A generation ago you were popular if you had 20 friends. You had 'influence'? if you started fashion trends or were able to get a last minute reservation at the latest "it" restaurant. And while one could argue that those definitions still hold true, today's Millennials have completely redefined the framework of social identity.
As documented in AMP Agency's recent Psychology of Social study, the age-old human desires of connection, attachment and identity establishment have not changed since the stone age - but the process and manner in which they are achieved has shifted significantly with the rise of social media. We're now enabled to fulfill these basic human needs via our technological capacity to connect through social channels and communities. And it's become a part of everyday identity. Tomorrow's consumer will define him/herself by the brands they like on Facebook, the songs they stream via Spotify, the places they check-in on FourSquare, the people they follow on Twitter, the photos they upload to Instagram and the online identity that they establish early on in life.
Someone's social footprint is already a factor in how online daters find their mates, how employers screen potential employees, how universities evaluate applicants and how record companies scan for the next Justin Bieber.
So what does it mean for brands?
Social is no longer a vertical channel. It must be considered, and likely implemented, across everything a brand does. It is no longer enough to simply create a positive brand experience (a challenge in its own right). It's now about creating positive, shareable brand experiences for consumers while simultaneously helping to facilitate the social sharing of those experiences.
As brand identity continues to become an integral part of consumers' individual identities, brands should look for ways to facilitate evangelism and provide on- and off-line status perks to your customers. American Express has done a fantastic job via their Amex Sync programming by offering an incentive to members to link their credit cards with their Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare profiles in return for offers, content and experiences. Not only does it provide their members with immediate savings and the status bump associated with exclusive access but it provides an entry point for the brand to access the valuable real estate of status updates and implied (or in this case, actual) endorsement.
Another brand that's done a great job extending social across all consumer touch points and engagements is Nike with their Nike+ Ecosystem. The Nike+ Running app allows users to sync and share their fitness goals and achievements with their social communities, helping to not only track their performance, but also helping to keep them motivated. Nike+ Fuelband's recent integration into Path takes things a step further by allowing Path users to map their progress against their daily activity goals. If you have trouble keeping yourself accountable, now you can rely on the motivation of shared competition (your mom ran more miles than you today?!?) or the pressure of public workout tracking (my girlfriend will know if I skip that workout today).
There is tremendous opportunity to further integrate your brand into shared social experiences. Look for opportunities to provide consumers with "status building" status updates and other public badges that can help them build social cache. Allow your brand to help consumers build their individual brand identities.