Social Media as a formula: would that be possible just like that?


Explaining complex things simply is a skill. Or you have to put them in a law or formula. Social media seem easy to use, but it is fiendishly difficult to specify how they work. That’s why we have applied the formula trick… of course without any mathematical or scientific ambition.

Which is the formula to explain social media with? It could be the following, slightly based on the structure of a specific medium, i.e. Facebook:

(Post + Profile + Page) X (Push + Point + Ping) = Promote

That requires some explanation. There is a sum of 3 Ps between brackets. Post means connecting to a social medium and starting to place messages, photos and films on it. And there are more than enough: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, to name but a few. Actually too many to follow by yourself. The sequence of actions builds up your Profile. Actions show what you like, what you dislike or the comments you make. If you want to go further and overtly promote your people or business, you can create a Page. To be honest, it’s not always clear to me what the added benefits are. I recently heard the spokesperson of a Flemish political party say in a debate that for a politician – established or aspiring – it is more advisable to have a profile than a page. Because it is more “authentic”, the magic word in social media.

If you want to distribute your message to a lot more people, you have to multiply the first 3 Ps by the sum of the next three Ps. Push is when you start to share messages and others do it for you too. That means the strength of your message must be so compelling that people do it spontaneously and this gives your message a wider scope. That’s where it ends for most. With Point, you already reach a professional or semi-professional level. ‘Point’ stands here for the verb ‘to sharpen’ or ‘to focus’: you go for targeted buying on a social medium. You can buy lots to distribute an even more targeted message: a sponsored page, advertising space or specific contacts. Social media companies are not charities after all. On the contrary, they have commercial objectives and want to make a profit. Finally you reach Ping. You send out an echo as a sonar to find out who is there to receive your message and who is receptive to it. Many people and companies are willing to pay a lot for that information. You need it to Promote, if you want to sell something or to convince someone of your opinion. For me, that’s where it stops for now. Why? Because you then run the risk of reaching the limits of what is legal and ethical. Cambridge Analytics – known by almost everyone now – has already demonstrated that you can go very far in this: intrusive influence, lack of respect for privacy, misleading. Believe me: we have not seen the last of what algorithms of social media companies can do. Hopefully we will be able of dealing with this responsibly and democratically as a society in future. An overt call to those elected by the people, in other words.

Please let me know if you have another formula to explain social media. Maybe there already is a much more accurate one. Admittedly, one thing is missing in my formula: the C for Content. The power of language is at least as strong as that of (advanced) mathematics. A sleek text, with a napping of effective metaphors, fine puns and spiced up with a hint of irony. I would be seduced, even though I realise that it will not be good for my (mental) health. An addiction? Social media definitely are…

Kris Poté, vice-president at Capgemini, 27 March 2018.