Blame it on being immersed in writing a book on the ways we build relationships in the digital age or being tossed in to a meeting with very capable marketers clinging to old world (aka pre-digital) notions on how people make purchasing decisions and engage with a brand, but I've got being social on the brain. I'm very firmly (and unscientifically) of the view that mobile, digital, social hasn't made connecting with people more complicated, it's just that these tools, together with all the data they collect and toss out, reveal how complex and multi-layered we are. And just how bad we are at engaging as people with other people.

Then you throw brands into the social media networking mix and the whole thing gets really awkward and uncomfortable.

Case in point--think about how we shop now. We research products on-line. We test our social graph by posting a question ("has anyone tried") on Facebook. We count the number of Amazon stars and sort our choices by "most popular". Fact is 68% of consumers trust online reviews from strangers more than a brand's marketing (so much for shelling out for a full-page ad in the September issue). Yet, sponsored Tweets invade our Twitter conversations and freemium business models are now code for "the consumer will be bombarded by ads". According to another survey, 77% of online shoppers use reviews to make a purchase decision. Let me repeat that: 77% use reviews (the stuff strangers write about your product). That is a lot of people reading the good, the indifferent and the negative about your product--not getting swayed by your glossy celebrity endorsement or promoted post.

And guess what? Those negative reviews you're scared of? Negative reviews are no longer deterrents, flashing bold red warning signs - rather those reviews are a sign of authentic experience. Your product is validated as being "real". Those product imperfections are just another data point to take into account as part of the purchase-making decision process.

So what is a brand to do? Ditch the old world marketing squad and the sales brochure? Not so fast! Consumers are complicated purchasing creatures - as the big data shows--and that single marketing funnel is now splintered on a multitude of mobile, gender, generational, geographic, aspirational, networking lines. Sorry brands, we may not always toss aside that direct mail envelope containing neighborhood deals or ignore a One King's Lane sale on Facebook--which simply means you have to keep listening, innovating and trying to make sense of all that consumer data so you can capture our attention, hearts and loyalty. Recognize that often we are semi-interested in hearing from you--there is just no predictability as to when that moment may occur.

In her latest Truly Social video on YouTube, Tara Hunt (aka @missrogue) sets out the 9 ways people are not like brands - that matters if you're a brand trying to figure out a social strategy, as social by definition means you're trying to meaningfully connect with people... Watching Tara, here's why social media is a very human activity--and either a marketer's strategic dream--or biggest nightmare:

  1. Serious narcissists aside, people don't only think about themselves nor do they believe that others only think about them. We have lots of stuff on our minds--not just selling more products.
  2. People struggle for meaning--we question, we change our minds, we drunk tweet - it is why, as consumers, we drive brands crazy!
  3. People crave connection. The top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs should be social connection, as in authentic real human relationships.
  4. People are not one-dimensional. As Tara notes, she loves podcasts and documentaries--plus shopping. At 50, I'm amusingly more Millennial in my approach to ownership of goods than many of my Gen X generation.
  5. People change in ways neither you nor they cannot predict (which makes for rocky relationships and confused messaging).
  6. People are selfish and altruistic all at once. We are not rational, in spite of what economists desperately hoped for. Greed is good as long as it is balanced by some quality give before the big take.
  7. People make emotional decisions--exactly what brand marketers have traditionally relied upon! We make all sorts of wonderfully irrational decisions, the sort that makes life rich and grand (falling in love, quitting a job, changing our hair color or marital status) and ensures our decision-making remains highly unpredictable. Just when you thought you had us on Facebook, we break-up and move to Snapchat.
  8. People have good days and bad days. Ok, looking at the stock market so far in 2016, brands have bad days too but Tara's point is people typically have close friends to share those ups and downs with (which is a much smaller subset than all those "friends" on Facebook). Brands don't have friends, they have Davos.
  9. People have a point of view--and it connects us to others. It is, according to Tara, part of the messy, complicated emotional stuff that helps us truly connect on social. And brands, well, they just don't have the mechanics or DNA to be emotional, messy, complicated social beings.