SOcial MEdia / by Chris Baldwin

By Justin

Week 7

Here we are (after a well needed break). I hope its all made sense so far. I’ll post an extensive reading list and links to various videos etc next time so if anyone wants to read further they can.

Last time we took a quick look into how we as individuals construct our reality and share experience with one another, then briefly looked into the concept of hyper-reality, I will continue with these themes, and the foundation of my thesis next week - but need to lay a little ground work, then do social media, then go back to hyper-reality and social constructs.

Brief history of So-Me

When it comes to social media and its origins, a lot of people think of Myspace, Friends Reunited, or perhaps Bebo? Maybe even a stretch to Face Party or Pictari? Cast a nostalgic thought back to uploading thumbnails taken on a digital camera, not a phone! Doing your best to keep the camera out of the shot (in a mirror selfie) to make it look like someone else took it? Maybe even look away from the camera for that passive vibe. On a side note, based on observations over the years; when camera phones emerged, the trend to keep the camera out of shot changed to the camera being one of the most predominant elements of the mirror selfie, demonstrating social dominance with ownership of the latest material goods.

20 years before angsty kids (me included) were programming HTML code into their Myspace to show how individual they were, a bunch of ex-commune living hippies launched a thing called the Whole Earth Electronic Link, better known as The WELL. The Well began in the Spring of 1985, years before the term social media, in fact before Mark Zuckerberg had even been born!! The Well was effectively a message board populated by various people most of whom had never met, the idea being a ‘space’ where thoughts and ideas were ‘free’.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about The Well, other than it being the first instance of social media; 19 years before Facebook but 1 year after the first successful online shopping order was placed and delivered.

In 1984, in Gateshead a 72 year old Jane Snowball completed the first online shopping order, from Tesco. This was a service originally designed to be used by house bound elderly or disabled people. Here we see the emergence of two separate, very new technologies, over the next 30 years, they would grow and grow to become two of the most dominating phenomena of moderns times!


Whenever I discuss aspects of mental health with people, more often than not social media is raised. Many people say things along the lines of, “Facebook causes all the problems,” or, “Social media is what’s making people depressed,” etc. As much as things like this do play a part in the problem, you simply can not blame them. It’s no different than putting a knife on trial for murder. I feel the human element is something we need to focus on more; yes social media is part of that problem but the part it plays is that of a magnifier on problems that already exist.

That’s not to say social media hasn’t impacted problems or exacerbated them. To say social media hasn’t contributed towards problems is as naive as claiming all the problems are caused by social media. The effect of the internet and social media on society has been massive! You don’t have to look hard in 2019 to find a study, blog or documentary about the correlation between various mental health conditions and addiction to social media. The film below is very interesting, and also very pertinent for any younger readers.

Even in the early days of what we now recognised as social media, we very quickly saw drastic social changes brought on by the emergence of this new technology. Back in 2000 a site called Friends Reunited hit the scene. The basic principle here was that people could sign up, fill out details of old schools/colleges and universities and it would match you up with people who attended any of these at the same time. Pretty nice right? Talk to old friends, reminisce about old more simpler times? This was true but soon lead to reminiscing with old flames about happier and more simpler relationships. Reported here in 2004.

…there were 153,490 divorces last year, an increase of 3.9% since 2002. This was the third successive year of rising divorce rates.

Is there a direct correlation? It seems so, but obviously much more data would be needed. In 2014 this  study was conducted and it did indeed suggest there is a direct correlation of social media usage and depression, loneliness and marital problems.

E-commerce and Social Commerce

No links to articles or essays are required to back up claims that online shopping has hammered the high street! Seemingly permanent staples of the high-street like Woolworths, HMV and M&S have struggled or even closed! All blaming the ease of online shopping for their troubles, and they’re right to!

Online only companies like Amazon and Etsy  dominate the shopping industry. With the ease of delivery and the ability to practically buy anything you can imagine, online shopping is massive! The high street’s limited selection and overheads just can’t compete.

To make your online shopping experience even more fulfilling, Social Media sites now link up with search engines and online retailers to analyse virtually every aspect on your online life to ensure it can target everything you see online with ads that are personalised to just you. Which brings us nicely round to Location Tagging

The history of tagging yourself in a specific location, or ‘checking in’, actually originates from GPS (Global Positioning System) technology developed in the early 90s to be used in cars to an attempt to stop/track down car thefts. PacTel, the company responsible for this, simultaneously developed a system that would transmit information/ads about local goods and services to pagers, local to wherever the pager was.

Over the years various other applications began using GPS technology, then in 2008 Foursquare was developed and launched. This allowed users to check in when they were out and about. This meant they could put a status update up which also included their location. If the venue they were in also had a profile, they could tag the venue too. Of course this was free advertising and also allowed the users to see other friends nearby.

But why am I going off on a tangent about GPS technology in a blog about the human condition? Well, let’s jump topic a second, sort of! Advertising again; but this time lets focus on word of mouth. We all know what this is right? You like something, you tell your friend and they try it. Based on market research (, 92% of people trust recommendations from friends/family more than advertising/marketing. The fundamental logic behind this is that your friends and family didn’t have a stake in the product/company they are recommending, they’re simply giving you a positive example of their particular experience, so why wouldn’t you trust them?

Back to GPS and tagging…

Imagine the scenario, you’re out at a coffee shop and you order a slice of tiffin and a latte. It’s cold outside, you’re warm inside and life is great! You pull out your smart phone with a 15 megapixel camera, GPS and constant access to social media, take a photo of your coffee/cake combo, upload it to Facebook and also tag the coffee shop in the post. You write something along the lines of, “So cosy in here away from the cold, loving life,” and BOOM, instantly share to the 100s or 1000s of people on your friends list.

Doesn’t sound too revolutionary now, but this scenario would not have happened even 15 years ago. Think back; how many people would you really see on a regular basis that you would share your cake experience with? 10? 15? Well, now you’ve shared a high-resolution, professional looking image of what you’re consuming, and you have associated it with emotion and a narrative! You’re happy, you’re, warm, and cosy, and you’ve managed to escape the harsh reality of the outside world, and found refuge in this little high street sanctuary. All of your friends will see that, and want that! Maybe some of them are even out shopping too? Facebook, being helpful, will send them a notification that you’re nearby escaping the weather you’re currently stuck in, you’ve just implanted so much positive information about that particular coffee shop chain in one single post, and the people who are reading it know and trust you!

The emotional attachment to the post is one of the most vital things! Jonah Berger, who is highly respected marketing advisor, has covered how emotions sell products. He has some freeresources to download here

What sells the post is that you’re not an actor being paid to lie about something to convince someone else to buy it. You’re a brother or sister, a best friend or old school buddy; you’re a source of honest and viable information! What did that advertising cost the company? Nothing! In fact they were paid by you for the privilege of your advertising for them! Blurring the lines between reality and various media. You are the buyer and the seller!

Some marketing campaigns have gone a step further; making up entire narratives, planting them in the realms of reality and using that to sell the product. Fully mixing fiction and non-fiction in order create a proper emotional connection to the product in order to make people want it. An early adoption of this technique utilising the internet was the team behind the film The Blair Witch Project, for more info check this

The bacon shortage narrative is also another popular example ( I covered the work of Edward Bernays and the Torches of Freedom in an earlier blog. The more you look into things like this the worse it gets though; entire military campaigns have been used to sell products before.


Buyer and the Seller

One very interesting event, which to me is a prime example in the shifting dynamic of the buyer/seller creator/consumer model, was the case of the quick rise in fame of the Arctic Monkeys. It also shows the blaring of the lines between the two NEED WORD. 

“The problem with Britpop is that Mohan owned it as much as everyone else – Blur v Oasis was a tabloid conversation. We were the only place who knew what the Libertines meant. We owned the conversation around guitar music. That’s what changed in 2005 – we didn’t any more. Arctic Monkeys always felt to me like the band that killed the NME.” (

Although numerous other bands have done similar things, the story of the Arctic Monkeys is unique due to their astronomical rise in fame. Up until that point, a big step in the process of success for any musician is getting signed to management/record label. These are the people who know people, who know the industry, and have the money to fund things like awareness campaigns, album productions, marketing, booking gigs at notable venues or supporting notable acts in order to ensure the performers are exposed to as many people as possible in order to maximise the potential fan-base.

One of the problems with this is the wall between the artist and the public; this wall being the small amount of people who influence and decide what the next big thing will be. Historically, they have had success is choosing artists/bands and presenting them to us but presenting their image of the artist. 

By using their Myspace page the band were cutting out the middle man. They played numerous small gigs and handed out the free CDs they had recorded themselves. They turned their Myspace page into a message board to talk directly to fans, and share new music and photographs. The fans became part of their journey! Fans and friends of the band burned copies of the CDs and left them on buses, at train stations and other public places. The fans became the band’s PR company. The band were their own management and marketing company. By forming a friendship-type connection with all of their fans, they created a situation where they were all in it together; where the band becoming famous was as important to the fans as it was to the band.

“The Arctic Monkeys had not even signed to a record label nor released a full-length album and they found themselves playing in venues that were usually reserved for more mainstream acts.” (


What has any of this got to do with anything else I've mentioned thus far?

What I'm trying to show here is the dissolving of the lines between the famous and the fans, and also the beginnings (or at least predominant examples of) of self-marketing via social media, self promotion and the idea of a person being the product they are marketing. The concept of marketing people as products wasn’t a new thing, but using the internet and social media to market yourself instead of relying on the established paradigm was. Because of this and other similar events at the time the music industry, and eventually society, would never be the same again.


Hopefully I’ve given enough information to show the emergence of social media and social commerce, of course it’s only an overview, there is a lot more information online for you to check out if you’re interested. My hope is that I’ve also shown how as the lines between buyer and seller have blurred, the lines between fact and fiction have also blurred.

Next time is my penultimate blog on this subject; I will further cover the blurring of lines between fact and fiction and go one step further in showing how we use social media to advertise products! We will look at how we are now the product that we sell. I will also conclude my thesis and try to tie together all of the previous blogs into some form of cosmology!