Before we had Twitter and Facebook to keep us busy, we Millennials had The Sims. We spent hours building fake houses for the fake families whose lives we controlled—and sometimes destroyed—and we were constantly entertained by what this early-2000s computer game thought of how people interact.
Relationships in The Sims were basic and formulaic, following very precise logic. There were no two Sims who couldn’t be friends and it was never too late to start over with a wife you cheated on just hours ago.
But even if relationships in The Sims were more for novelty and entertainment than anything else, there are quite a few true-to-life social media lessons brands could learn from The Sims.
1. You have to do it.
There’s no way around it. As social animals we have to form relationships with other people. If you deprived your poor Sim of human interaction, they would cry in the corner or refuse to do what you told them because they were quite literally paralyzed by loneliness.
Don’t think your brand is any different, don’t ever think you’re above building relationships with people. Just because you have a logo doesn’t mean you have the right to hide behind it on social networks. If real, true connections are an afterthought, your brand could meet the same, bleak fate as this unfortunate Sim.
2. The number of friends you have matters.
In The Sims players could be rewarded with job promotions if they had a certain number of friends. Beyond the highly basic game logic, there’s a lesson here: relationships pay off. Sure, you can have one (or even a few) great friendship, but let’s face it, when you’re talking social media, you’re talking networking, you’re talking connections. You’re talking about quantity.
The power of social media is in its reach and scale. This doesn’t mean you have to be mainstream, but you have to at least own a niche! Of course, you want strong relationships, but you want enough of them, too. Numbers matter, people. They aren’t everything, but they do make a difference.
3. Quality matters too, so do it often and do it consistently.
In The Sims it was almost impossible to maintain quality relationships with enough people to keep your brand-new job. By the time you called up your neighbor and waited the inexplicable 3 hours for them to arrive at your door, your Sim was complaining about being hungry or in serious need of some sleep before the carpool arrived for work. If they went a few days without talking, their friendship status was in danger of dropping to the “who are you?” level. It was hard work to make and keep friends, but when you made it a priority for your Sim, they were happier and better off for it.
Brands aren’t done when they get someone to “like” their page, and they’re not doing much in the way of “maintaining” a relationship when they’re just blasting senseless updates at people. Quality relationships involve hard work and serious commitment. You can’t just talk about anything, you have to talk about what matters or your relationship progress bar is going to stay flat.
4. The phone’s great and all, but it’s no substitute for face-to-face communication.
The Sims offered two ways to communicate with others: over the phone or in person. Pretty simple world, right? Unsurprisingly, phone conversations didn’t give many interaction options, and barely added any friendship points to a relationship. Face-to-face talk was where it was at. In person, you could not only chat, but you could hug or flirt or joke or, hey, make out.
The lesson? In-person brand experiences are best, but technology and social media can help cover your bases between in-person brand experiences, such as when someone is buying or using your product.
Brands have all these different forms of social media at their disposal to give them more moments and methods to connect with people. Every channel, every network, every community offers different ways to connect and new people to connect with. Not all kinds of content work on every social network, not all content works the same way, and not everyone in one community is the same as those in a different community.
Brands don’t need to be on every channel, and they don’t need to be the same on every channel. They just need to be relevant to wherever they’re participating and consider the context of their relationship levels with others there.
5. Think about what you’re saying or you’ll get slapped.
Don’t talk to everyone the same. Your Sim wife would get pissed when you didn’t reciprocate the affection she needed. Your Sim neighbor would slap you when you flirted with her before greeting her first. So why do brands try to sell to people who they haven’t even done the equivalent of exchanging pleasantries first?
Build a relationship, but don’t force one. Brand interactions have steps and levels to them just like Sim relationships—and real-life relationships! Treating everyone the same just doesn’t work at a certain point. Adapt and find how you fit in, or I guarantee you will get slapped.