Note to Social Media Marketing Dorks: The hard currency of the Internet is “Social Objects”.

[One of my favorite recent "Social Objects": a cartoon I did for Rackspace.]

The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that “node” in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.

For as long as I’ve been involved with the Internet, I’ve seen the SAME OLD DISCONNECT appear again and again AND AGAIN i.e. the disconnect between how the Internet ACTUALLY works and how the social media marketing dorks like to PRETEND how it works.

Case in point: From Steve Jones’ blog:

Today I received an e-mail that said “Like us on Facebook and win”. Later in the day I walked into a store and on the door was a sign that said “Like us on Facebook”.

That’s like Billy Joel asking me to buy his album. It is like walking into a party and having someone say “Be my friend and I’ll buy you a drink”. In a word, it is pathetic.

Damn right it’s pathetic.

Note to Social Media Marketing Dorks: The hard currency of the Internet is not Facebook “Likes” or Twitter “Retweets”, as flavor-of-the-month as they might be. By themselves, they’re worthless.

The hard currency of the Internet is “Social Objects”.

i.e. Social Objects for people to SHARE MEANINGFULLY with other people.

You’re either creating them or you’re not. And if you’re not, you will fail, end of story.

[Continue Reading...]


  1. Agreed.

    Jyri Engestrom also made a case for object-centered sociality – emphasizing the motivating power of objects (e.g., photos on Flickr) vs. links (e.g., on LinkedIn) – a few years ago that I still often refer to … and I believe many of the people you’re calling out here would benefit from that post as well.

    • Yeah, Jyri and I are old buddies from the early blog/geek dinner/meetup days. I cite him regularly.

      • Actually some of the early works were done by Karin Knorr Cetina in her classic paper object centered sociality’ following the sociologist. Jyri mentions her in his post. Also Jyri Senior has been a remarkable critical thinker of Social constructionism.

  2. If all you ever say is “Like me on Facebook, buy my album, subscribe to my newsletter, etc.,” then yeah, that is pathetic. It’s pathetic and it will chase people away.

    On the other hand, you have to go for the sell at some point, don’t you?

  3. Okay…I think I’m finally starting to understand.

    When I first read your writing about social objects I think I was too focused on the word object. I thought a social object was an actual object like your Cube Grenades. Now I’m seeing that you mean anything, real or digital which gives birth to and sustains social interaction.

    So a blog post, or a youtube video, or a photo, or a book cover could be a social object but a box of Tide probably not.

    My question now is: must social objects be brief? Do they have to be things which can be apprehended
    in a brief amount of time. I’m thinking of the cover of Seth’s latest book. No reading required at all just a mystery which gives rise to interaction.

  4. Right, Hugh. This reminds me of seeing my niece’s “Like” Facebook post for Kohl’s Department Store. I thought: “I hope she got a nice coupon for that, ’cause it sure doesn’t enliven this discussion.”

  5. You are on spot with your social objects theory, it gave me some new insights.

  6. Jason Korman says:


    Yes, at some point. The issue is a business must first establish a relationship, understanding, find alignment, with a prospect. If you first do these things, show that there is a reason and meaning in what you do, then you have given someone a reason to say “yes” when you pop the question. Asking follows relationship

  7. very true Hugh, sometimes we are taking social network advertising a piece of cake, but the quality of leads we get ? I am not so sure about it, though it is part of my marketing plans

  8. First, thanks for the mention. It is a cool honor to be among the smart thinkers who frequent

    @cinderkeys – I think that creating compelling content that involves people on an interactive level IS asking for the sale. If I give you great value when you read my blog, watch my videos, look at my Flickr page, like me on Facebook, etc, then in a way I am asking for the sale without ever asking.

    Maybe the point is if you need to ask for the sale that overtly, you aren’t providing content that is engaging enough in the first place.

  9. I’m not so sure about this. Saying it is pathetic to request a Like seems a little strong, and I wonder if there is a risk of over-analysing whether the ‘Like’ is asked for or not. Brian Clark over on Copyblogger requested people ‘like’ them [] and to me it seemed like a reasonable request… in the same way that asking for referrals, feedback, or payment are also all reasonable questions to ask… sometimes in business and life, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

  10. I’m in complete agreement about the pathetic “Like me!” pleas by businesses and companies who feel they have to bribe people to friend them. Lately, I’m seeing at least one a day (but I don’t get out much…). And Steve Jones has it absolutely right – you shouldn’t have to ask for a “Like” if you are giving good value or creating the right opportunity to share or start a conversation. People will “like” what they like.

  11. Great insight on what connects us. A major reason I wanted to create gtrot was to help improve the experience with such a huge social object: travel. It’s a great commonality to talk about where you’ve been, whether the next state over or across the world.

    We’re working to make it easier for friends to connect over the travel social object.

  12. “Likes” – depending on the target demographic – are just as important to perception management as are the actual social objects…maybe.

    We live in a world, and function on an Internet, whose participants (a percentage, anyway) throw all sorts of things that they would otherwise critically think about in the real world straight out the window. Ergo, “Likes” = credibility.

    Put another way, relationship building takes on a very different essential form online, and “Likes” are absorbed quite frequently as votes and recommendations, thereby affecting perceptions.

    There is also the issue of an immutable, omnipresent definition of ‘meaningful’ and the salience of its application in digital media. The actual ‘object’ is pretty elusive.


  1. [...] Macleod talking about social media marketing and social objects right here. Join the [...]

  2. [...] I’m talking about is the power of engagement and creating social objects, mixed in with sound strategy and a little chutzpa, in order to get readers behind your brand so [...]

  3. [...] I’m talking about is the power of engagement and creating social objects, mixed in with sound strategy and a little chutzpa, in order to get readers behind your brand so [...]

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