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The Humble Beginnings of Social Marketing

We all enjoy life through a series of defining experiences with friends and loved ones in our social circles: people who attend the same school, live on the same street, work in the same company, or root for the same team. The jeans they wear, the phones they use, and the brands they favor to some extent encourage us to think positively or negatively about ourselves and others. They’re consumers just like us, and they shape our thoughts and opinions in profound ways that we rarely notice.

All of us have been pitched products in advertising from memorable spokespeople: Spuds McKenzie, Joe Isuzu, the lonely Maytag repair guy, Max Headroom, Charlie the Sunkist Tuna, the California Raisins, to name just a few. We remember catchy phrases and sayings like “Just Say No,” “Where’s the Beef?” “Kibbles and Bits and Bits and Bits,” “Colon, Take Me Away!” and “We thank you for your support.” We respond to their honesty, their humor, and their brute force and take on their marketing messages by making subtle, subconscious changes to how we live, what we consume, and what we think.

For years, experiences were lived largely “offline.” Our interactions have been in person, in front of a television, or through headphones. But times are different. Internet technologies and social media have enhanced our online experiences. We enjoy interactivity, video, audio, and pictures just as much from computer screens as from offline experiences. We want to learn, share, and interact from the comfort of our computers and mobile devices more than ever.

For me, it started when my parents bought a Commodore 64 in 1984 along with a 300 baud modem. Connecting to other users in the “online world” was a novel concept at the time—it was 1985 after all! But we wanted to experience the future firsthand. Our first taste of social computing was on a service called Quantum Link (Figure 1.1). Q-Link was one of the very first online services that combined electronic mail, public file sharing, and games. It was fascinating.

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To play games, I didn’t need to get permission from my parents to invite people over. I could do it from the comfort of my own bedroom and at any time of the day or night. The only problem was the pesky usage fees. Mom and Dad didn’t seem too excited about a big bill for “plus” services. Nonetheless, I got my first taste of social computing on Q-Link.

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