Shopping centres as social network nodes


In the run up to Christmas, as my wife and I spent endless hours shopping, I noticed – perhaps unsurprisingly –  that a lot of young people seemed to just ‘hang out’ in shopping centres.

I suppose this has been an anecdotal trend in the US for a while, but I hadn’t ever really noticed it in the UK before, although I’m sure like the US this isn’t anything new.

But more than that I noticed ever vigilant security guards patrolling the shopping centres and young people clearly trying to evade them.

So it dawned on me that shopping centres had become the new parks. When I was younger (not that long ago) we met in the park and played/mucked around there. We had to watch out for the park attendents though – much in the same way that kids today have to watch out the for the security guards.

I raise these thoughts for two reasons:

  1. Today I saw a sales assistant in John Lewis shout at two young people to "Get out!" because his furniture department wasn’t "a play centre.". Nice tables though…
  2. In a prescient fashion, last week Danah Boyd publish some field-notes from the Digital Youth Project about technology and young people’s consumption. She has this insightful observation which dovetails nicely with the thoughts outlined above:

"When it comes to teen culture, consumerism is still rampant, although
shopping is primarily about socialization. Aside from how the mobile
phone allows groups to coordinate, technology is not really altering
the tradition of hanging out in consumer places. What it is altering is
the ways in which teens research and purchase things that they know
they want.

Technorati tags: shopping, consumerism, parkies

Social objects work for Marcomms, but what about Corp Comms?

I’m mightily envious of Hugh Macleod trekking off in his rural retreat. But at least he’s still churning out quality posts like this one about social objects and marketing.

I was lucky enough to see Jaiku’s Jyri Engestom deliver his original presentation on object-centered sociality – a concept Hugh now elegantly applies to marketing and PR.

In a nutshell (and I love this) Hugh tells us that the best kind of marketing (and PR) is done socially via word-of-mouth – from one real person to another. But this is a problem is you’re a PR or marketing “professional” as you have no real control on the outcome of this kind of marketing. As Hugh puts it:

“a lot of socializing is random. Ergo, yes, a lot of marketing is also random.”

It’s so true and obvious if you think about it, but try telling that to the client or your manager.

In fact Hugh makes a philosophically significant point about the that fact to hide this fact, the marketing and PR industry has constructed ‘mythologies’ that are used to create accepted conditions – or ‘realities’ if you want to be contentious – that marketing and PR works within.

But enough of that… Hugh’s overview of marketing and social objects is great, but I’d argue that if we apply his thinking to PR (and we have) then we are talking quite specifically about Marketing Communications – Marcomms.

Where does the object-centred sociality fit within the world of corporate communications PR? What can become the social object is the firm is tasked with shaping corporate reputation – a concept that doesn’t necessarily deal in tangible assets?

I don’t have the answer but would love to hear what others think? I suppose we could try to create and build corporate communications around a tangible social object – but what if the social object was an idea or concept associated with the organization – the raw material that goes into shaping ‘key messages’?
We’d have a random – ie. socially constructed – concept of the organization generated through conversations. It might not necessarily fit the desireed (ie. top down) Brand Image but it would be undeniably real and match public expectations. Just some thoughts…. Happy to hear others.