No more digital presences

Too often we speak of digital presences. Too often, I think, we’re cognitively misled.

While our intentions are good, speaking of “presence” isn’t actually that complementary to what we, as digital strategists and creatives and thinkers and doers, end up doing for brands.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “presence” as “the fact of being in a particular place”. I don’t know about you, but this just seems too passive for me. I may be present somewhere, but that doesn’t mean I’m doing something. Not even something worthy. Just something.

According to this logic we already have enough digital “presences”, thank you very much. Whatever happened to all those brands you followed on the social network du jour back in the day? Hell yeah they’re present. But to what end exactly? You can look them up and find out the latest, but chances are unless I had just told you to you’d never usually do that. I know I wouldn't.

We’re not mistaken per se by speaking of presence, but I believe it plants the wrong message in the back of our and our clients' minds. Cognitively speaking, “presence” might be the trigger for us to consider once we’re present doing something, and properly reacting to what comes our way, we’re done. Well, that’s not enough.

My suggestion: we stop speaking of a “presence” and start speaking of a “role”. Let’s look at the dictionary again: a role is actually “the part that someone has in a family, society, or other group”. The difference? All of a sudden you’re not just present, you have a part to play. And that can mean a lot of things: inspiring your audience, enabling access to information, protecting sensitive data, you name it.

A role tells us much more about what this is all about. Consider an actor on stage. He plays a persona and should never break character, because otherwise the illusion vanishes. When we see someone acting we don't just expect him to be present in the scene, specially if we have previous positive memories of that specific actor. We expect him to live up to those memories. We expect him to do something worthy of our time (even if it means blowing shit up). We constantly look for the role of things in our lives, even if we don't realize it. That's why we make choices and how choices are even possible in the first place.

It's the same with brands in a digital space. Presence alone means we’re there in case someone needs us. Role means we’re actively doing something for someone else.

Strictly speaking, they’re just different words. Cognitively speaking, they’re massively different worldviews.