120 Years of Social Media

“We live in a time when technology is more disruptive than ever before in history!” This is a favorite exclamation of many but particularly those of us in the advertising industry. This comment is often followed by a declaration of how much we must change to “keep up.”  Yes, the tools consumers use to gather information have changed drastically, and because of that, the consumers’ expectations have changed as well. However, just as important as what has changed, we must not forget what has not changed. And, believe it or not, this will help us address with the rapid changes we’re facing.

One thing that has persisted is a simple model, called the AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) model. It was created by Elias St. Elmo Lewis in the late 1800s. Think about that, the most important concept in advertising, is nearly 120 years old. At that time there was an even greater tech revolution underway than we are experiencing today—about 15 years earlier Karl Benz build his first practical gasoline-engined car. About ten years before AIDA Tesla, the man, not the car company, had patented alternating current, the electrical system we use today. A few years earlier the Lumiere brothers had invented their camera and opened the first movie theatre. About three years later Marconi sends the first radio signals across the Atlantic. And only five years later, the Wright brothers fly at Kitty Hawk. 

We think we are living in the most disruptive times ever but the core concept of advertising was birthed in a time that was far more disrupted by technological advancement. And yet, consumers must go through the same pattern from initial awareness to action. And while consumers tools have changed, so have ours. Social media has afforded us unparalleled ability to first understand what will move the consumer through the purchase funnel and then activate the consumer. 

Using the online conversation to understand the consumer.

The universe’s largest focus group is always in session. Social media allows us to get a deeper understanding of the consumer than ever before, if we are willing to go deeper than a surface understanding. We use something called the The Conversation Echo Map to help us get there. We start by searching terms directly related to the category or brand. Nothing new there. The results give us a view into those areas of conversation that are focused on the category. We call them Category Echoes

The shame is, often, this is the ending point of social media research. It should be the beginning. 

Often Category Echoes are functional in nature and not very compelling. A search related to laundry would yield terms like scent, fashion, routines, wrinkles, stains, etc.

If we were to stop there, we would have the expected results that would give us little or no insight into the lives of our consumers. We would not understand the emotional context of the category or our brand in their lives. We would miss opportunities to connect with the consumer in a visceral, emotional way. 

We must go further into what we call Life Echoes which are the conversations that take place in the social space that focus on the meaning behind the Category Echoes. In other words, beyond the category, what does fashion, scent, color and stains mean in the lives of consumers?

Let me give you an example.

The Tale of Two Stains

Think about it this way. Imagine two stains on two different children’s pants. One is just another grass stain, not really remarkable. All dad wants to do toss it in the laundry and get the stain out. However, there is another kind of stain, one that represents a major moment in life. It’s a blood stain on the knee of a pair of ripped jeans. His daughter got this when she fell while riding her bike without training wheels for the very first time. As he looks at that stain he sees his little girl growing up, becoming independent and he can’t help but see the smile of delight as she struggled to master this new skill. 

You see, from this, we learn not all stains are created equal. Some have an emotional context that allows us to create connections and communication that is meaningful.

Whether your brandis duct tape or dog food, there is a conversation taking place that will facilitate your connection with your consumer. 

If social media is a dialogue it means we should listen as described above but we can also communicate.

Using the online conversation to engage the consumer.

The online conversation does more than give you insights into a consumer. It’s a dialogue, not a monologue. It’s a conversation, not a speech. While each brand faces it’s own, specific strategy for using social media to connect with consumers, there are four principles that can help create a framework for that connection, outlined below:

4 Key Principles


In a world of massive amounts of information, trustworthiness becomes to single most important commodity. The emerging consumer has lived in a world of Wikileaks and Snowden. While the old world order questions whether this or that piece of information should have been leaked, the emerging consumer asks, “Is there anyone I can trust?” Becoming a brand that invites scrutiny, seeks to have an honest relationship and quickly takes responsibility when mistakes are made, endears that brand to today’s consumer. 

For example look at what Southwest Airlines is doing. 

For Southwest Airlines, “Transfarency” is a commitment for the entire company. Customers are treated honestly. Here’s how Vision Critical described it in their blog.

“Being a low-fare airline is at the heart of our brand, and the foundation of our business model,” says Kevin Krone, the VP and chief marketing officer at Southwest Airlines, “so we’re not going to nickel and dime our customers.”

Together with the campaign hashtag, #FeesDontFly, the airline uses the campaign to showcase its value proposition of no hidden fees or extra costs. 

The campaign has generated a ton of social media activity and has set Southwest Airlines apart from the competition and earned the trust of customers.


Closely related to transparency is authenticity. To be truly authentic you must understand your brands higher purpose and how it connects to those Life Echoes described earlier. For example, take the campaign from Dixie plates. The “Be More Here” campaign taps into the desire to have deep interactions with loved one. The band, Dixie, just becomes a facilitator of those deep interactions but removing concern over the dishes. Add to that the hashtag they developed #darkfordinner and they take it a step further, asking their consumers to disconnect from technology for dinner. This is all true to their higher purpose and comes across as an authentic place for them to play. 


The online conversation helps brand to be more responsive to the in-the-moment- needs of their consumers. I would say it goes beyond “realtime marketing” to realtime relationships. For example, the folks over at Buffer, a social sharing app, tell of JetBlue’s responsiveness. 

“During a four-hour flight, Esaí Vélez’s seatback TV gave him nothing but static – while the rest of the passengers had normally functioning screens. How did he respond? He tweeted a complaint to JetBlue. Nothing inflammatory, but he was clearly disappointed.

How did JetBlue respond? While they could have made an excuse or even ignored his tweet, they didn’t. They took his side and empathized with him.

“Oh no! That’s not what we like to hear! Are all the TVs out on the plane or is it just yours?”

After he confirms that it was just his TV that was out, they respond:

“We always hate it when that happens. Send us a DM with your confirmation code to get you a credit for the non-working TV.”

Not only do they imagine his frustration, but they also offer him a credit for his trouble.

What was the result? Just 23 minutes after his complaint, he tweets: “One of the fastest and better Customer Service: @JetBlue! Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving””


Perhaps because we sometimes feel like a number, today’s consumer has a distinct desire to be included, to be embraced, to be special. Maybe that explains some of the popularity of Facebook but the emerging consumer looks for the opportunity to be an insider. 

Using social media to, first, identify ardent brand fans then to connect with them in a unique way will move them down the purchase intent funnel described over a hundred years ago. 

Joining this conversation, not just posting to it, will build stronger brands and more effective campaigns. Sure, in the last 120 years a lot has changed but even with all the changes over the last century, Mr. Lewis would recognize that as good marketing.

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