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Happy Bedfellows: Marketing, Social Media and Semiotics

semioticsSemiotics, the study of signs, is rooted in anthropology and social science. The word, signs, in Semiotics, means far more than just a visual symbol; any form of expression, whether it’s the use of language in writing or speech, a conversation or discourse, signify meanings, ideas and philosophies, and are explored in Semiotic studies.

The science of Semiotics has found a vast array of social and commercial applications. For instance, intellectuals have used the symbols and meanings contained in books and films to dissect cultures of a certain time or beliefs that are commonly held by a society. Marketers have found that Semiotics can help them understand what brands mean to people, or the specific values of a brand that are connecting with consumers. Understanding the signs and symbols behind the obvious, has been helping Marketers build on the important values of the brand for years.

For instance, what is it about a pair of Levis that prompts young buyers to spend hundred of dollars on them? Often money earned through odd-jobs or saved up over a period of time.

It is far more about than just the history of the brand, or the type of denim used, or even the style and the design – although these factors go a long way. It is an intangible factor, in this case, coolness, a word with forever changing meanings, which drives the success of the brand. Brand semiotics help marketers understand the brand values that are connecting with their target audience, while social semiotics can help them decode the latest definition of ‘cool’.

The Social side of it

Because people form society, from which, consumers emerge, social semiotics is also of interest to many marketers. This is a branch of Semiotics, that attempts to demystify the signs and symbols in social communication, living, dressing and other aspects of a society.

The conversations people have, and the things they don’t say, the kind of language used and also the tone, among other factors, offer a wealth of information in the goings-on of a society. If a society is undergoing tumult, say for instance, Egypt, the kind of symbols and signs that can be obtained from their daily conversations will reflect that tumult. Given the scale and reach of social media, a lot of this symbolism could be obtained from tweets on twitter and Facebook discussions. Social semiotics can indeed play a crucial role in understanding a people, and marketers are never bar behind in tapping its potential.

Brands have also been chasing the enormous possibilities of social media over the last year or so. Thus, making social media a crucial convergence point for understanding social semiotics of a section of consumers and marketing opportunities.

Twittering Semiotics

With the advent of recording mechanisms like the DVR and TiVo, advertisers were beginning to lose faith in the 30-second spot. As more and more consumers began to make a crucial shift from the newspaper to the web, the print media was nearly on the verge of collapse, marketers were losing the very media that they had relied on to spread word about their products and services for decades.

Slowly, they moved to the web, which a few years ago, just meant setting up a website.

Now, of course, many have begun to understand that traditional media can be used to complement marketing activities online. And social media has opened up a staggering new world of opportunities for marketers to reach their consumers. Facebook trends, for instance, are being leveraged by marketers for the last couple of years. One interesting example is Burger King’s Facebook campaign. In the constantly evolving landscape of facebook friendships, a harsh new trend had emerged, that of ‘unfriending’ friends on that site. Burger King offered a free Whopper in return for unfriending 10 people! Could people really hurt the feelings of people they know for a free burger? This generated tremendous buzz online, on Facebook and in traditional Print and TV news media.

Now marketers are branching out into other uses of social media. They continue to promote their brands on social media in ways that were never thought possible, and now, they use the social semiotics of social media to understand their consumers better.

Market research, which involves social semiotics to a large extent, was traditionally a tedious process. Now, a Facebook fan site of a particular brand can throw up a treasure of information on what the consumer thinks, feels and believes about a particular brand.

Also, if a brand is trying to understand the needs of a specific target group, a wealth of information lies in social semiotics on social media, for instance, the pictures Facebook users share about themselves can help marketers get vital visual insights into the particular group. For example, a quick scan through about a hundred profile pictures of users in their late twenties may show that romantic relationships are very important to them. This can help marketing teams devise campaigns that leverage this understanding. Status updates on the same site, can help them ascertain the mood of a group and so on.

Social Semiotics in Social Media is fast emerging as the hottest tool for marketers to understand their consumers better, the things they say, the things they don’t, the symbols behind the information they share and more. By offering people, from societies and cultures around the world, an array of tools to communicate, be it online games, applications, photo albums or microblogging platforms, social media when combined with marketing and social semiotics, is a boon to the marketers and brands in the 21st Century.

Preetam Kaushik

Preetam Kaushik is a Tech Journalist covering all things Business, Technology and Social Media. He is a web 2.0 consultant and columnist educating businesses, individuals and professionals by providing insightful coverage on various business and technology issues around the globe. Preetam is Daily Deal Media contributor specializing in Social Media, Facebook, Google, New Ventures, E-Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Fashion and Entertainment Business. Connect: @kaushikpreetam
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