How Social Media Makes Time Travel Possible

Back to the Future Delorean

By Daniel Lara

Time travel: a concept that was crafted by the greatest minds of our world, and only turned into reality within the greatest stories of science fiction, isn’t nearly as fictional as we thought. On October 21, 2015, many will celebrate one of the most memorable tales of time travel: Back to the Future. In the movie’s sequel, Marty McFly travels to this day from 1985 with the hope of altering a problematic future.

But this day is more than just a celebration of a classic cinematic moment. It’s a day that recognizes the power of time and our curious fascination with it. And so, this got me thinking: Why is the notion of time travel compelling to so many? And why is it that we humans become emotionally charged with the idea of accessing the past, present and future? 

While we haven’t been able to master the physical act of moving through time AND space, today we are surely capable of harnessing the power of time—and we don’t even need a plutonium-powered DeLorean!

Our vehicle? Social media.

On each of our digital devices, and within our social platforms, we are constantly traversing through the past, present and future by way of content. Every day we are connecting to old photos, tapping into current conversations and researching upcoming trends. As such, we are all fundamentally time travelers using content to immerse ourselves deeper into old and new experiences in time, making it a pathway that opens big opportunities for both consumers and marketers alike. 

In this blog, I will explore what makes social media the proclaimed conduit of time travel; but more importantly, I will discuss how it can impact your digital marketing strategy for the good. 

The Past

Relishing our memories is hardly a thing of only the digital age. For centuries, we’ve documented our lives in journals and photos, only to then look back at them to remember what once was. Nostalgia is the key here; it’s the psychological driving force that elicits some of our greatest emotions. Happy, sad, funny—nostalgia can instantly pull these feelings from us. And with social media, that quantity and speed at which we can access nostalgic content is far greater than ever before.

Today, a major piece of social media’s relevance is that it facilitates nostalgia by bridging the gap between the past and the present. It’s the reason #TBT is still one of the most popular hashtags, and the reason Facebook launched the in-channel feature, "On This Day." According to AdRank.com, "68% of consumers will pay more for a product if it appeals to them on a personal or emotional level.” So it comes as no surprise that marketers use nostalgia to connect their brand with consumers all over the world. Extra Space, one of the U.S.’s largest self-storage operators, ran a UGC social campaign with the intent of capturing memories of their fans and prospective fans to celebrate them in an end-of-year video. The results were astounding with over 1,000 submissions, which further proves that nostalgia is a significant results-driver. BBC News notes that “Academic studies into nostalgia-based advertising have demonstrated that marketing which displays ‘wistfulness for the past’ produces a sense of social-connectedness, and by extension, invites consumers to part with money more easily.” When social communities can share their experiences with others, it’s a powerful thing that provokes participation and can ultimately build stronger brand engagement and sentiment.

The Present

When you think of time travel, you really don’t associate it with the present. However, in the big picture of time, the present will become the past and will dictate the future, which makes it a critical part of the equation.  So where does social media fall into how we interact with the present? It’s all about real-time content. Social media was initially created to connect people in real time—to network—and it’s become one of the greatest communication channels used today.

Think about how often people opt for a birthday tweet or Facebook post rather a phone call or text. For news media, breaking stories are often consumed in social news feeds more than in a traditional paper or TV segment. The PEW Research Center found that the “clear majorities of Twitter and Facebook users (63%) now say each platform serves as a source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family.” The main point to highlight here are the conversations around these types of real-time pieces that live on social media. Marketers have a chance to make the most out of this by injecting themselves into these discussions to either expand brand awareness or build a greater customer-support service. There is value for brands to see in real-time what its audience looks like, what they are talking about and what they care about most. By tapping into the present conversations among current and potential customers, brands are able to optimize messaging that’s far more targeted and personal.

The Future

Back to the Future Part II fashioned a future that left many people in 1989 believing that one day our world would see flying cars, holograms, self-lacing shoes and tiny pizzas that instantly baked into large servings of deliciousness. Though social media will not transport you to a fantastical future like a 2015 Hill Valley, it will do what the movie accomplished with so many audiences: discover new possibilities and inspire. Yes, it is discovery that lets audiences gain a clearer understanding of the future.

Whether it’s finding the perfect job on LinkedIn or the best pumpkin-spiced recipes on Pinterest, social media allows audiences to help shape what’s to come. For example, many consumers head to Instagram to support their fitness goals by following aspirational accounts or liking inspirational photos. And it is through these forward-thinking acts that marketers can stimulate a business objective. Some companies are even using social media to upsurge their talent acquisition, and others are finding success with franchise sales. Our client, Pure Barre, a fitness brand with studios around the U.S., is able to generate more interest in owning a studio through the delivery of Facebook ads. They essentially target audiences using data-driven insights that really hit on the idea of creating a better future with a better career; and Pure Barre has certainly seen an uptick in conversions through this method.

Additionally, marketers can use social media to influence consumers on purchasing decisions. BrainSins cites that “74% shoppers rely on Social Media to get more information or reviews about the products they want to buy.” This is an opportunity where brands must prove their relevance and worth to a consumer’s future. If done right, it will encourage sales both on and offline and possibly strengthen a long-lasting customer relationship grounded in value and loyalty.

Time is invaluable when it comes to the brand-consumer relationship. The more time you spend with a consumer, the more you’re able to establish a richer connection. And for that, be a Marty McFly to the best of your abilities and use social media to help unfold your brand’s story in a way that others want to share time and time again.