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Paul Hudson
Paul Hudson CEO of Intersperience
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Identity Crisis

The advent of Facebook fan pages and corporate Twitter accounts has created a huge marketing opportunity for brands, creating a new and pervasive way to be part of peoples’ lives. 

Our Digital Futures project showed just how important social networking is to teenagers. Not only do young people use it more than any other age group, it also plays a significant role in defining and communicating who they are and who they aspire to be.

When talking to teenagers about their online profiles it was clear that a huge amount of thought and consideration was being invested in how they wanted to portray themselves.  I witnessed some serious soul searching during web-cam interviews over whether to post or not post pictures and comments, and what those pictures and comments would reflect about who they are in all the different contexts it would be viewed. This agonising unsettled me, as it felt like an unnecessary pressure for a teenager to worry about. Yet this is the world in which teenagers find themselves growing up in. 

We have started to see many interesting patterns in online social behaviour, and a significant increase in the number of online profiles young people are creating (for a full discussion see this recent Government Report.

The plethora of online profiles in many ways mimics the different personas we use in life (e.g. work/social/family/sport) and allows a greater exchange of information and detail in these relevant pockets: a great opportunity for marketers, who can use their brand and products to help a young person achieve a sense of self or on the other, a dangerous gamble to associate your brand with an advocate who you have a partial understanding of.

A classic example of this was a thirteen year old boy who showed us a recommendation for Coors lager on his Facebook page. He found it profoundly inappropriate that Coors should be recommended to him in this way, but then realised that a friend of his was a big follower of the drinks brand and when he had ‘liked’ the brand, it had appeared on the friends’ timeline. One boy was identifying with the brand, whilst the other absolutely wasn’t. 

There is a real risk that businesses can alienate customers just as easily as they create fans. It is easy to measure the amount of fans but much harder to understand the potential damage that may also be done. 

With the creation of multiple identities online, the challenge is greater, as creating an accurate portrait to base marketing decisions on requires a fuller picture, across personas, across social networks. All too often marketing based on a shallow understanding, from partial information alienates customers. 

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