Christmas cards. Dashing from store to store. Long, long shopping lists. Egg nog. Doesn’t this all sound charmingly old-fashioned and just so nineties? All of these things – connecting, gift-giving, decorating, and cooking – are timeless elements of our holidays. We use social media now to send holiday messages, find and share recipes, and shop. Social media allows us to do the things we’ve always done, but do them faster and more easily, right? Or could it be that this digital age is causing a bigger change? Are we updating old traditions with technology, or is technology changing us and our traditions?
Turns out that connecting with others during the winter holidays is still important to us, but we’re taking advantage of new platforms to do so. That is probably not surprising to you. Because of social media, the way you reach out to far-away family and friends may be more flexible and richer. Why settle for a few hastily scribbled lines on a card when you can converse in real time and actually see each other using Google hangouts, Skype, or Tango?
Of course many people still love to find cards in their conventional mailboxes or exchange the too-too-adorable automated greetings – Jibjabs spring, unbidden, to mind. With cheap or free means of communication proliferating, there’s no reason not to reach out to loved ones often and in a variety of formats.
And if you can connect more easily with loved ones because of social media, you can be very sure that those with profits at stake are taking advantage of those same technologies. They are doing what you are doing – connecting with others – but with considerably more calculation than you probably do. Consider the “12 Days of Christmas” ads that you’ve surely noticed by now, unless you reside in some remote corner of the planet. (And if you’ve been inundated with scads of dunning to “12 Days” marketing emails, you may find the ungridded world suddenly appealing.) Twelve discounts for twelve days is just one popular marketing campaign or tool out of many for an enterprising marketing strategist.
We’re used to being the targets of marketing campaigns. But in addition to opening new worlds of connection and entertainment, social media may also have opened a direct path to our wallets. According to the digitalbuzz blog, 66% of social media users who made a Black Friday or Cyber Monday purchase this year did so as a direct result of social media interactions with either the brand itself, or with family members recommending those brands. Such studies have found that we connect with brands we trust through social media, and that we are willing to pay more for those brands. The effect is striking: 52% of social media users are willing to pay more for the brands they trust, while only 29% of non-users are willing to back that trust by paying more. This fact has not escaped the notice of savvy on-line marketers.
Researchers also see that in addition to paying more for the brands we trust, we trust the brands we see validated by others on social media and brands with a strong social media presence are seeing increased sales. In fact, 36% of social media users trust brands with a social media presence more than brands without a presence.
Of course marketing doesn’t always help with choosing a gift that the recipient will love – something meaningful, thoughtful and wished for. We all want our gifts to say, “I know who you are and my only wish is to please you.” Now, perhaps, the social science underlying social media platforms will be able to help you do that.
The same social media moxie that inspired Shawn O’Banion, a Northwestern Ph.D. computer science student, and Larry Birnbaum, a Northwestern computer science professor, to bring us Tweetcast for the U.S. presidential election, has resulted in BookRx, an application that predicts which genre of book your intended giftee will appreciate. The result is derived from an analysis of hashtags, @-mentions, keywords, and links tweeted by your intended victim – er, giftee. Does it work? The post-Christmas return statistics may reveal how valid the technology is.
Whether the impressive influence of social media is used by us to make our holidays a little brighter, or used against us to enrich someone’s bottom line, its entrenchment in our lives seems to be here to stay. Understanding how we can use it and what the pitfalls are is a part of modern life.
There is one thing that remains as simply satisfying as ever, though, social media or not. How about another cup of that eggnog? Unfortunately, it has more calories than a few scrolls through Pinterest (unless, of course, you’re finding yourself lingering on some sumptuous holiday recipe board). No matter – here’s to you and a sweet holiday season.