My father collected very expensive model trains from Germany, favoring those relating to the World War II era. I suspect that his mania, if we can call it that (and people have referred to collecting as a mania since at least the late 19th century), had something to do with the war-induced disruption of his childhood. My mother, not to be outdone, began to collect wooden figurines from Italy. My friend Sharon had more than 5,000 salt and pepper shakers.
Why do people create collections?
Many aspects to collecting provide pleasure. One pleasure is in developing expertise in a subject that isn’t the purview of your neighbors. As Bill Brown, a professor at the University of Chicago and the author of Things, wrote:
Collectors collect more than objects; they collect the knowledge (however pedestrian or profound) that empowers them to take pleasure in those objects and to take advantage of someone else's ignorance.
After we’ve gotten that elusive last object that completes some aspect of our collection, what do we do with the object? Often, it’s squirreled away, only to be brought out on rare occasions. We hoard.
Another seductive aspect of collecting is the thrill of the chase. Why else would someone drive around on Saturday mornings to yard sales or wake up at 5:00 am to go to a flea market?
Collecting in Social Media
Collecting has been a component of social media since its inception. In The Facebook Effect, author David Kirkpatrick talks about how students compete to gain as many friends as possible.
In other words, they collected connections.
People also do this on Twitter, where people are often seen celebrating milestones of numbers of followers. I even hear bloggers boast about the quantity of comments a post has gotten. While some of these metrics act as competitive scores, others, particularly in connections, seem to have a lot in common with the collecting butterflies or stamps.
Many social media pundits say that the “what’s it all about” is engagement. Perhaps engagement isn’t the whole story. Perhaps other forces of human nature are at work. Perhaps the collecting impulse is more central than we might be imagining.
The obvious question then that marketers should ask themselves is: "How can we in marketing can create more value for both the producers and consumers of goods and services by tapping into the collecting impulse?"
We could, for instance, treat our internal social connections as objects of collecting. That, in turn, could be subject to elements of gamification. We could consider one another’s collections of connections as worthy of curation or admiration.
Many of the fundamental elements of social media came about by happenstance. Facebook's status updates were a mimicking of AIM status updates, and Twitter was a mimicking of cell phone texting. We’ve seen new social media patterns emerge and take hold quickly as Pinterest did last year.
My guess is that we will be seeing more ways to engage socially, and what we know of social media today will be radically different in a decade. I’ve got another hunch that the collecting impulse will play a part.