Editor’s note: Due to a failed attempt to integrate Evernote with an alarm clock, this column accidentally synced with a column from 2026. Normal service will be resumed as soon as someone remembers the account administrator’s password.
Barry Truffle is the chief experience officer (CXO) for BeetleJuice, the new drink brand capitalizing on the huge post-war demand for insect-protein foodstuffs. Barry agreed to show me how much the industry has changed in the decade since he started out as a social media manager in 2016.
I join Barry aboard the cross-town hoverzoom to the Corporate Sector. “These days I can work almost anywhere,” he says. “But I still like to visit the cubicle farm at least once a fortnight.”
“(CXOs) serve as top executives with the mandate and power to design, orchestrate, and improve customer experiences across the ever-more-complex range of customer interactions.” —The Rise of the Customer Experience Officer, Harvard Business Review, April 2011
Since starting out as a social media manager back in 2016, Barry’s 10-year career has seen massive change. “Social media marketing was a very different world back then,” he says. “Companies often had one or two people — sometimes entire teams — with sole responsibility for social media working separately from the rest of the business. It led to some terrible workflows.”
It seems ridiculous now but in 2016 many companies had separate strategies, processes, and responsibilities for social media. It would be a few more years before social media became part of the bigger workflow alongside telephones, emails, and holoscreens.
“You might be the best person to answer a particular customer question on Twitter, but the workflow often locked you out of the conversation. You might have written the article but someone else would write the updates, share it to social media, and probably even handle the responses. It was all so disjointed.”
“Social media marketing as a function unto itself will disappear because people will naturally incorporate social media channels into their existing jobs and functions. After all, it’s easier to teach a customer support person how to use Twitter than to teach your average Twitter user how to do customer support well.” —Samuel Scott, director of marketing and communications at Logz.io: What is the Future of Social Media Marketing?, Oct. 27, 2015
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One-to-one social media
Barry’s cubicle is filled with a mix of holoscreens and monitors, providing a constant stream of real-time data. Among them are three personalized social content feeds — one his own and the others approximating the personalized settings and network demographics of two key customer personas.
“I need to see the world through their eyes,” Barry explains. “What news stories do they see? What do they filter out? What are their values? Who influences their decisions?”
Between 2014 and 2020, the digital universe exploded by more than 600%, forcing social networks to adopt stricter algorithms to make sense of the chaos. Meanwhile, users demanded greater power to curate and filter their own feeds. While highly personalized feeds rapidly became the norm, keeping up with so many different platforms and websites was a chore. By 2022, third-party apps started popping up, making it easier for users to compile all of their feeds, notifications, messages, and content preferences into a single prioritized stream. Where social media was once the disruptor, it is now the disrupted.
For a while, marketers relied on automated media buying to hit the right person with a sponsored post at the best price the algorithm could get. But the industry was already in an arms race against the ad blockers and compilation apps that gave consumers plenty of alternatives to access their social and content feeds ad-free.
It was around this time that Barry’s role morphed from social media marketer to customer (now chief) experience officer.
“A lot of my day is just working out how to get in front of the right people,” says Barry. “Who cares how many followers you’ve got if they all filter you out? First, they have to choose to add us to their priority feed, which is extremely hard unless others in their network actively recommend our content.
“That’s why influencer marketing got so out of hand a few years back. Even once we’re in their feeds, we have to repay that trust every single day. If we get it wrong just once, they won’t hesitate to tell us to ‘Drumpf off’ and filter us out with a single click.”
Technology will allow us to tailor #content to specific individuals in real time says @ajalumnify Click To Tweet
“What is going to change is technology, which allows us to tailor content to specific individuals in real time. This not only creates a stronger value proposition for the readers, but gives them an immediate reason to read content that is hand-delivered versus-mass produced for the term ‘followers’.” —AJ Agrawal, CEO of Alumnify, Inc.: 5 Predictions for the Future of Social Media, May 2015
Barry now sees personalized feeds as an opportunity for incredibly targeted niche content and a more individualized experience. “Today, I’m using incredibly granular data to identify specific social signals, triggering a highly targeted message or piece of content to a single person.”
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Living and working frictionlessly
My day nearly over, I ask Barry how he would describe his role in a single sentence.
He pondered for a moment, crunching on a Lemon Locust bar. “I use a mix of technology, psychology, and highly targeted content to make the relationship between the customer and the brand as frictionless and rewarding as possible.”
“Living frictionlessly often really just means living thoughtlessly. There are apps that will automatically wish your friends a happy birthday, so you never need think warm thoughts of them again. Or take the advertising campaigns in the US for a food delivery service … which makes a point of boasting that you can order your cheeseburger, or your chow mein, without ever interacting with a human being.” —Oliver Burkeman, A Frictionless Existence: New Philosopher, February-April 2016
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Postscript: A day in the life of a social media marketer (2036 edition)
“Drumpf!” In his one-room habitation pod, Barry waves at the wall screen to snooze the alarm for another 10 minutes. There’s no hurry. The distribution bots will carry on sharing content and buying attention according to his algorithms and it’s been over a week since Angie — the customer-support AI system — pinged him with a query she couldn’t answer.
Later, the wall screen will connect him to the habitation pods of the rest of the customer-experience team of Soylent Green Pty Ltd. In the half-hour meeting they’ll decide next month’s topics to program into the content writing software and evaluate which curated feeds should be culled.
“I asked [Kristian Hammond, CTO of Narrative Science] to predict what percentage of news would be written by computers in 15 years: … ‘More than 90 percent.’” —Steven Levy: Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story than a Human Reporter, Wired Magazine, April 2012
Barry still doesn’t know what his co-workers look and sound like — meetings are about data, not people. Once everyone has uploaded their data and recommendations, the system will aggregate the results and present a final set of proposals for each team member to vote up or down. No egos, no debate, no friction. With the schedule decided, Barry will spend a few hours catching up on his personalized content feeds until the evening protein slice arrives with the 6 p.m. delivery capsule.
For a brief moment, Barry wonders when he last communicated with a genuine human being instead of a screen-bot or branded AI simulation. Doesn’t matter, he decides. After all, how would he notice the difference?
He rolls over once more and goes back to sleep. Alone.
“The future is your story to tell. And maybe you have more options for the future than you thought. Maybe there are different ways to see what comes next.” —Warren Ellis, Cunning Plans, 2015
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute