Breaking Through the Glass Case of (Digital) Emotion

Valerie Hoke
October 27, 2017

Earlier this week, we took a dive into the world of emotive content on social media: What it is, why we post it and how it manifests.

We’re all guilty, as individuals and as brands. And I shouldn’t even use the word “guilty,” because we shouldn’t be at fault for how we feel. Like all things, though, there’s a limit, and the never-ending cycle of sharing our feelings on social media is nearing one.

Remind me what we’re talking about…

Drama. Digital drama, to be more specific.

Your Facebook friends’ posts full of phrases like “I’ve lost my faith in humanity” and “this isn’t normal.” The videos from brands that ask you to sniffle with tears over an inspiring story of a person overcoming illness just as a mechanism of advertising a product or service. The angry tweets we all send about horrible customer service experiences and how we’ll never give a brand our business again.

Yeah, we do it too. We told you. (Whoa, I just put you on blast, my Blasters.)

The thing about emotional posts, though, is that not just individuals can make them: Brands can, too. And if a brand can get us to feel as fired up and passionate as we do about the latest breaking news story, isn’t that a major win?

My feels, they hurt

Say hello to The Dream Scenario™ for brands: Make people react to your content with the same intense emotion they exhibit in their own personal posts, without sacrificing reputation or money.

Now, no major brand is going to start sharing sizzling hot takes about the very things that trigger those “lost my faith in humanity” reactions from individuals. That would be too partisan, and most of the time, partisanship = bad. (Bad for that reputation and that cold hard cash, mind you.)

What brands can do, though, is learn to create content that makes us feel those passionate emotions without even mentioning the core source of those feelings, therefore maintaining their public neutrality.

Example: Take Coca-Cola’s infamous “America the Beautiful” spots aired during two recent Super Bowls (2014 and 2017).

The ad, as you probably remember, features several young people singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages, so that the whole song threaded together asks viewers to think about unity, togetherness and nice things like that.

Nowhere in the commercial do you hear words like “diversity,” “prejudice” or “immigration,” but you don’t need to—you just know that those are the words they are intentionally planting in your brain.  

When people reacted to the commercial in mass on social media, those are the very words they had in mind, too, but at the end of the day, Coca-Cola had an out: their commercial just featured a song.

There were those who found the ad emotional and moving:

And those who thought it was “disrespectful” to the United States for broadcasting a patriotic song in languages other than English.

Coca-Cola, of course, knew exactly what they were doing. They got their online buzz.

We’re (mostly) smart people, though, and we know when we’re being pandered to. Brands can’t expect us to fall for this strategy forever, because we are THIS CLOSE to being so thoroughly oversaturated with emotional content that we can hardly stand to look at it anymore.

Welcome to the Facebook Rant Bubble

The other day, Blaster-In-Chief Matt Ray was pondering this concept of emotive content out loud: “There’s got to be a bubble, right?”

Yes. And it’s about to burst.

What Matt meant is that we can’t do this forever. Expressing how we feel isn’t easy, and if we keep up this cycle of constantly sharing our anger, sadness and lack of faith across the most easily accessible channels in our lives—our social media accounts—we’re going to exhaust ourselves.

Think about it: If my own feelings are exhausting, why should I want to read yours on Facebook? The more and more emotive content we see, the less and less we’re going to pay attention, because it’s just too much. This is why accounts that share memes and absurdist humor are so popular: They’re an escape from the norm, the same way that social media originally felt when we first started using it.    

Soon, if we see content that’s asking us for an emotional response, we’ll start turning the other way. We’ll just be so, so tired.

So how can brands and marketers get around this?

Meet Mr. Brand. He’s thoughtfully considering how his audience is feeling at this specific moment in time.

After that thoughtful consideration, he’s planning how to adjust his messaging and content accordingly.

Mr. Brand’s answers to these questions are going to help him determine whether or not his audience is in the mood to feel, to be informed or to be simply entertained.

If it’s been an exhausting week full of widespread sadness, Mr. Brand will consider his audience’s appetite for further emotional stimulation and decide that instead, we might just need (and appreciate) a good laugh, not a sob story.

Similarly, if Mr. Brand sees an opportunity within current events for emotional content that aligns perfectly with a core part of his mission and, well, brand, he will take it, and his audience will appreciate the action of taking an authentic stand on a social issue.

As marketers, we should try to be like Mr. Brand, because despite the vast amount of data we can collect about our audiences and their user behaviors, we still can’t quite pinpoint their feelings unless we channel our human ability to empathize.

Where can you start?

The first step in getting a better grasp on emotive content is reevaluating the processes you currently have in place. Are there opportunities to insert more empathy into your customer service team’s response methods? Can you initiate a process of reviewing all scheduled content at the start of each day to eliminate anything that just doesn’t mesh with that morning’s general mood on social media given whatever nonsense everyone has woken up to?

Of course, your strategy will depend on the type of messaging you’re convening and the type of people you’re addressing. But at the end of the day, we’re all humans, and we’re all capable of empathy. (Except for maybe the Cheeto guy.)

Let me be clear: There will be no lack of emotion in our future. But there will be a lack of willingness to deal with it if it’s not what we want, when we want it.

Now let’s think about our feelings and listen to a banger: