Humanising Newsletter #013 - Social commerce and the illusion of knowledge

Newsletter • 5 min read

In this issue: the lines between ecommerce and social media blur with news from TikTok and Shopify. Plus the social psychology behind vaccines and the illusion of knowledge.

Humanising Newsletter #013 - Social commerce and the illusion of knowledge

I had a revealing conversation with my son this week. He is part of what is known as Gen Alpha. We were talking about what he wanted for his birthday and he was very excited about some new robots he had found, one of them a robot dog. He loved the feature of the dog welcoming you when you come into the house. I asked him why he liked that and he said it's because that's what real dogs do. My son clearly wants a real pet dog. I’m currently dodging that question while our home is acting as an office, school, gym, playground and everything else required of it during lockdown. In the absence of a real pet my son is geeking out on pet robots.

But the most interesting part of the conversation was when he said: "You know, I know where you can get it from. It's not Amazon. It's YouTube". The great thing about kids is they say what they see and as a result, they identify obvious gaps. Why can’t you buy stuff people are unboxing on YouTube? As we’ll see with what TikTok has announced this week, this is not far off.

Culture, e-commerce, social networks and discovery are all blurring. The economy is increasingly becoming embedded, direct and invisible. On that note, let’s dive in...

Smarter ways of working

This week I wrote a blog post on using keywords as a method for brands to tune into the cultural zeitgeist. The past year has accelerated change, shifted our values and reset people's expectations on what they want from the products and brands they use.

One of the drawbacks of using Jobs to be Done is that you can end up focusing too much on the individual motivations and outcomes. One of the big shifts during the pandemic is that people's values are more collectivist and social forces are playing a bigger role in people's behaviours.

In this blog post, I talk about linking Jobs to be Done to cultural insights and how tuning into keyword signals can help with this process. There are links to some resources I created like Brian Eno's cultural keywords between 1995-2020 and a COVID-19 cultural canvas.

👉👉👉Read more here👈👈👈

Humanising the news

Building on last week's newsletter, and my son's desire for a robot dog, commerce is getting more social...

Socialising E-commerce

TikTok is launching a bunch of new features to embed shopping into its platform, including its most popular users sharing links to products that appear in their videos. What this means is that people can buy the products on display in TikTok videos and the creator gets a kickback. It's like affiliate marketing and TV shopping but native to social media. Read more in the FT.

Shopify is expanding into social commerce too. Shop Pay, Shopify's version of Amazon's 1-click checkout, which saves payment details and email addresses across all Shopify shops, will become a payment option for Facebook and Instagram shops. Read more on TechCrunch.

Shopify has already streamlined the creation of websites, online stores and financial services. Now it's embedding itself more into social media to help its small business owners find their customer base.

With these two developments, it's going to be easier for people to buy things through social media. To be successful in this domain, brands need to be culturally intelligent. Customers don't want the product. On social media, people buy the lifestyle. This is a huge opportunity for brands but also an uncomfortable one because they will need to cede control to the community. They won't be able to always control the message and their communications will have to be more participatory rather than managerial. To become culturally savvy, I refer you back to my article above about cultural keywords.

The social psychology of vaccine acceptance

There was a great piece by Decision Lab about vaccines and the illusion of knowledge this week. They looked at why there is a lack of trust in experts when it comes to understanding the benefits and myths of taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Their thesis:

"People tend to believe that they store all their knowledge within their own brains. But in actuality, people rely on the knowledge of others to obtain and maintain an accurate model of the world. People store their knowledge of the world in others through transactive memory, where instead of remembering the exact details about a subject, they remember the markers for the people who are likely to possess knowledge of it. Sometimes, however, people might fail to distinguish other people’s knowledge from their own. Because of this, people often hold an “illusion of explanatory depth,” wherein they overestimate how much they know about inherently complex and ostensibly simple phenomena."

There are two things at play here:

  1. Information has been democratised. Everyone's doctor is the internet but the validity of information sources varies enormously. This is especially problematic when people get stuck in filter bubbles and social groups begin reinforcing beliefs that run contrary to scientific advice.
  2. The decline of trust in institutions. Rachel Botsman argues in her book "Who Can You Trust" that trust in institutions has collapsed because of a lack of accountability, especially among the powerful. The digital age has flattened hierarchies which make it easier to critique and lose faith in experts. The digital world creates echo chambers which constantly reinforce our own beliefs and decrease our empathy with those we disagree with. Botsman contends that we've moved from an era of institutional trust to an era of distributed trust. We no longer trust politicians, experts, the media, the Church or the police. Instead, we rely more on friends, family, colleagues, strangers and influencers, largely intermediated through digital platforms.

With groups of people creating a shared illusion of knowledge and trusting the group more than experts, vaccination programmes are under threat. This threat is most evident in the US where a poll in December 2020 showed that only 27% of the population would "probably" or "definitely" get the vaccine.

The research in the Decision Lab's article showed that more trust can be placed in experts rather than laypersons by exposing gaps in people's knowledge of how vaccines work. Sounds like a difficult intervention to make, especially with hardline anti-vaxers. However, the dispersion of accurate information and informed knowledge on vaccination programmes is critical to reaching herd immunity.

The key take out of this research is that information travels in groups. We rely more on each other to validate our preferences and behaviours. Applying this thinking to the business world should encourage us to think about our audience as groups rather than individual personas.

Things to get excited about

A couple of things caught my eye this week. A friend of mine sent me a link to For anyone that is storytelling through video, this looks like a great solution. With mountains of customer interviews to work through, this service allows you to transcribe, search, edit and share a video. I’ve not used it yet but it looks like this is a tool that would slot perfectly into my tooling stack. I'm very excited to try it out.

Staying on the theme of video, Feather also caught my eye. This is a service that will help creators, reliant on video, to package up and monetise their video content. Think of it as the "Substack" for personal trainers and educators. Again, I’ve not tried this, but when I saw it this seemed like an obvious gap in the market opened up by the Pandemic.

This is another signal that the economy is becoming increasingly embedded, increasingly direct to consumer and creator-driven targeted at smaller audiences and subcultures. With startups like Feather, ecommerce platforms like Shopify and social media like TikTok converging, the lines between digital life and commerce will increasingly blur. It won't be long before I'm getting Robot dogs arriving through the post because my son has intuitively ordered one through the content he's seen online. I better start getting comfortable with real pets!

Keyword analysis - opportunity signals in times of accelerated change →

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