The mind-googling differences between on and offline behaviour

Meera Chandra, managing director of WPP-owned Syzygy, discusses why online behaviour is encouraging a different type of brand advocacy than the offline world offers.

Meera Chandra
Meera Chandra

I often wonder about how offline and online behaviours differ and only now begin to understand why we cannot apply the logic of the real world to the way we live and breathe off the web. What is it about the cyberworld that frees us to be more than the earthlings we are?

The latest buzzword of behavioural economics could then perhaps have a fascinating spin-off of ‘online behavioural economics’ which becomes particularly useful for our understanding of the social media phenomenon.

It would add new yardsticks of measurement of the behaviour of an individual within a community, communities as holistic groups, and intra- and inter- community interactions. I am convinced this will give us invaluable insights into the reason why advocacy has such exponential value and why word-of-mouth is the hottest online currency.

If on a bedrock of online behavioural trends we layer the powerful metrics that only digital technologies allow, we could be onto a very powerful ROI metric that deciphers these mental models and psychological patterns to greater advantage.

How do we behave face-to-face as opposed to being on Facebook? Why do we still need that moment of stress release when we change our status update or tweet something? The collective time when grown people poke each other is a mind boggling amount of valuable minutes. This, in a time and attention challenged economy!

Geography, age, gender, distance are all irrelevant in an era when the only wavelength that matters is that of ideology. Blogs work because you seek advice from ‘strangers with experience’. Groups congregate around a belief. Beliefs create relationships more lasting than real-life acquaintances. That is why social media can never be replaced by an offline hang-out or the wildest party.

Also, the web is a lateral thinking platform that allows for the meandering of the imagination. It opens up possibilities and opportunities at every click that you never knew you had. Even a simple search throws open the doors to knowledge that you never had access to before – more than you could ever cram into one brain for sure.

Refining your search refines your mind. Often you don’t just find the nugget of truth you were seeking, but also find the real you in search of it. This may sound philosophical, but it is increasingly true for scores of surfers in pursuit of their passions.

You never come away from an interaction online devoid of results. There is no shortage of information. On the contrary, it is more a problem of plenty. While in the offline world, too much of a choice is increasingly seen as detrimental to consumers closing sales, in the online world it is more of an expectation when you log in.

Texting, tweeting, mailing, chatting, using emoticons, are all ways that make you articulate what you really feel – much more lucidly than you would with guarded dialogues, telling silences and too-carefully-chosen words in the real world.

What does all this really add up to? Does this bring us back to a question we’d never imagined we’d ask ourselves? Who are we offline? Who are we online? Are we living in a glorious zone of delightful schizophrenia? Are we actually, secretly, vicariously enjoying being two (or more) people at the same time? Do our online and offline avatars agree or disagree with each other? And if this dichotomy is so easy to live with, what is the true measure of our behaviour?

Maybe the psychologist and technologist need to put their heads together.

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