Emergence of Micro Behaviors

  |  November 21, 2007   |  Comments

What if our online behaviors become so miniature they become impossible to identify and target?

Remember the world before broadband, e-mail, instant messaging, even mobile phones? It seemed so large and fragmented back then. Technology has changed that; it's helped people connect and communicate in unprecedented ways. As a result, the world feels a lot smaller than it used to, as everything seems to be just one click away.

And with the proliferation of digital channels and content distribution vehicles, the world isn't the only thing that has become smaller: so has our attention span.

From the original purpose of a microsite to the initial rise of instant messaging and RSS feeds to the recent emergence of microblogging tools such as Twitter, technology seems to have been tasked with the daunting assignment of reducing an overwhelming sea of available information into bite-sized chunks ready for consumption. And it's doing a great job at it.

One has to wonder, though, in the world of condensed (or reduced) information, have we become so media attention deficient and easily distracted that we can no longer hold an extended discussion, read a whole article, or write a complete paragraph? If so, what are the implications and applications for behavioral targeting?

It Starts With Micro Consumption

The days of prolonged media consumption are long gone. Today, people consume and create media in almost guerrilla-marketing-style ways. To make content ubiquitous and personalized, publishers and content providers alike have adopted tools to allow micro experiences and micro consumptions of media.

As a result, attention spans seem to be getting shorter to accommodate more devices and more simultaneous media consumption. We used to read an entire five-page article, but now we read headline summaries, news tickers, and RSS feeds. Today, we pack in as much worldly updates as we can possibly absorb.

If the adaptive system theory holds true for human behaviors' evolutionary nature, one could argue that a shortened attention span is actually an adaptive process to cope with the changes in the macro environment. It helps us avoid information overload by allowing us to run through mass amounts of data, then to choose those bits on which to focus. Small behaviors, in this case, are the result of small dosages of media participation (either to contribute or consume) and small increments of attention invested.

Small Is Paramount

If dominant media behaviors, such as multitasking and simultaneous media consumption, can be quantified as the macro patterns that shape the broader communication paradigm, then perhaps the bite-sized interactions can be defined as micro behaviors that pave the way to future emergent trends.

Micro behaviors are technically defined as a complete sensory routine that incorporates mechanisms for measuring the environment and acting on it to achieve specific goals. Despite their lack of depth and length, these micro behaviors, such as microblogging and reading RSS feeds, are equally important as (if not more important than) their macro counterparts in terms of understanding and catering to modern consumer needs of self-expression and personalization.

As they are naturally nimbler in reaction to devices and media channels, micro behaviors represent consumers' adaptive response to new environmental pressures. They often give rise to emergent behaviors, which allows short-term adaptations to influence (or sometimes evolve into) macro patterns and trends once critical mass is reached in the user base.

What Does This Mean for Online Media?

What does this mean for behavioral targeting? What if our online behaviors become so miniature they become impossible to identify and target? Worse, what if our behaviors become such a kaleidoscope that we become ubiquitous in consumption but completely elusive in deep engagement?

For behavioral targeting to work efficiently, we must take personal preferences and disclosure into account and require a sufficient amount of data on frequency, duration (used as a proxy for volume), and recency. Regardless of how compact and abbreviated our behaviors become, the frequency and volume of consumption and contribution can provide the basic foundation for targeting.

As new digital devices, tools, and platforms continue to increase, our media behaviors will become more complex and multilayered. If we closely oversee the blossoming micro media consumptions, we'll be able to monitor the resulting reactionary micro behaviors. And we'll better anticipate future macro trends.

Maybe it is a small world after all.

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Andy Chen

Based in London, Andy Chen is vice president of digital solutions for Viacom Brand Solutions(VBS) International. Prior to Viacom, Andy was the media strategy director at Carat International/Isobar, which handles global media and digital strategies for Philips, Renault, Adidas, and various other multinational clients.

A true advocate for global integration and strategy, Andy has lived and worked in Copenhagen and Stockholm, where he was a management consultant for the Swedish Advertising Association. He received his BA from University of California, Berkeley; and a MBA in international marketing and global management from Stockholm University, School of Business. Named one of the "20 Rising Media Stars to Watch in 2004" by "Media Magazine," Andy is a frequent international conference speaker on digital and interactive media. He published his first collaborative book, "The Changing Communication Paradigm," in November 2005.

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