Belfast Telegraph

Find what makes consumers tick to harness power of online activity

By Mark Nagurski

Facebook’s population is now well in excess of half a billion users. Half a billion.

Apple’s App Store recently tipped the 10bn downloads mark. Even relative newcomers like Twitter, Foursquare and Groupon attract tens (and sometimes hundreds) of millions of regular users and have done so in a matter of months and years, not the decades it took the behemoths of previous industries.

Some of the reasons that sites like these can grow so quickly and so large is inherent in the internet itself — the ease of sharing, the near infinite scalability, the network effects of growing sites. However, dig down a little deeper and you’ll find something more peculiarly human.

For all the stereotypes of pasty white geeks, locked away from the world, the web has become something that appeals to just about every demographic, and in many ways has helped to make us more social and more connected than we have ever been.

Such broad appeal suggests that what these sites all offer is something that ticks boxes at a more fundamental level.

They play on human needs, wants, quirks and foibles like the need to feel part of a community or our competitive natures.

My personal favourite has to be curiosity.

In our better moments, curiosity drives us to learn more and improve ourselves.

Whenever you follow a link in someone’s Twitter stream or call on Wikipedia to remind you of the name of “that” actress, the web is satiating that natural curiosity.

The same is true when you follow that hashtag for the conference you’re not even attending or check out who else is going to that gig listed on Facebook. The web provides us with instant access to information, but only because that’s what we want. We want to know. We’re curious.

More prosaically, we’re also pretty curious about other people’s lives. Society owes a lot to the power of gossip to both inform and tie us together.

Detractors often point to the banality of the conversations which take place on Twitter, Facebook and the rest but those same conversations have been happening in pubs and cafes, on street corners and on the phone for as long as those places and things have helped make them happen. The web is no different, and the most successful online destinations have become the ones that let those conversations happen — be it between a community of “commenters” on a popular blog or the reviews on Amazon or TripAdvisor.

So how can we harness the web’s more human characteristics in our own efforts? Simply enough, we need to provide the tools and places where humans can be human.

How can you satisfy the curiosity of visitors to your website? With insanely useful content, with pictures and video that allows them to create communities around your content or your business.

But, however you decide to tackle the online world in your business, keep in mind that despite the bits an bytes, what works online is driven by very human responses.

Curiosity, community, self-expression — learn what boxes you can tick and put them at the core of your efforts.

Mark Nagurski, Digital Champion for Derry,

Belfast Telegraph