How Brands Can Create More Meaningful Social Connections

Alerts. Notifications. Messages. We live in an age of digital distraction. It’s shocking to consider that we use a minimum of four internet-connected devices. On those four devices, we receive, on average, 150 App notifications and 120 emails per day and engage in 200 mobile interactions per day.

These were the statistics that Dr. Lawrence Ampofo, founder of Digital Mindfulness, delivered to the audience at Spredfast’s Smart Social London this past June. He discussed the need for brands and consumers to focus less on the amount of social connections and more on creating connections that possess more meaning.

Digital distraction has a direct impact on the quality of our lives. While it is true that, as digital consumers, we are becoming far more educated and discerning about what kinds of content we are interested in, brands need to be more mindful of the time their customers want to spend in the world behind a screen and learn how to make that connection meaningful.

There’s no doubt that these alerts, notifications, and messages from social networks provide an unrivaled opportunity for brands to connect with a variety of audiences. However, Dr. Ampofo underlined that the rapid rate at which we receive large quantities of messages and notifications may lead to “shallow connections.” He demonstrated insight into the social significance of being more “digitally mindful,” raising the need for us to help the digitised world create connections of value.

Dr. Ampofo highlighted the current trend towards digital detoxing, whereby consumers seek peace from the distractions of constant push notifications and try to avoid the temptation of sinking into an internet wormhole for hours. People are increasingly looking for improved ability to focus on their work and be mindful of the world around them, creating a holistic social experience in all realms of interaction.

Spredfast spoke further with Dr. Ampofo and discussed the importance of brands developing a Digital Mindfulness approach to their social strategy.

Dr. Ampofo, in your own words, can you describe to us what digital mindfulness is?

Digital Mindfulness is a way of thinking that bridges the gap between changing digital environments and the humans that live and work within those environments. With a clearer understanding of our present digital moment, individuals and businesses can learn to humanise digital transformation.

If we were able to view the complexity of our digital moments, we would see a very chaotic and noisy picture that severely disrupts some of our most important qualities in our personal and professional lives: our attention, concentration and overall wellbeing. Being digitally mindful gives us a bird's-eye view of not only the experience that we need as human beings right now, but also the digital experience that best supports that experience. Slowly, we are becoming aware that being connected 24/7 is not conducive to peak performance, happiness or wellbeing; being in a near-constant state of alert for the next notification, phone call or update reduces our capacity to live and work well in the world. In addition, companies are becoming increasingly aware that a sole focus on improved operational efficiency doesn’t work in our increasingly connected, consumer-driven world. It fails to account for a critical component of successful transformation: humans, and their experience as recipients and activators of change.

At Smart Social London, you spoke of the quality of our connections and the danger of "shallow connections.” Could you expand on this a little more?

The way we connect matters. The pervasiveness of digital tools and services means that we can contact people around the world in seconds. We can be kept up to date on the latest happenings in the lives of our friends and families online. When we celebrate or we grieve, we can receive congratulations or condolences from people around the world in a matter of seconds. However, these connections amongst people are shallow. Sharing condolences from a limited emoji range allows people to empathise briefly for a few seconds before the rest of the news swamps their feed. Such human connection is distant and ephemeral and can leave people with a paradoxical sense of disconnection from other people. The paradoxical sense of alienation and ‘aloneness’ felt by people in the hyperconnected age is described by Sheri Turkle in her book Alone Together, and Mind Change by Susan Greenfield.

There has been a lot of press recently discussing the mental health issues that social networks are having on young people (14-24 yo's). Given the role Digital Mindfulness is playing, how important an issue is this and how important is it for brands to be aware of this problem?

One of the things that a digitally mindful person and company practice is intentional connection with people online. This means that digital experiences are more deliberate, and directed at our intentions, rather than just an assault on our attention. Studies show that mental health issues surface in a multitude of ways, such as when people cannot tell the difference between truth and biased messaging online, when they experience the emotional contagion of particularly inflammatory content, and much more. A company and person that is more digitally mindful will be aware of the impact of certain technologies on their psychological and physical health, and be able to optimise their experiences accordingly. I think that companies will soon increase the demand for Corporate Digital Responsibility executives - people who understand the impact of digital on employees and audiences and be able to advise enterprises on the best way to deploy and transform current digital practices.

A company and person that is more digitally mindful will be able to optimise their experiences accordingly.

 

For consumers in general, what do you feel is at the heart of a more mindful social experience?

In all the interviews I have conducted over the years, the most important element of a mindful social experience is empathy. Having a strong understanding of the state of the person you are trying to connect with is essential in giving organisations and people the best possible opportunity to meaningfully connect with other people and serving them in the best possible way. When this is done, relationships are stronger, companies are more innovative and more dynamic, and digital experiences enhance the quality of our lives, not just assault our attention

During your presentation, you spoke to Airbnb as an example of a brand who creates a more mindful digital experience. Could you tell us a little more about how they’ve achieved this?

AirBnB is a great example of a brand that is actively working to create digitally mindful experiences. One of the ways they are doing this is to increase the amount of friction that occurs when people use their service. This means that rather than using data and technology to make the process of engaging with the site more frictionless, and devoid of human contact, they understood that the act of staying in another person’s house could be potentially disconcerting for both the host and the guest. To increase the positive experiences for both parties (the point of AirBnB), the company decided to increase the number of interactions between the guest and the host prior to the stay occurring, to demystify the two people and to increase the chances of a positive experience. This drive to increase human contact, by intimately understanding the key drivers that motivated a positive or negative experience is essential to providing a digitally mindful experience that serves the intimate needs of people around the world.

Finally, for brands who are trying to create amazing social experiences, how can they incorporate digital mindfulness principles into social strategies. How does this impact employee productivity and the wider digital strategy?

I think it is absolutely possible to integrate digital mindfulness principles into social strategies. If we take one example of increasing empathy in social interactions so we have a better idea of the state of the person on the other side of the interaction, this enables companies and people to more meaningfully interact with people around the world in a way that is authentic, timely, impactful and links with our core values. Data is providing us with an incredible amount of information on people and we are gaining intimate knowledge of when we can interact with people. However, this might well mean that less rather than more content is produced, and less rather than more interactions are embarked upon. I think a digitally mindful social strategy will actually increase employee productivity and make digital strategy more impactful, and meaningful to both employees and audiences. By striving to make people truly happy and serve them, we have to change our thinking about digital that it has to cannibalise our time and attention. Social strategy is changing for the better. Digital transformation is humanising. As people, and organisations, we’re asking now how we can connect better in a world of constant connection, and this can only be good for humanity as a whole.

With the unrelenting stream of calls-to-action coming from so many devices, it’s no wonder that consumers are looking for some reprieve—whether that’s by joining the “dumb phone movement” or finding other ways to physically separate themselves from devices for a while. Audiences are looking for authenticity and multi-sensory experiences, and Dr. Ampofo says that means brands need to start creating for intention, rather than attention.

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Graham leads Spredfast marketing efforts across EMEA and APAC to help organisations understand how to create social campaigns that resonate, curate relevant social content across every major social network to create incredible social experiences and access real-time insights, and historical data, to plan campaigns and develop content strategies.