One of the universe’s most famous villains, Darth Vader, had the ability to foresee events before they happened. Combined with his invisibility, sphere shield, and other powers - he was almost unbeatable. And yet, if Darth Vader had social media, he could have conquered the universe much easier. Social media is the world’s latest weapon, folks, and it’s time we acknowledged it.
For starters, social media can do all of the things Darth Vader did. Foresee events before they happen? Posts made on Facebook and Twitter can be used to predict everything from civil riots to when your neighbor is about to get sick. Black Swan did precisely this in its project to predict local flu outbreaks in Indonesia for GlaxoSmithKline. They used location data from social media posts where people complained of having a cold along with public prescription data, and wham! They were able to forecast when there would be an outbreak in any part of the country four days in advance. GSK then used this to put out ads in the region encouraging people to buy their vitamin supplements - and saw their returns had increased by more than a 100 percent.
So social media, when used right, helps control people’s choices too, like what they buy. According to a Curalate Consumer Survey, 55% of consumers buy products after they happen to see them on platforms like Facebook (78%) and Instagram/Pinterest (59%). Products are also shared between friends on Facebook and Twitter - they make up 6% of referrals on e-commerce websites. Considering Indians spend at least 17 hours per week browsing through social media, it’s the best place to garner brand loyalty. In other words, subconscious, involuntary obedience.
That’s another great thing about social media - people won’t know it hit them. They can’t see where their data goes. Companies like Facebook and Twitter pass on an endless stream of information on to various data brokers. Data brokers are your spies in the black market who collect information about everyone without them knowing. They put together details from different sources – social media, devices like Smart-TVs, and apps on people’s phones that record everything from fitness to menstrual details. This information gets sold to marketing companies, and really, anyone who’s interested to buy. Basically, best stealth machine ever. Mark Zuckerberg admitted his own data got sold to Cambridge Analytica, a firm that was involved in using personal information from millions of Facebook profiles for Donald Trump’s political campaign.
Whether you want to conquer the galaxy by establishing presidency or by getting everyone to talk about who you are, social media is the way to go. The key to this is that you don’t talk about who you are. Today, trying to achieve world domination by establishing brand identity is like throwing dung bombs from your F16. The key to getting your identity to create an explosion on social media is crowdculture, as Douglas Holt terms it. Subcultures across the world have joined forces together on social media. These digital crowds produce their own forms of cultural ideas and entertainment, and are constantly innovating. Holt points out that Youtuber Pewdiepie is so successful because he catered to the gaming subculture, and helped spearhead a new genre of entertainment: gaming comedy. In India, Bhuvan Bam of BB Ki Vines was among the first to create bite-sized humorous content in Hindi and character-based sketch comedy. Meanwhile, only three brands landed on Youtube’s Top 500 in 2016 - despite all the money that had gone into branding themselves online. The key therefore is to use ideas that subcultures think they own (but it’s really you owning them, like Darth Vader’s mind tricks!)
Chipotle was one brand that found a crowdculture to support them into getting out there. Consumers who were disillusioned with the fast food industry and looking for healthier ingredients helped make Chipotle’s two films about the slow food movement go viral on Facebook. In India, there was Puma, who found resonance with the hip-hop crowd and garnered 2.2 million Facebook views for their 'Suede Gully' music video. One has to be careful with using crowdcultures however - it requires consistency, because sometimes people do end up revolting and calling out brands for not following up on their ideology. Chipotle itself got into trouble with food contaminated with E. coli later on. Puma was criticized for overpricing its products, and going against the ideas of street culture. You also want to choose a crowdculture that is relatively big.
Adding the right hashtag to social media can speed up the domination process. The #FollowMeTo picture (where someone leads the photographer by the hand at a travel destination) was created by a couple who managed a travelling account. A generation of Instagrammers already besotted with wandering the globe immediately took to it and put up such photographs themselves. As of March 2019, the account has 499k followers! The hashtag just has something about it that makes the planet’s citizens reflexively pick up on content without even thinking about it. Or think about it for a short while, as in the case of Durex India’s #HateCondoms. The company asked people to answer a poll on social media about why they would be less likely to use a condom. It got people on the Internet thinking and talking about the brand, which Durex made use of to launch their new product, Durex Air.
Whether it’s controlling minds by influencing choices and using crowdculture, invisibly reading into everyone’s thoughts and learning about their preferences, or predicting what they’re about to do next - social media could do everything Darth Vader could and more. But here’s the thing. Darth Vader also redeemed himself. He was really just trying to protect the universe. Social media doesn’t have to be a battle between the industry and customers either. All of its powers, including the big data involved, could be shared by companies and ordinary citizens in a way that benefits each other.
How can social media restore peace to the galaxy? Stay tuned for the next blog post!