Facebook knows only a highly edited version of me. Facebook knows only a highly edited version of you too. It doesn’t even begin to know the real us in all of our intricate nuance. It knows what we want it to know and nothing else.
No matter how “transparent” someone says they are, they are still curating a version of their life. What we choose to post on Facebook represents a shadow of who we really are, the “self” we want to be projected to the people we’re connected to on that network. And that self can and does look different on different social networks. It’s a game that begins the moment we start filling out our Facebook profile and deciding which songs and books to show as our favorites.
Sherry Turkle talks about this in great detail in her book, Alone Together. “Whenever one has time to write, edit, and delete,” Turkle writes, “there is room for performance. The ‘real me’ turns out to be elusive.” She tells the story of a high school freshman whose parents made her wait until her 14th birthday to join Facebook.
Mona tells me that as soon as she got on the site, “I immediately felt power.” I ask her what she means. She say, “The first thing I thought was, ‘I am going to be the real me.’ But when Mona sat down to write her profile, things were not straightforward. Mona wrote and rewrote her profile. She put it away for two days and tweaked it again. Which pictures to add? Which facts to include? How much of her personal life to reveal? Should she give an sign that things at home were trobled? Or was this a place to look good?
To varying degrees, we are all Mona. We are all presenting a sculpted, photoshopped version of our real self and it is perhaps a clue to why Facebook is struggling to be the “perfect marketing” vehicle it hopes to be and why it is trying so hard to learn more about us as we surf around the web.
What Is Perfect Marketing?
I mention “perfect marketing” because this post was inspired by listening to the Trialogues podcast on my way to Huntington Beach this morning. The most recent episode, “What Is Perfect Marketing,” was a discussion around the notion that perfect marketing wouldn’t feel like marketing at all. Perfect marketing would present the right message to the right person at the right time, and go even further by anticipating a need or desire based on where we were at what time of day, fueled by past behaviors.
I agreed with many of the points made in the discussion, but I especially agreed with this point – [pq align=right]we are not very well defined by our online behaviors[/pq]. A very small a percentage of our self is represented by what we do or don’t do online. This is true not just of Facebook, but anywhere on the Internet. So much of the behavior marketers are trying to target goes unmonitored. So much is impossible to monitor today.
Facebook Doesn’t Know Me, But It’s Trying
But that’s not to say marketers are not trying, especially Facebook. “Facebook really is watching your every move,” Samantha Felix writes in This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity. “Just by logging in, I could see that Facebook had 228 trackers watching my web activity.” Facebook needs this information.
Perhaps Facebook is self-aware. Perhaps they understand the behavior they influence. “Social media ask us to represent ourselves in simplified ways,” Turkle writes. “And then, faced with an audience, we feel pressure to conform to these simplifications.” In one way, this works to Facebook’s benefit. This simplification allows them to “control” our behavior to an extent. Their edge rank formula rewards the simplifications and reinforces them. And we bite, consistently.
In another way, the simplification presents a hurdle. It forces Facebook to attempt to track our every move as we navigate through the various places we visit and the smaller spaces where we present other views of our “real” self. Their data alone is simply not enough to enable the perfect marketing space that advertisers long for. And while the business side of me understands the value of mashing all of this data up, the personal side of me laments the intrusion of things I once held as private.
I have opted out of Foursqure for example, partly because I just don’t see the point for me personally. But the decision was also made in large part because I don’t really want to continue to deliver that level of information about where I am and when I’m there. I’ve cut back on giving information about where I am on every social platform in which I participate. Everywhere except Instagram. Why? Because place is often an important context for a photo. Especially a photo that is only a piece of a place. In this way, Instagram was able to capture another piece of who I am in a way that Foursquare and Facebook were unable to achieve. It is part of what helps make sense of Facebook’s purchase of Instagram.
I don’t want Facebook to really know me. So my use of place on Instagram may subside. Facebook’s purchase will certainly have an impact on my behavior. Because ultimately, I’m pretty sure I do not want to live in a world that allows the opportunity for the “perfect marketing” to exist.
. . . . .featured image via Flickr Creative Commons: amateurartguy  relevant to this post: Time To Fight Anti-Tracking Forces . . . . .
Pamela Kabati says
Hi Jeff! Great post. The concept of “perfect marketing” reminded me of the 2009 movie titled The Joneses, http://www.thejonesesmovie.com, about the “perfect” family that moves into a neighborhood for the purpose of marketing products to the unsuspecting, well-healed members of their community. The tag line for the movie? “They’re not just living the American Dream, they’re selling it!” Their “friends” are oblivious to the fact that they’re being marketed to…they just want what they Joneses have because they want to be like them. The movie calls it “stealth marketing,” but it’s a form of the “perfect marketing” you mention in your post.
On the subject of really knowing someone, I think Facebook imitates the real world in that respect. Most people know facets of us; very few really know the whole, outside of family and closest friends. No matter how transparently we try to live, or with how much self-awareness, it’s just the nature of life, I think. Go back to Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage…” And, I think, it’s one of the reasons we value so dearly the people in our lives that really know us, because they are an inherently small group — whether in social media or in person.
That was an awesome movie.
Jeff Turner says
I remember that movie, Pamela, though I’m ashamed to admit I’ve seen it. Even that gives hints about the real me. 🙂 And you’re right, I’m not sure anyone fully knows us. My kids don’t know the full adult me, for example. They only know the Dad me. But as Loren mentions in his comment below, it may be possible, depending on how “open” our society becomes with their information, for marketers to learn enough about me to get way more granular than they can get now. For me, that will not be much more granular, if I have a choice.
But the world is driven by commerce. If, as Matthew, Rob and Gahlord mention in the podcast, credit card companies begin tying the data about what, when and where we purchase things to other information gathered online, then I may not be able to avoid living in that world.
Perfection will only be to the extent that people reveal themselves to the machine. I will imagine that people will start to give less and less to the machine because either they will grow tired of it or flat out rebel against it because of the intrusiveness. There will be those who will always feed the beast (take a nibble)
I myself have grown tired of the location awareness. I try to avoid using social apps on the phone that publicize my location. No foursquare, no instagram, and no FB Messenger. If I use FB messenger I try to remember to turn off the location icon.
Hence perfect marketing will never be absolutely perfect but for those it is aimed at (those who don’t care about the info they release) it will come close. Maybe close enough that we will see personal marketing ala Minority Report and retina scanners. When those become common place I will hide my eyes when out in public.
Jeff Turner says
A nibble here, a nibble there and pretty soon you’re consumed.
Lola Audu says
I so appreciate this post. In fact, I’m going to be talking about this topic in GR at our REBAR Camp…from a slightly different angle of course. There is a growing undercurrent of awareness that much of our online interaction is projection based. Not that this is all bad. There is a reason for instance that we all appreciate manners and wear clothes. There are many elements of real world interaction that we ‘manage’ on a continual basis and for good reason. However, I think that was is most intriguing about social media in general and Facebook in particular is the intention to try to capture the essence of human engagement…of who we are. In truth, we are all far to complicated and multi-faceted to be captured in our truest form in any media. Also, adding to the confusion is folks buying into the myth that the projection they share resembles their reality beyond what is being typed at any given moment.
Jeff Turner says
I think you capture the essence of this perfectly, Lola. “we are all to complicated and multi-faceted to be captured in our truest form in any media.” And yet we “think” we know people online. In some cases, the limited access proves to be an accurate representation of the self. It should at least, but the level to which corporations would like access requires a sharing that I think most people, today at least, will ultimately not agree to. It’s intrusive, even when it feels like it’s not.
Jay Spencer says
An excellent post, Jeff.
As a recent elected official who used the power of FB to communicate my ideas; I also find it challenging to know when to share and what to share.
I stopped using Four Square, when someone posed the question, “Do you ever eat at home?” Which of course I did/do, but I have chosen not to post about my PB&J dinner at home before my next appointment or event.
I really have taken to heart your and Rocky’s decision, before your Africa trip, not to post photos or the name of your kids. I agree that we need to be guarded in what we share; which I think allow for a much more authentic relationship.
When I am discussing the business use of social media, I always remind REALTORS that they would never think of running down the aisle of their church Sunday morning screaming, “I’m having an open house at 123 Main Street today from 2-4, please join me!” They should think of their Timeline in the same light.
Thanks again for your insight!
Jeff Turner says
Thanks, Jay. The rule I typically use is this – if I have any doubt, I just shut up. And it’s usually the absence of proper context for a post that seals the decision for me.
Lola Audu says
Jeff, just read the previous comment by Pamela and your response and had to chuckle…why in the world are you ashamed to admit having seen the movie, ‘The Joneses’? I found it to be quite arresting & thought provoking. It was a hard movie to find as many theaters chose to not show it in our area. Perhaps, fiction is closer to us than we think…
Jeff Turner says
Ha! That was more of a joke to illustrate the point that it is a movie I might not be rushing to share on my Facebook profile. I enjoyed it too. I liked the premise of the movie. 😉
Peter Brewer says
As always. A great piece to get the brain matter going. Perhaps a newer form of transparency is evolving. ps. I love it when you write Jeff. Please keep the posts coming.
Jeff Turner says
I’m sure a newer form of transparency is growing, but I’m equally sure a previously non-existent form of shared self is evolving as well. I think you’d like Turkle’s book.
Drew Meyers says
There are less than 10 people in this world who truly, truly know me…and FB is certainly not among them.
Jeff Turner says
Again, you sum up this post very nicely. 🙂
Resistance is futile.
You can call it curation or whatever you want. You can stop Foursquare and Yelp. You can limit your exposure on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn. Yet, if Big Brother or whatever you want to call the All Knowing Marketer ever figures out a way to coalesce the data from Google (your searches), Yahoo or any other search engine, blogs you read and/or comment on and/or write for, etc. ad nauseum you’ll be pegged.
Even if the All Knowing Marketer never finds your deepest darkest and most protected secret, it will know puh-lenty enough to be able to sell you something. Maybe something you actually want or need. Or maybe something you just think you want. Something they want you to think you need.
One irony is that I could “log in” to the comments section of this very blog using Facebook or Twitter. We all interact, to varying degrees, on any number of the platforms noted in the “Social Signals” section below.
Surely, there are things we like to keep offline. Personal. We may even be able to maintain a small bit of privacy for that very special stuff,
In the end, though, the world has changed. Pandora’s box is open. The Genie is out of the bottle.
You can run but you can’t hide. They’ll find the survivalists living off the grid in Idaho if, for no other reason, than to sell them more ammo and cans of dehydrated cat food.
Jeff Turner says
I’m anything but naive, Ken. I realize the extent to which simply searching on my iPhone leaves a digital trail more detailed than I’d like to imagine. And, yes, the world has changed. But I feel it’s less like a genie being let out of a bottle and more like Pandora’s box. It is not technology I fear, it is the unintended negative consequences which are inevitable. Resistance my be futile, but I refuse to live in a state of constant acquiescence. We are not powerless.