Can’t post it online? Not worth it.

If I gave you the chance to go skydiving right now, free of charge, but you weren’t allowed to share the story with anyone, would you do it? I often find myself posing this question to friends and colleagues, sometimes changing the scenario to only forbid sharing the experience on social media. The answers to both conundrums are almost always no. Personally I don’t think the questions are too different, because for many people sharing a story or experience today invariably means to post it online too. In no way do I claim my casual surveying provides conclusive data, but I do think it provides a key premise for a hot debate: If an experience isn’t on social media, did it really happen? Or probably a little more down to earth, if you can’t post about something online, is it worth it?

I wouldn’t consider myself a social media addict by any stretch (ok some might disagree!), but in the middle of a great experience I have found myself crafting the perfect status update to share later. Of course there are ah, great experiences that can’t or shouldn’t be shared online, but in the middle of most that can be I want to be able to reminisce about it later, and the rich media capabilities of social media provide a perfect platform to scrapbook my memories with friends and family. Our brains are pretty great, but I can’t use it to scroll back to 2011 one night and be reminded of the great times I had with X & Y. Of course our brains have a way of reminding us of things in its own ways, but isn’t life so much better with two or more ways to catalogue our awesome times, for us to see and others to interact with?

I acknowledge that by coming up with status updates in my head *during* the experience I am probably taking myself out of the awesome experience that I am reminding myself to catalogue and smile about later, which probably means I am actually wasting a portion of the amazing moment at hand. I get it, I am probably a little addicted after all, or just obsessed with digital scrapbooking. To try and reign this in I have actually found myself thinking of how I am going to share an experience online before I have even experienced it. Yep, I admit there are a few posts out there celebrating an awesome moment that were actually prewritten. It kinda worked though. I did enjoy those extra few minutes not thinking about my impending status update. Perhaps businesses should start offering guests prompts or suggestions for posts? I know I have looked around a location for inspiration; something relevant but witty to attach to the pic of my cheesy grin.

I might sound a bit crazy, but I know I am not alone here! If you are on social media, and much of the connected world is, then it’s because we want to share parts of our lives with others. Some people post more than others, but even the once a fortnight poster is likely spending a decent amount of their time browsing and interacting with other people’s memories, thoughts and experiences. Social media has changed the way we build and maintain relationships. E-mail put letters on their death bed, and social media has changed the position of e-mails in a similar way. Our phone plans are increasingly focused on data to fuel our obsession with social media, and for many these platforms are not just a gateway to the web, they are the web. Social media has become deeply embedded in our social fabric and day to day communications, and THAT is why it has the power to make or break the relevance of our experiences. If our friends are talking to us on social media, businesses want us to talk about them on social media, and even government wants us to like them on social media, it is hard to think of a place where what you have to share will matter more. Everyone is there, and everyone is waiting to consume.

Two friends of mine recently got married, and that’s an event that has been a pretty big deal for humans for quite a while. Like many couples today they chose to have their wedding filmed by a professional crew, ‘because you only do it once…and want to remember it in the best way possible’. Good wedding videos cost thousands, capturing the experience in a way that no one person’s memory could. By posting the video to Facebook the Bride and Groom get to relive their experience again, interactively with friends and family, as many times as they want, whenever and wherever they want.  Importantly they chose, and paid a lot of money, to have a once in a lifetime occasion captured digitally and embedded on social media ‘forever’, and they ‘wouldn’t have had it any other way’.

Their social media profiles represent them, and a wedding is something that defines them not only on a personal level, but on a societal level too. Of course I am not saying the wedding wouldn’t have been worth it if they couldn’t share it with friends and family online…and for the record it was an absolutely amazing day… but social media gave them a platform to enrich their memory and experience in ways that mankind physically couldn’t do before. We live, digitally catalogue, share and relive through social media because it’s simply the best way we know how to do our memories justice now.

I certainly consider my social media profile an extension of myself and my life; a digital scrapbook to relive my experiences and connect with people I can’t interact with physically right now. To not post on social media limits the longevity of the utility an experience provides. A photo on my Facebook profile can make me smile when I look at it 5 weeks or 5 years from now. An experience I wasn’t allowed to take a photo of exists only in my mind, where memories inevitably fade with age. When businesses tell me I can’t share photos online, of anything, I am instantly put off. I really hate to say it, but I have even thought twice about dating girls who don’t let me share things on Facebook. I want my good times to be good even beyond the moment they were good. If we have the technology to do it, damn right I am going to pay the tourist attraction $30 a pop for photos to publish online.

So what does this mean for marketers? If my rant is anything to go by…if you think I represent even a tenth of your customer base… limiting a patron’s ability to extend their experience beyond the now, beyond the physical establishment, is perhaps pretty bad for business? You don’t have to give away everything, just give me a digital sliver of my experience to remember you by. For my friends to remember you by after I have posted it online, and for them to talk about until they get to experience it for themselves. For those businesses that struggle to facilitate this because their experience doesn’t translate well to the digital realm, like this awesome looking glow worm cave in New Zealand (where the average joe’s camera will probably let him down), I say stick a giant, cute worm statue out the front for me to pose with instead. That’ll satisfy my digital craving, and I can insert some witty banter in the caption to remember the whole experience by.

Recommendation based consumer choices are thriving online because it is commonly accepted (wrongly or rightly) that when a friend or reviewer posts about a product or experience online it is worth it. We consume far more than we create in the digital age, so when we take the time to make that status, write that review, attach our name…our credibility…to our words and photos, we generally mean it. It is worth it for us, we want to digitally save that moment when it was worth it, and we want to make it known to everyone that we think it is worth it, via the platforms on which everyone we care about exists to see our message, memory and experience, in real time.

So would I go skydiving right now if I couldn’t share the experience online? No. Absolutely not. Because if I am going to do something as crazy as jumping out of a plane to literally fall to my death for a few moments, hoping that bit of material kicks in and saves me, you bet your life on it I am going to enshrine that memory on my Facebook wall – to serve as a daily reminder to myself and others of how much of a badass I really am, and only then it’ll be worth it.

Michael feels privileged to be part of the #SMPerth community as its first intern.