Your new online friend is popular and always has something interesting to share. She tweets links to interesting articles and information, and is one of the first to break news. She always seems able to answer people’s specific questions. She often has something humorous to share, and here and there she @’s you a question or posts a response to your Facebook status. The only problem? She’s an algorithm, not a real person.
Do you care?
Ok. We’re not there, yet. As far as I know, there aren’t virtual people roaming the social networks. In the future, it’s a distinct possibility, though. And there are some compelling reasons for businesses to try to create virtual people online.
Studies such as Razorfish’s show that people value consistency, relevance, and efficiency. All of these elements can be achieved programmatically. In fact, relevance and consistency can probably be achieved better programmatically.
People are generally selective about who they follow/friend online. Some are more selective than others. And most people actually don’t have hundreds of friends in their immedate online network. (The average on Facebook is 130.) To reach individual consumers, businesses need to reach the more prolific and popular users, whose posts and content are shared into smaller networks by the more selective users. If ExactTarget’s social profiles and percentages are accurate, certain users are easier to reach and more connected. Marketers need to get their message and content to these people and get them to share it, hoping that information is reshared down to the inner circles.
Reaching the innner circle
There are two options: make connections with these influential individuals, or become an influential individual. It may be easier for a virtual personality to become influential.
News junkies, business first, megaphones/amplifiers, deal seekers, and shoppers are all social users who are probably willing to follow more automated feeds. These people have goals and the goals supercede the “social” aspects of social media. They are less likey to object to a Twitter news feed, if it provides the news or deals they want. Add a little personality to that feed, and it could be more appealing.
The benefits of a virtual person
Let’s say your a political junkie, to one side of the spectrum or the other. A virtual personality on Facebook and Twitter shares political articles and blog posts that you usually find interesting. In fact, unbeknownst to you, it’s tracked the stories you clicked on, and increasingly is @ing you specific posts–almost all of which you like. The virtual personality has a sense of humor, too, posting political jokes and videos here and there. They make you laugh. A few times, you’ve had questions about where to get information about some issue or another, or the phone numbers or emails of representatives. The virtual personality is always the first to answer and always has good answers.
No, you aren’t going to meet the virtual personality at a conference and you aren’t going to get any empathy from it when you tweet that you’ve come down with the flu. You are going to get a lot of other benefits, though. Enough, perhaps, to keep you following a fake on Twitter.