Do You Like Being Watched? The Uncertainty Principle and Social Media Marketing

Posted on April 5, 2008
Filed Under Musings, social media marketing, Social Web | 2 Comments

How’s your online new media marketing going?  If you want to guess, fine.  If you want to observe and measure, that’s another story.

Intended or otherwise, your own use of the pages & web properties does affect the measurement.  That usage would be minimal in most cases.  But want about the use by people who are not plain users… by users who know their actions are not transparent?

First, a well-established and well-known quantum physics idea – the Heisenberg uncertainty principle – says that measuring something happening can alter what it is that you are measuring.  A simpler way to envision it in a related way, is that by pouring ketchup into thimble to measure it, and then pouring it out, you would reduce the amount of ketchup that you end up with… because some would stay stuck in the thimble.

This change means your measurement is off and your cooking might suffer.  Fine for ketchup because you can see it, of course, and work around this to some extent.  But getting down to the level of tiny particles such as electrons means you can’t see that your measurement-taking changed what the electron was doing.

Whew – totally boring science club stuff, yes?

Not if you think of people as electrons, as then maybe things start to come into focus.  Under the social microscope, some of these electrons know that they are being watched.  They know and believe that their actions – their visits, their votes, their comments, tweets, social bookmarks, clicks – are observable, and also in many cases permanent records of their actions.

Everyone online *knows* they are being observed.  Well, most people do, anyway.  Especially the people who are involved in online marketing.

Social Observer Effect

So, let’s bring in another aspect named the observer effect, which separate from Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle has a related aspect: the impact that even observing something can change it.  The actions of animals at night can’t be observed very well without light, and shining a light on them will change their actions.  Taking your temperature with a thermometer actually lowers your temperature because a small amount of your heat is transferred into the thermometer.

Now we’re cooking…

… because we all know that behavior of most people can be affected by observation.  That is, if they know they are being observed, many people will change behavior as a result.  One humorous example relating to this is that people are more likely to wash their hands in a restroom if someone else is there to notice the act.  This wonderful truth was measured via experiments over the years (with another truth being that people often say they washed when they didn’t… maybe 25% were liars).  It could be true that “Self-awareness… may be enhanced by being watched by others.”

So, now what does this theory stuff have to do with anything social online?

Hmm…  in the old days, people consumed media such as newspapers and radio and tv, and it was one-way.  Online new media now has people creating and consuming media, with a touch of competition thrown in.  With sites such as YouTube, by putting all this media in one place, people go to see what’s popular… knowing in many cases that by watching a video they are also voting it up in popularity.  So they tell their friends and others to watch their stuff so it might go viral by rising in the charts.

And of course, with deep-packet inspection going on, even more observation is happening that what was revealed with the release of private user data in recent times by some major online web properties.  What happens as more users realize that they may not be anonymous, and thus have to think of their next click: “What will someone else think about my activity?”

Wrapping up, there may be some value to exploring and understanding the play between people’s activities on an individual basis, in consideration that they may be acting differently just because they know they may be watched.


2 Responses to “Do You Like Being Watched? The Uncertainty Principle and Social Media Marketing”

  1. How to Best Promote Your Brand Using Social Media: 10 Top Tips and Ideas! | bkmacdaddy designs on October 12th, 2009 11:53 am

    […] You Are Always Watched – Remember That: Whether one of your employees send a wrong message about your brand, or a […]

  2. Iliad on February 10th, 2010 4:36 pm

    We’re getting there… This is profoundly exciting stuff!

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