Using Social Media To Make Offline Products More Meaningful

We may have pushed the digital image to its shareable limit, but there is still something nice about that framed desk photo (or album, or personalized tennis shoes).

With Google Street View, Yelp, Foursquare and a host of other location-aware technologies, we have successfully uploaded the world onto the Internet. It’s not enough, though, to have achieved augmented reality--the hyped tech trend that developers and entrepreneurs enthused over back in 2009. Now, as we stream the human experience 24-7, through our mobile devices and social services like Facebook and Instagram, the process is being, yet again, flipped on its head.

Our lives are coming back offline.

When it comes to the online-to-offline conversation, we immediately think about technologies like QR and bar codes, and companies like Uber and Airbnb that illustrate this model’s ability to translate across any industry and escalate with mobile. As this category matures, other companies have sought to find the same footing.

Instead of the usual rinse-and-repeat, however, new companies like Prinstagram are taking an entirely different tack, and turning the relationships of its online customer base into the product, pushing memories, creativity, and self-expression to the forefront, and making social commerce the most tangible it’s ever been.

First, Some Cultural Context

Today’s human experience has been uploaded as a hazy, sutro-filtered snapshot, a carefully curated bite-sized moment to be easily digested and then swiped away by ever-hungry thumbs. It’s a truly unique and personalized combination of self-expression plus experience. But it’s fleeting, and it’s not enough anymore to simply tweet, update your status, pin and share. While easily consumed, none of this is meaningful or exists in our very real world.

Like never before, our lives’ content is constant, rich with memories and meaning, more beautiful than ever, and created with unheard of ease. The stage is set.

Bringing the Feed Offline

What today’s social retailers are getting right is that the most compelling content to consumers these days is the media created by the consumers themselves. Like a photo booth or Splash Mountain snapshot, the product is compelling because it captures a story and memory. With the advent of mobile and the flurry of photo-editing apps, the media is personal, but also beautiful, stylized and ready in a snap.

Yes, people’s lives are now instantaneous and attractive--and as people can better document their real-world experiences, they’re finding new ways to bring their lives, now shared in Facebook and edited in Instagram, back off the news feed and into their surroundings. Blurb turns your Facebook photos into photo books, while Instagram has since spawned such companies as Casetagram (your favorite memories on an iPhone case) and Stichtagram (bags and pillows designed with you filtered photos), and a flood of other real-world product ideas, including this Ray-Ban sunglasses Instagram camera project. But that’s nothing compared to when a giant like Nike launches its PHOTOiD line of Instagram-customized sneakers--simply select an Instagram photo and shoe style, and you’ve got a new pair of shoes that aesthetically complement your life.

With so much potential within these social environments, these social channels are being turned into veritable flea markets letting brands and consumers complete transactions with social interactions. We’ve all seen “Facebook storefronts” but companies like Chirpify take it a step further, allowing consumers to buy products with Facebook comments and Tweets.

In the same vein, companies like Wrapp and DropGifts are Facebook-only commerce models that encourage customers to essentially forget the poke or wall post and send a gift instead--all within Facebook from selection and purchase of the gift, to a post that alerts the recipient of the surprise gift.

While the future of these companies is contingent on people continuing to trust and “live” in Facebook, they understand two fundamental components that drive companies around this model: these online social interactions are inherent in modern relationships and people have, through technology, become much more creative. If companies allow their customers to feel empowered in both aspects, the product could be as compelling and as viral as the media that personalizes it.

Beyond the Wall

While our interactions have become increasingly casual, we’re no less sincere in our relationships and interactions. Our daily lives are chock full of traditional holidays and life milestones and the sentiment surrounding them. But up until now, brands and companies have been aiming to bring in revenue by drumming up conversations and interactions around these events instead of developing products directly from these conversations.

The ultimate goal for these and future companies is to turn these social feeds into a product and revenue source. This is the most meaningful content on the web today, and the race is on.

--Kealan Lennon is the CEO of Cleverbug. Find him on Twitter at @kealanlennon.

[Image: Flickr user Kris Krug]

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