When you tell meaningful stories, they spark meaningful conversations.
Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement that Facebook’s algorithm will prioritize conversational posts by friends and family in the News Feed over posts from business pages was received as doomsday news by most social media marketers.
As a story-driven content marketing strategist, I couldn’t be more excited.
Why? Because if the Zuck sticks to what he says he’s going to do, this has the potential to spark a long-awaited shift in the world of content marketing. Instead of focusing on what makes content popular and attention-grabbing, we need to focus on what makes content personal and conversation-worthy.
When content impacts people on a personal level and gets them talking, well, that’s how change happens.
“The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being,” Zuckerberg said in his Facebook post.“We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative — may not be as good.
Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”
A Facebook Live video from Social Media Examiner related the news as though an entire industry is being brought to its knees — which is true. Every shortcut and manipulative tactic sold by social media gurus as ways to grow followers is now being penalized by the very platform that taught them these tricks.
As a copywriter and content marketer who works with social enterprise startups, I see the change in Facebook’s priority from growing reach to sparking authentic, meaningful engagement as a step in the right direction.
RIP, Dopamine Economy
Medium author, umair haque wrote a prescient and thought-provoking essay on the state of digital marketing, “The Dopamine Economy.” His view was that ad-driven social platforms like Facebook were built off of infantilizing their users to a point where we have become “algorithm addicts” who are rewarded with a rush of dopamine with every like or share and passive consumption of content.
The current social media marketing economy is based off of achieving meaningless vanity metrics like follower count, reach, and pseudo-engagement factors like clicks, likes and shares.
The key performance indicators of social media campaigns rely on on numeric growth over genuine engagement and customer satisfaction. And thanks to the tech culture’s dogged loyalty to growth at all costs, real hackers have learned how to game the system. That’s how we’ve gotten to the point where a political campaign and a government-sponsored disinformation program can pay bot farms to “click” or “share” or “comment” on a post, change the landscape of someone’s newsfeed, and influence their vote.
Introducing The Oxytocin Economy
My view has always been that the best way to overcome fake follows, shares and comments is to humanize marketing goals and to focus on impact, connection and sustainability over rapid growth.
Here’s what I had to say in response to Haque’s essay on the Dopamine Economy:
“The answer is an Oxytocin Economy.
Oxytocin is the compassion and connection hormone. It’s the brain juice that keeps us bonded and cooperating as social animals.
It’s released every time we look into one another’s eyes. It’s released when we read stories and feel empathy for the suffering and triumph of the characters we’re journeying with. It’s released when we touch, when we see one another smile, when we hear one another laugh.
An Oxytocin Economy isn’t just about expressing ourselves. An Oxytocin Economy is about having a two-way conversation. It’s about listening — taking one another in and sharing of ourselves in a way that others can relate to. It’s about building trust, not manipulating envy or fear or outrage.
It’s about storytelling, but more importantly it’s about storymaking. It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a conversation.”
Based on what Zuckerberg has to say about the future of Facebook, it looks like I may have something here.
If you agree, let’s take a moment to bow our heads for the death of the Dopamine Economy and take a look at what we as content publishers and social impact brands can do to help spearhead the emergence of an Oxytocin Economy.
How To Usher In The Age Of Empathy
For one, we need to slow down.
An Oxytocin Economy rewards sustainable business models that acknowledge and honor the interconnected nature of commerce, the environment, and social stability.
What does that look like in content marketing? It means focusing less on business models that rely on publishing massive (unsustainable) amounts of one-way blog posts and focusing more on creating and engaging with communities — and standing back and letting those communities evolve into mini-ecosystems built on conversation.
“A few months ago, a big influencer announced that she would be closing her Facebook group. I was fascinated by the response. Many of the members insisted that the group was no longer HERS. (And to be fair, the influencer rarely showed up there.) These members insisted that THEY had built the community. It was THEIRS.
She closed the group anyway.
Because, after all, it literally was her group. And yet…there is something to this idea that a community takes on its own life apart from its maker.
The influencer may have started the group and set it into place, but community and communication had its own life without her. Relationships formed in her ecosystem that had nothing to do with her…except that they occurred inside of her space.”
We as social impact brands have an opportunity to create member-focused Facebook groups in which we foster environments that provoke discussion and allow movements to grow organically and take on lives of their own.
When we bring people together and then place our trust and confidence in the ability of people to organize and innovate around shared passions and rise up together, we are rewarded in the long term.
We need to simplify.
Doing less creates more trust, trust creates stronger relationships, and stronger relationships create a better ability to overcome setbacks. An Oxytocin Economy, above all else, rewards trustworthiness. Instead of creating elaborate webs of manipulative, attention-getting triggers, businesses can focus their energy on reaching out to their customers on a personal level.
Simplification on Facebook means less promotional sales funnels and more opportunities authentic storytelling through Facebook Live and your personal feed.
It means actually reading or viewing content and considering why it’s meaningful to you or relevant to your community before clicking “share.”
It means focusing less on how many people see your post and focusing speaking to the one person your post is meant for.
It means less focus on influencers based on their follower count and more focus on influencers based on their follower engagement.
It means, as Oprah Winfrey so eloquently said at the Golden Globes, “speaking our truth.”
We need to reward integrity instead of popularity.
In the dopamine economy, as users we get treats for clicking buttons that serve algorithms programmed to provide a larger reach to content.
In the oxytocin economy, we can reward participation in thoughtful conversations.
One way to reward our users is through direct, personalized, one-on-one experiences rather than mass calls to action. Some social enterprises like Charity: Water are already using Facebook Messenger as a means to deliver the stories of people whose lives are impacted by the water crisis.
By sending a message to jewelry brand Lokai, you can experience an interactive story via conversation with “Yeshi”, a chatbot. The story is delivered as a text conversation over the course of 2.5 hours as you go about your day and Yeshi embarks on a miles-long trek to collect clean water for her family.
We need to value interaction over attention.
Our social networks now consist of never-ending newsfeeds of random articles and memes for our eternal consumption, designed to trigger our attention, fear and outrage. We’re rewarded and valued for the size of our networks and ability to get the most attention.
Instead of focusing on expanding our networks, the Oxytocin Economy focuses on deepening the relationships we make, and only when we’ve reached a level of true understanding and cooperation can we grow our network.
According to Social Media Examiner, we can expect Facebook’s new algorithm to prioritize posts from our friends and family that don’t just have comments, but have conversations within the comment section. Which means we, as content creators will need to be sure that we’re there, ready to reply to comments and keep conversations going.
It also means, more than anything, we’ll need to focus on fostering brand advocates and evangelists within our customer and follower base who will talk about our content because they share our passion and values.
We need to embrace the values of empathy, humility and responsibility
While the Consumer Economy was very much a paternal framework about obtaining material goods and protecting oneself from deprivation, and the Dopamine Economy transforms us into an infantile state of mind, focused solely on pleasure gratification and external approval, the Oxytocin Economy transforms us into a maternal state of mind, focused on the well-being of each other and our environment.
In order for our brands to adapt to the new Facebook landscape, we’ll need to do a LOT of listening.
We’ll need to create deep, empathetic customer personas based on an understanding of peoples’ struggles.
We’ll need to consider the impact our marketing content and products will have in the lives and communities of our customers.
We’ll need to see our social media followers as partners in our shared journey toward creating a better world— partners from whom we seek to learn so wecan be better.
This is a game-changing moment for many of us in the marketing world. This is a moment that will separate the innovators and entrepreneurs and changemakers from the herd of Facebook formula followers.