – concludes, “My master feeds me and cares for me, I must be God.”
While I originally numbered these blog items “1 through 9,” I’ve since decided that the list should more accurately follow the format of 1.1, 1.2 etc, as this singular motivation is so fundamental – yet so encompassing – that it permeates every other consideration below. If businesses begin every social media consideration with the consumers’ perspective of “What’s in it for me?” they will be at least 70% closer to a successful outcome before they even get started.
1.2 “I’m The Center Of The World”
We had no sooner signed the adoption papers (which are essential for cats…because they are immediately put to use lining the litter box) than Waffles let us know – in no uncertain terms – that he was the center of the world, and that everything would be just fine as soon as we all “got on board” with that reality. It’s been said that, “Dogs have masters, cats have staff,” and after checking my sources, I’ve discovered that it was actually a cat who said that. Like cats, people experience life through this same filter, and sites like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube all reinforce that same narcissistic lens. Presenting your firm’s content in multiple formats and across various platforms enables users to customize and tailor their experience in the genre most familiar and desirable for them at that moment. Conversely, NOT presenting your content in formats consumers find desirable will result in them, well, seeking out competitors with formats that they DO find desirable.
1.3 “I Want it All”
In researching this article, I was fortunate to get onto Waffles’ calendar for a 10-minute interview (sandwiched between naps and stretching). I was permitted only one question, so I swung for the fences and asked, “So, what do cats really want?” His matter-of-fact reply caught me off-guard (but it shouldn’t have), stating slowly (and in purrfect English), “Everything – we want it all.” He then continued by saying, “I want to sit half way in and half way out the front door, for long periods of time. Yes, I have decided, and my decision is that I want to sit half way in and half way out the front door.” In my experience, when some people witness a cat doing this, their tendency is to get confused and think that the cat is distracted or indecisive. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is that the cat HAS decided, and his decision is, “I want to sit half way in and half way out the front door” and the unspoken postscript is “…and I don’t care how much money you waste on heating and cooling your house due to the fact that your front door remains open while I am sitting half way in and half way out your front door.”
The take-away for anyone participating in social media is simple. What people want isn’t really complicated – they simply want it all. They want anywhere, anytime access to everything, and they always want to be first in line, regardless of whether there were others already waiting in line before them. They don’t want too much information, nor too little. They want links to other interesting stuff, but don’t want to feel like they’re being overwhelmed with ads and offers. They want access, customization, and personalization BUT they don’t want firms to know too much about their private lives or preferences. They want secure access to all of their sites, BUT they don’t want to have to remember all of their usernames and passwords (but they don’t want you to remember them either).
1.4 “If I Don’t Get What I Want, I Will Meow Outside Your Bedroom Until I Get My Way”
Waffles has a way of helping others in our household to come around to his point of view…usually by making life so miserable that we eventually just give in so he’ll stop driving us crazy. The reach and “megaphone” that social media offers is such that user communities now have a similar power to organize and wage online (and offline) battles with firms and organizations, and quickly get them to a point where they conclude it’s often easier (and cheaper) to just give in to their demands rather than fighting a protracted, brand-damaging, financially-taxing battle, played out across an array of media platforms for the world to see…and then Tweet and blog about.
1.5 “While You Think It’s Cute That I’m Rubbing Your Legs – I’m Actually Marking You As Part Of My Territory”
Sure, it’s great when people fill out your surveys, retweet your blogs, comment on your YouTube content, Friend you on Facebook, Link to you on LinkedIn, and Follow you on Twitter, but let’s face it – while you think you’re in the driver’s seat, you’re actually being tagged and backlinked to make THEM more searchable and build up their SEO rankings. It’s amazing that my cat has this figured out, yet so many people and their firms haven’t.
1.6 “If You Give Me A Treat Once, You Now OWE ME Treats For Life”
One day back in 2006, I made a rare “impulse buy” of Tender Vittles at the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket, then proceeded to throw a couple of these moist nuggets at Waffles upon my return…and have been subjected to a daily verbal assault every morning since then demanding more.
The free-line for online content has been receding so far and so fast that there isn’t much left out there to give away. Consumers have been conditioned to expect – and now DEMAND – that their content and online options be free and ubiquitous (or at least ridiculously cheap and convenient). Just witness the backlash when Unlimited Plans for smartphones started adding restrictions and fees, or, more recently, when over 24 million U.S. customers started seeing red as Netflix announced they would be increasing the cost of their popular movie service by over 50%. Just as you can’t “un-ring a bell and can’t get toothpaste back in the tube,” firms are discovering that customer demands for more and more while paying less and less represent a dangerous financial treadmill and potential impediment to sustainable corporate profitability.
1.7 “I’m Picky AND I’m Hard To Read And Understand”
I’m picky AND I’m hard to read and understand, and I will suddenly bolt in front of your feet – preferably at night, in the dark, at the top of the stairs – for no apparent reason. Okay, there really isn’t a social media application here, just a painful observation. Actually, maybe the application is that your social media followers and community are spontaneous and unpredictable, and while you can have a hunch regarding what will resonate with your audience, you never really know what people will do or how they will respond. (Remember what happened to The Gap when they tried to update their brand logo last October, and the resultant public outcry was so overwhelming that they reverted back to the original “blue box” logo in less than a week).
1.8 “I Will Disappear For Long Periods Of Time, And Suddenly Reappear With No Explanation”
While online marketers will pontificate ad nauseum about stickiness and brand loyalty, let’s face it – the consumer can’t be tamed. Never could, never will. Just like trying to guard Michael Jordan, your best hope with consumers is to simply try to “contain” them, by offering a steady diet of value-reinforcing experiences, but even that may be insufficient to keep them around. And furthermore, just because you stand outside and call them by name doesn’t mean they’ll come running. Like cats, customers will seek you out when they feel good and ready – in their own time, on their own terms – regardless of how often you nudge them (in fact, where do you think they got the word “catatonic” from?)
1.9 “I Will Never Sleep On The Part Of The Bed You Want Me To Sleep On”
Like cats, consumers will act in their own best interest, asking “What’s In It For Me?” rather than doing what you hope they’ll do (like sleeping on the corner of the bed, rather than their preferred spot at the precise magnetic center of the bed). In my 2008 economic manifesto eBook “Banks, Tanks & Angst – How Long Will America Idle?” http://www.coolcleveland.com/wiki/Newsletter/Bankstanksangst I warned how America’s inevitable slide into a state of “Lagflation” would introduce the rise of a new caste of surgical shoppers called “Loss-Leavers,” who would buy only the stores’ weekly sales items, the retailer takes the loss, and the customer simply leaves. Regardless of how you want customers to navigate your website or how much time you invest in showing them how much “sense” it makes for them to upgrade to your premium services bundle, the customer can never be counted on to make rational or logical choices – even when it’s in their own best interest to do so.
1.10 “Sometimes the Strangest Things Are The Coolest Things”
Similar to the point just made above, you can’t always anticipate what customers will think is cool or interesting, or what will resonate on some kind of universal level with your audience – which is why it is nearly impossible to create and consistently predict truly “viral” content. Case in point: I recently spent nearly $150 dollars to purchase a six-foot “Cat Tree House” for Waffles, but I swear that cat spends more time playing in the CARDBOARD BOX that it came in than scaling the heights of his retro-shag bungalow. Again, people – like cats – should never be counted on to be cerebral, even-keeled, or predictable when it comes to matters of the head, the heart, or tree houses. (And remember, when it comes to content, it only takes one letter to change cat nip to cat nap).
So, there you have it, 9 Things – wait, scratch that, 10 Things My Cat Taught Me About Social Media” (see, there’s the chaos theory in action right there). Because implementation of corporate social media – like my cat – has 9 lives and a long tail, it is destined to have a significant impact for years to come, and change everything it touches along the way. So, please, don’t make me bring out my cat o’ nine tails! Heed the lessons outlined above, take action while there’s still time, and maybe you can avoid a corporate cataclysm!
My hope is that you found this cat scan of social media valuable, I apologize if it got a little long in the tooth, and…well, I’ve got to run – looks like I just missed feeding time by a whisker!
Chief Content Officer