The New Economics of Caring - and Why Social Media Drives it

The universe only makes sense when we have someone to share our feelings with.

Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes


Sharing is one of the most important things we have. It's almost impossible as a human to keep something terrific, or infuriating, to ourselves, and studies have proven that it's deeply ingrained in our nature to share. Ranging from magic candy that pops, a great cookie recipe (this Perez Hilton Facebook post remains the most shared post of 2013, and is STILL climbing), to movie star crushes, and favorite vacations - sharing enhances our experience of everything that we love.

Or everything that we hate.

This makes social media so exciting (and so terrifying) for brands - and also so important to master. It's not just the messages of friends that we're sharing, anymore. Our opinions and reactions to brands are a big part of the sharing ecosystem. In 2013 alone there were over 1.5 BN shared moments on brand content posted on Facebook, according to Shareablee.

Beyond the immediate word-of-mouth, there is a bigger concept at work here that has powerful long-term implications for brand messaging. Recent publications from Dr Tania Singer with the Leipzig institute have proven that brain plasticity actually changes in response to observing other people's emotional states ("Compassion: Bridging Practice and Science"). Meaning we don't just empathize with those who share with us - we automatically activate the same neural responses, and change our chemistry on a neurophysiological level. Think of it as a kind of emotional contagion, which can be activated in relation to brands as well as towards anything else that inspires, or upsets us.

Brands will not survive anymore if they don't actively care about their customers, as judged in the court of public opinion on social networks, by communities of people wired with brains pre-set to feel what is observed. Brands need to think bigger for social, beyond customer care concerns that put a bandaid on problems (when the damage is already done), to the overall opportunities in preemptively caring for customers, well before the exasperated tweet hits a company's handle.

This starts with encouraging proactive sharing of valuable content, which begins with creating content with the customer in mind. Three key questions to ask for shareable content, are:

1) Is this entertaining or fun?
2) Does this contain helpful or practical information? (offers, warnings, tips, safety info)
3) Will sharing this content make the sharer appear more intelligent, savvy, or more interesting to their friends?

If the answer is yes to at least one of the above questions, then it is likely that this content will contribute to the Economy of Caring. If not, then it might be worth double-checking that social media is not being treated like a one-way dialogue, a push technology to force messages out into the world.

We share what we care about, or what moves us, with those who we care about to add value to their lives. And when customer opinion can be made so transparent so quickly, it's worthwhile for brands to invest with valuable deposits into their goodwill bank. A customer's willingness to share on a brand's behalf is the most powerful success metric.