more thoughts on social objects

Anyone who has heard me speak publicly lately will know that I’m currently very focused on the “Social Object” idea, which I was turned onto by Jaiku’s Jyri Engestrom. Here’s some more thoughts on the subject, in no particular order.
1. The term, “Social Object” can be a bit heady for some people. So often I’ll use the term, “Sharing Device” instead.
2. Social Networks are built around Social Objects, not vice versa. The latter act as “nodes”. The nodes appear before the network does.
3. Granted, the network is more powerful than the node. But the network needs the node, like flowers need sunlight.
4. My overall marketing thesis invariably asks the question, “If your product is not a Social Object, why are you in business?”
5. Yesterday at the Darden talk I explained why geeks have become so important to marketing. My definition of a geek is, “Somebody who socializes via objects.” When you think about it, we’re all geeks. Because we’re all enthusiastic about something outside ourselves. For me, it’s marketing and cartooning. for others, it could be cellphones or Scotch Whisky or Apple computers or NASCAR or the Boston Red Sox or Bhuddism. All these act as Social Objects within a social network of people who care passionately about the stuff. Whatever industry you are in, there’s somebody who is geeked out about your product category. They are using your product [or a competitor’s product] as a Social Object. If you don’t understand how the geeks are socializing- connecting to other people- via your product, then you don’t actually have a marketing plan. Heck, you probably don’t have a viable business plan.
6. The Apple iPhone is the best example of Social Object I can think of. At least, it is when I’m trying to explain it to somebody unfamiliar with the concept.
7. The Social Object idea is not rocket science.
8. How do you turn a product into a Social Object? Answer: Social Gestures. And lots of them.
9. Products, and the ideas that spawn them, go viral when people can share them like gifts. Example: gmail invites in the early days.
10. Social Object can be abstract, digital, molecular etc.
11. The interesting thing about the Social Object is the not the object itself, but the conversations that happen around them. The Blue Monster is a good example of this. It’s not the cartoon that’s interesting, it’s the conversatuons that happen around it that’s interesting.
12. Ditto with a bottle of wine.
13. Once I get talking about marketing, it’s hard for me to go more than 3 minutes without saying the words, “Social Object”.
14. The most important word on the internet is not “Search”. The most important word on the internet is “Share”. Sharing is the driver. Sharing is the DNA. We use Social Objects to share ourselves with other people. We’re primates. we like to groom each other. It’s in our nature.
15. I believe Social Objects are the future of marketing.
[Written in the departure lounge of Dulles International Airport]


  1. Yet another Masterpiece, Hugh. I recently watched the video of your speech in London re: “Social Objects” that Steve posted on his blog a few weeks back. Very inspirational. Thank you!
    Jason DiMambro

  2. “The most important word on the internet is “Share”. Sharing is the driver. Sharing is the DNA.”
    There may be reason to hope you will yet understand Open Source Software. :-)
    Fun Geek History Fact:
    The very first real operating system–for an IBM mainframe, as it turned out– was not written by IBM.
    It was first developed by in 1956 by Bob Patrick of General Motors and Owen Mock of North American Aviation to imrove the usability of the IBM 704s their respective companies owned.
    As IBM sold more computers, and more users became interested in extending and improving the programs, they formed The Society to Help Avoid Redundant Effort, who eventually released their work as the SHARE Operating System in 1959.
    An acronym, you see…

  3. As usual Hugh, some critical ideas succinctly expressed. I’m not adding much to the conversation, other than to note a similarity in your concept of the geek and Seth Godin’s sneezer concept. They both seem to share a lot of the vitaal signs of the social object/shared object

  4. Hugh,
    I love the social object concept. I’m not sure yet how to apply it to what we do, but I do want to share this:
    One of the most enduring and powerful social objects is sports fan apparel. I saw this in high gear at the bar with my buddy wearing a Sox baseball cap. At least half a dozen people came out of nowhere to share a live sports moment. Powerful stuff.

  5. So true about the movement from search to share.
    Consumers (myself included) are pretty darn lazy.
    Why should we search, evaluate and choose when someone can do it for us?

  6. Hi Hugh, I’ve been enjoying your cartoons for some time now. This idea of the Social Object is intriguing to me because I’m interested in how people interact, but even more so because I’m a painter. It gives me food for thought regarding art as a Social Object. I’ve thought about it from many angles but not in such a clear objective way as this. Thanks.

  7. The social object idea is slowly coming together in my brain… I think I get it but can it be applied everywhere? What if you sell a boring but powerful and useful software? What if your customers are not known to be terribly social people? How do you take a good product with very low social mobility and make it SOCIAL?

  8. How about social objects and trust… can you always trust the judgement of those who are using social objects to build network nodes. What happens when trust breaks down… does it damage the network or just the node? Are the objects of choice such as the personal invitations trust worthy… will they spam you….
    Going on from there you can get into an interesting discussion over social objects and privacy similar to conversations about facebook etc.
    The way I see it social objects can be a double edged sword, they can be good or bad dependent on implementation, usage and ownership.

  9. I love this Social Object concept. It is not something that I’ve considered before but as soon as Istarted reading the blog it started to make sense and is something I will be looking to incorporate into my work.

  10. Great concept. To all who have joined the comment thread: how do you create social objects around luxury products– those where exclusive ownership and privacy are part of the buying and owning experience?

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