A reverb (or reverberation) is typically used to describe sound--or more specifically the instance where a sound continues despite the original source of the sound being removed. If you apply the same idea to social media, a reverb describes the unique fact that every action in social media is not just done, but is also broadcast across a particular individual's social graph online.
The newsfeed on Facebook is an example of this, as it not only announces life changes and hourly moods, but also whether someone is going to an event or not and what groups or causes someone supports. On Twitter, who you follow and retweeting posts are further examples of this concept. There are even tools like MyBlogLog that you can join in order to broadcast and share each time you visit and read a particular blog.
About six months ago in The New York Times, Clive Thompson brilliantly described every piece of social information online as "little snippets coalesce[ing] into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends' and family members' lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting." He called the social phenomenon this was giving rise to "ambient awareness" and described a world where we are connected with our social graphs in an unspoken way.
This unspoken reverb is why social media works. As we talk about our likes and dislikes, share our emotions in the moment and upload content from our lives--each of us influences one another. Put these multiple influences together and you have the social graph that influences every purchase behavior or belief any of us engages in. Our activities are the fusion of our own free will and the social ambiance around us.
What does this mean for brands? In social media, marketers are often tempted to think in terms of absolutes ... either a blogger writes about your campaign or cause--or they don't. What the social media reverb should teach you is that every action, from declining an event invite on Facebook (but still broadcasting it to your friends) to just visiting and reading your blog (without leaving a comment) has value. In a world where we are enjoying ambient awareness of one another's lives, the ultimate reason for any brand to engage with social media is that by doing so you become part of the framework from which people make decisions on whether to buy from you or not.
Rohit Bhargava is SVP of Digital Strategy at Ogilvy PR and author of the award-winning book Personality Not Included, a guide for brands to be more authentic. He writes the popular non-obvious marketing blog Influential Marketing and speaks frequently around the world on social media, marketing and the power of personality. Follow him on Twitter at @rohitbhargava or become a fan on Facebook before July 31 to be among the first to get a free download of his new ebook on August 1.