Social Propaganda in Modern Marketing

Propaganda is usually a term used in the intelligence and military communities for Psychological Operations (PYSOPS) – the art of persuasion and influence to reach a clandestine objective.

The military in particular, have embraced digital disruption in the public affairs space to exploit the pervasive nature of social media. My previous blog ‘Social Propaganda in Modern Warfare’ and associated SlideShare presentation to Australia’s Kokoda Foundation provide an insight into how social media based PSYOPS is changing the modern battlefield.

But what about the civilian social sphere?

The consumer and b2b marketplace? Government ?

It may surprise you to learn that PSYOPS isn’t just a military mechanism of war.

Fact: PSYOPS aka ‘Advertising’ aka ‘Marketing’ is being used under different names in your everyday life – both on and offline to, as best put in the movie Fight Club:

BuySellAds 2011 infographic : The Sneaky Psychology of Advertising shows just how consumer based advertising has evolved to capture changes in the way consumers digest their everyday communications. Add social media into that mix and we find big data is the long-game being played by advertisers and marketeers around the world.

Think about it:
– Are you a member of a (or many) Customer Loyalty Program/s?
– Do you sign into various social networks; web sites or Apps with a single login?

If you answered ‘yes’ to either of the above, you’ve given your consent for marketing companies to mine and use your data. Even if you haven’t; your data IS being mined in some form.

To understand PYSOPS in a big data context, let me take you through a quick look at how your online activities (or offline customer loyalty and purchasing habits) shape your data profile.

Social networks mine your data. They capture every click, like, comment, and interaction to build a profile of your preferences, your habits and your purchases. If you connect your social networks to third party apps or services (such as via one-step-logins)  like Trip Advisor for example, your internet browser history is also captured. They then use this information to target ads of statistically probable interest to you. It’s reverse marketing if you will: albeit highly targeted and fairly insidious.

Customer loyalty programs are also a big data goldmine. By tracking your purchasing and spending habits, along with when, where and how you shop – they can effectively utilise other forms of marketing – such as personalised email offers – to influence your next purchase. The data that can be extrapolated from this information will also be on-sold to other third parties – as aggregated data places you in distinct household demographic categories, shows a  pattern of financial services used per spend (cash vs card) and household salary brackets. This information is of great value to a myriad of companies vying for your business across a range of sectors – finance, insurance and telco’s to name but just a few.

In my blog ’Socialveillance: Social Media Marketing by Stealth’ I explain:

Facebook is spying on me. It’s collecting my data, storing it and mining it to model marketing strategies for third party advertisers that are targeted to appeal.

While many people find this style of marketing intuitive; many others see it as an invasion of their privacy.

Just like the Google empire; Facebook is steadily collecting or acquiring other popular methods of communication to dominate the social market. The misconception that social media networks are free for users is prevalent: you may not be paying a service based subscription, but you are paying with elements of your privacy.

Positive Propaganda

Let’s reclaim Propaganda as a positive term: the propagation of ideas …

@Ric_Cole, 2013

Due to the historical connotations of military propaganda and it’s continuing use; the words positive and propaganda seem mutually exclusive.

A chat on Twitter with @Ric_Cole challenged my thinking on this- in particular how digital disruption has impacted our lives more broadly as a result of the transference of propaganda techniques from off to online; and how those behaviours have manifested themselves in our daily lives.

There is certainly an ease about our everyday online interactions – and at the core of any messaging is a viewpoint: someone trying to convey that idea to others. Never before in the history of humankind  has the ability to share your views with others been so globally possible.

It is in this context we can see the development of positive propaganda as a tactic across digital and social platforms.

The Arab Spring uprising is one example.

The Libyan revolution of 2011 another.

William B. Snyderwine writes in his paper ‘The Dictator’s Dilemma: The Role of Social Media in Revolutions:”

“So you want to be a dictator? … Social media has also changed the effectiveness of the dictator’s methods to quell a revolution. In the past, a dictator could kill a dissident to silence him while only angering a few close relatives and friends. Today, as in the case of Khaled Saeed, the deceased can become a rallying cry for thousands and his message quickly spread. The dictator’s action, while silencing one, angers thousands…”

In marketing terms, ‘The Voice of the People’ again plays positive propaganda to spotlight attention on the will of a critical mass.  Corporate negligence, poor brand customer service and mishandled public relations campaigns abound. And with the 24/7 news cycle fueled by social media,  nothing says ‘Wrong” more clearly than a  ticked off consumer base. More interestingly, a critical consumer mass will differ from one brand crisis to the next, making positive propaganda a highly effective tactic.

Retail giant Target was versed on good corporate relations when an irate mother wrote on their Facebook wall that their clothing range for tweens was more suited to tramps. Rather than take the feedback on board constructively, their attempts to justify their tween clothing range only drew further social ire.

Australia’s iconic airline Qantas have also felt the effects of twitter tirades over their botched #QantasLuxury campaign which was ill-timed given the social backlash created by their commercial decision to ground the fleet – stranding passengers worldwide earlier the same month.

In both cases, consumers were quick to point out that not only had their marketing strategy clearly missed the mark; but their corporate world view was wrong.

While corporate entities have survived these consumer lead PSYOPs actions while Dictators have fallen; the ‘voice of the people’ using social media as a propaganda platform – in a way that is positive and rebuking attempts to ‘hard-sell’ them on an product or ideology – has changed the public relations landscape permanently.

Whether you are toppling a regime via Twitter or pulling a corporation into line on Facebook, the way like minded people are turning the tables on PSYOPs – and then adopting those same platforms as a means to feed their own messaging back into the on and offline conversation to achieve crowd-sourced goals – is positive propaganda at work.

Perhaps without fully realizing it; these events of mass social unity are forming a collegiate undercurrent of positive change in the world. No matter what the scale or objective, social media is changing PSYOPs in both military and civilian environments.

Positive Propaganda – with crowd-sourced goals from the People… really is changing the world.

What do you think?

Hat-tip to my Twitter pal @Ric_Cole for inspiring me to write this blog and for being an innovative digital thinker.