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The Rise of 'Social Signaling'

MarketingProfs - There was a 21% decline in the sharing of personal stories on Facebook in 2015. Users began preferring to signal what matters to them through more indirect, impersonal sharing of news, petitions, video clips, and more, rather than publishing a text discourse and broadcasting it to their 850 closest "friends."

A victim of its own success with 1.6 billion users globally, Facebook has become the default social network across every demographic. Its mission “to connect the world” inevitably means it wants each of us to grow our personal networks as much as possible. However, as anyone who has made a speech at a wedding will testify to, this is a problem when it comes to deciding which stories are relevant to tell.

Talking to everyone you know about yourself at once isn’t natural; so we start to signal what matters to us instead. Rather than criticising the prime minister over his tax affairs, we share a link to a petition instead. It enables us to signal our political views to those who agree, but avoids direct confrontation with those who don’t. In this respect, it’s not surprising to see sharing of links and public content replacing personal updates. Collapsing multiple audiences into single contexts requires people to devise techniques to navigate this.

This "social signaling" is on the rise, possibly marking a big change in how consumers share on social. Brands that aim to involve consumers in their campaigns should recognize this trend and adjust in a way that enables users to signal their interest even if they don't do so as explicitly as before.

Rather than focusing on communication through the prism of messaging, brands should also consider how to help people signal something about themselves. Sharing a good cause a brand supports helps an individual demonstrate they’re a good person in the process, for instance. The brand doesn’t need to be explicit in what it’s helping the person signal either.

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