Finding Love in a World of Likes: Creating Magnetic Digital Experiences

The likes, pluses, stars and hearts continue piling up, but is the love of a brand’s million followers, or the adoration of hundreds of thousands of passionate cat video fans, the same as the love we feel for each other?

I’m having a love affair with Uber.

But let’s be clear — I’m not in love with Uber.

With over 1.5 million apps vying for your heart in the app store alone, there are likely a handful of digital experiences you’ve fallen for. We freely toss around love for Twitter, Game of Thrones, Google Maps or whatever else is trending.

We can’t help it, we love to love! When it comes to our hearts however, we aren’t as uninhibited. The likes, pluses, stars and hearts continue piling up, but is the love of a brand’s million followers, or the adoration of hundreds of thousands of passionate cat video fans, the same as the love we feel for each other? Similarly to the way we evaluate a fling versus an infatuation, we can draw the line between experiences we love to like, and like to love.

Sternberg’s popular Triangular Theory classifies the three unique dimensions necessary for true love as: intimacy, commitment and passion. If a relationship contains trust and intimate knowledge, long-term dependency, and a magnetic draw, then it’s the real deal. Based on Sternberg’s theory, but reconsidered for digital, there is a triangle of criteria that can be used to determine if a digital experience is simply liked, or sincerely loved.

1. Empathy

Does it understand me?

Like Google Now, it knows me well, maybe even better than I know myself, and like the Chase banking app, I trust it with intimate details.

2. Dependency

Could I replace it with the next best thing if it disappeared tomorrow?

It’s habitual, like checking The Weather Channel in the morning, and reciprocal, like commenting on Yelp. Dependency develops over time, continuously adding exclusive value to the experience.

3. Desire

Do I crave it?

There’s a certain magic to true love that comes from a deep-set desire. Like Tinder’s gamified “swipe right” feature to confirm potential suitors, loved experiences capture users’ attention, surprise them, and leave them wanting more.

While this may seem simple, it’s surprising how many of the experiences we claim to love don’t measure up. OpenTable is highly useful for making dinner reservations, but do you feel passionately drawn to any of its features? Shazam provides instant song-gratification, but has it earned your loyalty yet?

My fling with Uber is a textbook whirlwind romance. The app is easy on the eyes, feels personalized and exclusive, and is seamless to use. As we jet around the globe together, it does a great job getting me where I need to be, regardless of the city, country or even continent.

It’s highly desirable and even a bit naughty — like I’m cheating on my cabbie. In a bold display of trust, I share my credit card number and home address without hesitation. But like any good love affair, there are no strings attached. Nothing keeps me dependent on Uber. Should a new ride service with enhanced features arrive on my street, I wouldn’t hesitate to make the switch. Like Romeo and Juliet, we’re destined for downfall.

Now think about something that’s nearly invisible, yet we’d be lost without it. Of the world’s approximate 4.5 billion daily web queries, 78 percent are run through Google. That type of market share doesn’t happen accidentally.

Google search consistently delivers the results we want, and it’s easy to forget that in that in a fraction of a second, Google scans over 60 trillion web pages and prioritizes them in order of individualized relevance. This customization is thanks to a highly personal relationship that we’ve developed with Google over time.

Between daily doodles, the delightfully random “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, or even the moments that autocomplete alone teaches you something new, Google turns mundane into magical. It’s an empathetic, dependable and desirable experience. There’s a reason you don’t see people “Yahoo it.”

I don’t love Spotify, but I like that it gives me music on the go. I don’t love Facebook, but I like that it keeps my vacation photos organized. And that’s just fine. There’s nothing wrong with liked experiences.

If someday however, they want to build enduring love, then — ironically — this love triangle might be the perfect place to start. Until then, I’ll happily ride out the rest of my love affair. From Shanghai to Munich to Seoul and beyond, Uber and I have plenty of places still to go.

Randall Stone is the Director of Experience Innovation, LippincottRandall spoke at SXSWi on the topic of “Humanizing Digital: Finding Love in a World of Likes” on Monday, March 16, in Austin, Tex. He was joined by Abigail Posner of Google, Joel Beckerman of Man Made Music, and YouTube star Charles Trippy. Join the discussion on Twitter at #liketoloveit.