Future: How The Social Contract Between People and Brands Will Evolve

In the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing the much anticipated Future of the Social Web Report, based on research conducted with the leading social networking companies and organizations in the industry. This post is just a riff off one of the sub-bullets and is intended for those that are already well versed in the social web.

In one research interview, I spent time with the insightful Chris Messina who is an active member and on the board of the Open ID foundation. After speaking to him, he brought forth insight on how portable IDs will empower people (he uses the term citizen) to traverse the web and reduce their need to constantly register to sites, and login. He’s *finally* posted on the topic after my prodding, I wanted to wait on publishing this so he gets the proper attribution.

[Technology will shift the power from brands to people as they are able to control their own identity. As a result, the Social Contract between people and brands will evolve]

In a previous post, I highlighted how this simple technology will shift the power from marketers to customers, and as a result registrations pages will go extinct. How will this happen? Because people will be able to control their identity, and can choose to expose as much or as little information as they want to brands and websites, they are now in control.

The Social Contract: Today vs Tomorrow
In order to gain control back, marketers will need to reinvent the digital social contract as we know it. Here’s how it’s going to go down:

Today, the social contract puts brands in control
Prospects who want more information about a product, access to a white paper, attend an event, or get product support will often have to register on a website. As a result, they give information, and thus power to brands for them to bug them, and bug them more efficiently. While customers can choose to unsubscribe or choose not to be contacted, they’ve given the ‘required fields’ over to the brand…forever locked up in CRM systems.

Tomorrow, the social contract puts customers in charge.
As customers can elect how much information they want to share, they are now in charge. Prospects (not customers yet) can share very minimal amounts of information, giving the brand limited ability to bug them. As the prospect becomes more interested, sarah will choose to give more information to the brand in exchange for additional value.

Use Case: How the Social Contract Between Customer and Brand May Work
To illustrate my point, here’s how this new model could evolve with Sarah, our fictional customer, at the top is the start of her journey (someone not even remotely interested) to her becoming a vocal advocate(satisfied and willing to tell others):

Sarah’s not interested in the brand. As a result, she doesn’t have to give any information as she visits a brand site, she’s just browsing and she’ll choose not to expose any information.

Sarah sees a product that attracts her eye, and requires more information, but doesn’t want to expose her personal information or register to the site. She will allow the brand to send her information perhaps in her Facebook inbox, but she won’t have to give any information about her at all.

Sarah’ starting to compare this product to others, she’s in the consideration phase, as trust is instilled, she will choose to allow her demographic information exposed, and in return receives information related to what she is likely to want, reducing her need to navigate a large website. While her demographic information may be disclosed to the brand, they may never know her actual name or email address.

Sarah is getting ready to commit to purchase, as a result, the brand offers her greater incentives such as additional services or discounts if she shares her psychographic information to the brand. As a result, the brand will be able to offer her additional related products, or engage in an actual dialog.

Sarah has purchased the product, and the brand offers her a deeper discount to her friends, if she chooses to pass along information to her trusted peers that she’s purchased the product, or her review. This word of mouth is what customers trust the most, and brands will attempt to tap into this by offering group discounts if several buy.

Sarah, who is thoroughly satisfied with the product, chooses to be public about her purchase. Although you can’t expect every customer to self-express, she will knowingly stand behind the products and brands that represent her, and become a willing endorser of the brand. This isn’t that far fetched, we currently see this with many luxury or passion products, but now the brand will encourage this, by rewarding her with recognition or other forms of social currency.

Now some of you may say this contract already exists in some forms, and I’ll have to agree. However we haven’t seen formal systems and technology emerge pan-industry that can support this. It’s even possible people can experience this all within social networks without ever formally going to a corporate website.

Although fictional, this use case could very well come to life, and I’m sure some vendors will leave some comments on how they’re already experimenting with this. As this simple technology enables customers to control their own identities, brand will have to reshape how they’ll get customers attention and ability to register.

This topic of the social contract is only one small node in the upcoming report, we’re excited to share it with you in the coming weeks.