What is Instagram? A social network? An app? A community? Sure.

Actually, Instagram is a site built around a social object that connects people with shared interests. In Instagram’s case, it’s the opportunity for people to shoot mediocre pictures and make them look beautiful. On music sites like Spotify or Turntable.fm it’s a song or an artist. On GetGlue, it’s a TV show or a movie.

Facebook has such a huge audience because it allows people to connect over various social objects: Pictures, shared passions, music, video, books – almost anything that defines you as a human being.

Products can be social objects: iPhone, your new car, interesting clothing, a bracelet, the wedding ring.

What are social objects?

Social objects are the reason why people socialize. We’re social animals but we need to find a common ground to communicate with each other. That common ground is the social object.

Let’s say you’re at a party, you are shy and feel completely lost. You are not going to approach a stranger with “I really love Wilco’s new album and I’m reading Jonathan Franzen’s latest book. So fascinating.” The other person will call 911 and hope you’ll end up in a mental institution. In the good old smoking days, your first conversation revolved around the brand of cigarettes both of you are smoking. (Remember the days when you sat in a smoky bar, your social object “cigarette box with logo” right in front of you communicating to the world some part of your personality?) Now, we are focusing on phones, drinks or tattoos. Some social object that connects me with you.

Your product needs to be a social object. Or pack it in.

No worries, I’m not going to talk about Apple, Zappos, Ferrari or some other amazing brands.

No, let’s talk about German turkey sausages.

If you ever come to Los Angeles, don’t bother with Hollywood or the beaches. Head out to Alpine Village, a pathetic replica of a German village. Go to the market and buy packs and packs of turkey sausage. The best sausage you’ll ever eat. 200 calories less than a beef sausage. Perfectly spiced. Highly recommended to put the sausage on the BBQ, the fat will just disappear and will leave you with the perfect sausage. Add red cabbage, dumplings and a beer. Heaven.

I’m geeking out on turkey sausage.

The sausage is a social object. I’ve talked to many people for hours about that sausage. Just like you might have talked hours about wine, an airline experience,  Yankees, amazing service, your barefoot running shoes – whatever. We all are geeking out on objects: I’ve overheard discussions about laundry detergent, toilet paper and shoe laces. Everything can be a social object.

If you feel your product can’t be a social object, drop me a line. I guarantee you it is already. (If it’s not, we’ll look together for a new job for you.)

Stop creating messages. Start creating social objects.

We’ve heard it all before: the Internet changed everything, the customer is in control, it’s about connections, engagement, blah blah blah.

Here’s the one fundamental change: Advertising used to be about creating messages. Advertising in the 21st century is about creating social objects.


Because social objects are the building stones of the Internet. Not Facebook. Not Twitter. These platforms only exist because people want to have conversations about social objects. In the best-case scenario, they’re woven into your product/service.

Some have to work harder and develop social objects surrounding the product/service. That’s where most brands get it wrong: They’re trying to have conversations with people about their product. Yawn.

Your job is to develop a social object people want to talk about. Once they start talking, get out of the way.