There’s a popular saying that marketers have ruined social media. As a marketer, I agree and disagree.
Yes, crappy marketing by brands, or crappy marketers in general, ruin social media. Yet that’s been true of any crappy marketing, and it’s not restricted to social media.
Let’s face it, crappy anything ruins something.
- A crappy experience with a customer service adviser who’s having a bad day can ruin your perception of a brand;
- A crappy meal can ruin your special evening;
- A crappy update of your favourite movie series can ruin your fond memories of what came before (I’m looking at you, George Lucas!!!).
But for some reason, marketers and brands are coming in for special attention recently, with many articles across the web decrying how social media has been ruined by brands and marketers.
For me, though, it’s not marketers of brands who have ruined social media – it’s consumers. Specifically, consumers who say they want brands to be a certain way on social media, but their [consumer] actions don’t back that up.
Why Are Marketers Being Blamed for Social Media’s Descent?
As I mentioned at the start of this post, the belief that marketers ruin everything, especially social media, is pretty popular and widespread. Run a search on Google for the term “marketers ruined social media” and you’ll get over 41 million results.
Some of the posts and articles include titles like Was It Marketers That Ruined Social Media?, Social Media Marketers are Ruining Social Media, Marketers Ruin Everything – This Time It’s Influencer Marketing, and many more just like them.
Spot any recurring themes there?
In addition to these posts, my colleague and co-author on Influence Marketing, Sam Fiorella, shared his own take with his article, Social Media Has Killed Consumer Trust.
Sam uses graphs from Student Monitor that shares how US college students make decisions. The most trusted resource was still friends and word-of-mouth, with “information on the Internet” coming in at less than half the word-of-mouth percentage.
The takeaway was that social media, because of brands and marketers and their method of sponsored content, placing importance on numbers of followers, and using fake influence scores to determine authority, has been ruined by lazy marketing and poorly implemented tactics.
And on that, I agree. But do the actions of lazy marketers, who put more emphasis on quick hit-low return campaigns speak for all of marketing and brand engagement strategies?
But it’s not just lazy marketing that’s to blame for social media’s so-called fall from grace – it’s consumers, and the demand for more personal and human interactions, and then crucifying the brands that do this.
Be Human, Except Don’t Be
One of the reasons social media was seen as turning point in the relationship between consumers and brands was that it finally allowed us, as consumers, to have a one-to-one conversation (or as close as) with the brands we do business with.
Yet, much like anything that affords people extra power, this can be (and is) abused. For example,
- Take Doug Meacham, a consultant with IBM, and his hounding of the CMO of Best Buy regarding the price difference between offline and online sales. Doug was like an angry dog chasing a bone, and was the first time I’d seen the “power” of consumer-led abuse in action on social.
- Or when an 8 year old boy dying from muscular dystrophy and traveling on Air Canada had his custom wheelchair damaged by the airline, Twitter lit up, led by a Canadian social media power player. Air Canada came in for massive abuse, and it seemed justifiably so – until you learned that Air Canada immediately sent the chair for repair when they saw its damage. Because the chair was custom-made, it couldn’t be repaired as fast as a normal chair, so they provided a manual chair (replaced the same evening with an electric one), while they tried to get the customized one repaired as fast as possible. Yet this wasn’t widely shared on social – go figure.
- Or social media guy CC Chapman going after Ragu in not just one blog post, but three, each one escalating a little more, because Ragu had reached out to Chapman about a new campaign they were doing involving dads, and Chapman took offence to the approach.
These are three early examples of consumers not only reacting to brands and their faux pas, but reacting in a way that essentially placed the brand in a no-win situation (just ask GAP when they crowdsourced a new logo on social media, and the response they got, for another one).
What each one does is show while consumers (even marketers are consumers away from the “day job”) want brands to be on social and be receptive, it’s actually more about being on social and on the consumer’s terms.
Does that sound like the kind of two-way interaction/relationship that social media was originally lauded for?
We All Need to Be Responsible on Social Media
Of course, times change. While social media may have been celebrated for its ability to connect consumers with brands, and vice versa, that relationship goal (or the perception of a relationship) has changed.
Eager to avoid a “social media fail” like the 210 million results a search for the term results in, brands lost their voices, and subsequently acquiesced to any and every little bit of criticism online. Even when brands were in the right, they’d apologize and advise they’d try do better.
Sensing this, consumers have become more vocal, and even when they’re in the wrong, the groupthink mentality kicks in and the social media consumer “wins” pretty much every time.
When this happens, we all lose. Brands pull back from social, and the research and intelligence that can be gathered to improve the customer experience is lost.
While we, as consumers might celebrate the fact our publicly available data and updates aren’t being mined by brands, is it actually a victory? If it means crappy marketing strategies and questionable approaches to privacy are concerned, yes, it is.
But if a brand is answering queries on social media, and the consumer still craps on them for daring to provide the right answer, is it really the brand at fault?
Is it really the marketer who’s at fault for tailoring ads, offers and campaigns that a consumer has specifically said they want, and then that same consumer complains about seeing the promotion in their social feed?
Like I said earlier, it’s become a no-win situation for both brands and marketers on social, even when they’re doing things the way consumers say they want things to be done.
Ironically, perhaps the lazy marketers have got it right. After all, if brands spend a sizeable amount of money and personalized approaches to please the consumer, and still get beaten down for it, why bother? Why not just spray and pray like some marketers have been doing for years?
If we really want social to be the place it can be, we need to stop criticizing brands that try to do it right. Otherwise, it won’t be marketers and brands that ruin social media – it’ll be us, the consumer, by turning it solely into a soapbox for the loud and brash bully.
And that never works out well for anyone…