• Caleb Clark

The Not-So-Cool Parts Of Social Media

Social media marketing means using platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter to share information with your customers. Many companies use this form of marketing to supplement their online presence, typically a simple webpage or website. While this is a newer form of advertising with rising popularity in the recent years, it has a few negatives.

Negative Comments are Public Knowledge

Prior to social media, it was hard for a customer to complain about a product in a public domain. Many times, a complaint would be spread by word of mouth, which could only reach a small group of people. However, with the advent of social media, anyone can post a negative comment on the wall or page of a large company's social media site. While many place controls on their pages to limit damaging posts, some companies do not. One way to combat this is to have a person monitor the site to delete or immediately respond to negative comments in a positive light.

Constant Monitoring is Necessary

With the advent of social media came the concept of worldwide real-time response. For global companies, this is even a bigger issue. Since many consumers are checking their social media sites several times throughout the day, constant monitoring is necessary to prevent hacking, negative smear campaigns and over-use by consumers who are simply trying to sell their product on your page. Trained and competent social media staff must be hired to help combat this issue.

What Happens on the Internet, Stays on the Internet

Information on the Internet is never truly deleted. A negative comment, a marketing mistake or a fake sales flier publicized on the Internet will not go away once it is simply taken off your social media page. It can be access by those who saved it to their hard drive or server.

Moving Too Quickly

As both Celeb Boutique and Netflix discovered, moving too quickly into social media may mean that you’re not adequately prepared. Jumping into an account before you’ve checked out the official hash tags and similar competitors can mean a confusing and perhaps fatal introduction into the fast-paced world of social media.

Social Media Builds the Wrong Habits in Marketers

With social media, quantity of followers often matters more than quality of followers. Likes start to matter as much as (and sometimes more than) buys. Marketers focus less on creating emotional language and more on comments and interactions.

Ironically, social media actually decreases how much a company talks to its customers because they think a Facebook or Twitter exchange takes the place of a real, personal conversation. On the phone, you can ask a customer what they think and feel about your product or company. You can hear their emotion and choose to dig deeper, or move to another topic. When it comes down to it, a series of 15-minute phone calls with customers — to really understand what they think, say, and feel — simply cannot be matched by social media activity.

This is partly because social media marketing is so difficult to measure. It’s why one Forrester analyst said that “Facebook was getting worse, rather than better, at helping marketers succeed.”

Here’s another problem. Half of Americans think Facebook is a passing fad, according to an Associated Press-CNBC poll. Also, 34% of Facebook users spend less time on the site than they did a year ago. Eighty percent say they have never bought a product or service as a result of an advertisement or comment on Facebook. And just 12% would feel safe making a purchase through the site. Is this where you want to invest a large portion of your marketing budget?

Social Media Is Useless for Business-to-Business Companies

Do you know of a high-level business executive at any firm of consequence who makes buying decisions based on what he sees on social media? If people wouldn’t by a TV or laptop or car based on social media advertising or activity, do you think there is any chance they’d buy professional services or equipment there? No. There’s no chance.

Business sales require relationships with high-level executives, who choose their providers based referrals and reputation. They don’t make their decisions based on what you say on Facebook or Twitter. Many of them aren’t even active participants there.

Bottom Line - If You Don't Use It Right, It Hurts Your Business

From a business perspective, this model is fantastic. Instead of paying for expensive TV and print ads, and hoping to see some correlation between ad spending and sales results, you can pay for relatively cheap online content, and track its sales impact click by click. Better yet, since gutting ad budgets has thrown the media industry into crisis, you have less and less competition from actual journalists, which makes it easier to get people to look at your mediocre content instead. And as Lyons points out, most of that mediocre content can be created by employees who are young, inexperienced and cheap.

But from a personal perspective, it sucks. For every email newsletter you’re genuinely thrilled to receive, you likely have dozens that merely clutter up your inbox, where they linger unread. To get to the Facebook posts that have been shared by the actual genuine human beings you know, you have to plough through a feed that’s cluttered with posts that somebody paid to put there. (A problem that’s only going to get worse, now that Facebook has given its official blessing to branded content on verified pages.) And unless you read blog posts while wearing glasses that block your peripheral vision, you’re likely to get sucked into clicking on one of the irresistible headlines that now frame nearly every page of content on the Internet — headlines that somebody paid to put there, and which almost always lead to something way less interesting than the headline suggests.

When we make the Internet worse for individual users, we waste an extraordinary opportunity. In the Internet, we have the most revolutionary content platform in a millennium — a platform that can support not only broad participation in sharing ideas and knowledge, but also support real-time conversation around that content. This is the medium that promised to bust us free of a corporatized media driven by elite interests, so that ordinary people could have their voices heard. This is the medium that offered the possibility that creative artists and independent thinkers might actually be able to find a platform for their work and ideas, and even find a way to support themselves while doing it. This is the medium that has already enabled the rapid dissemination of innovative economic development models, sustainable energy innovations and grassroots mobilization strategies, which were once front-and-centre on the social web, but are increasingly shoved to the margins.

As Lyons puts it, marketers “took the Internet, one of the most wonderful and profound inventions of all time, and polluted it with advertising and turned it into a way to sell stuff.” Worse yet, we’re using it to create ads that look so much like content that we’ll soon lose the ability to tell the difference. Companies that contribute to that degradation by aggressively disseminating lousy content should be regarded the same way we look at emails for discount Viagra.

How can we reclaim the Internet from this dreck? It’s going to take a combination of business innovation and personal responsibility.

Let’s start with the business side. What we’ve got right now is a classic free rider problem: everybody is worse off if the Internet becomes a cesspool of celebrity-themed quizzes and self-aggrandizing copy, but in a world where so many businesses are attracting eyeballs by pumping out lousy content, no single business wants to assume the costs of behaving better. Yes, some companies are able to succeed by producing high-quality content but lots are able to succeed even more, or at least more cheaply, by producing garbage. So we end up with a race to the bottom, in which he who pumps out the highest volume of tweets, emails and blog posts shall emerge the victor.

It would be terrific if we could be delivered from this dynamic by some miraculous new marketing model that demonstrates the ROI of creating really great content, even if it costs more to create, as well as the benefit of a restrained approach to email, even if it yields fewer leads. But most of the businesses that are producing great content are either legacy media companies, holding on for dear life (and wondering how long they can keep that up), or new media companies that accumulate market value by showing that they have lots of users, even if they aren’t generating actual profits. By the time that “great content” marketing model appears — if it appears — we’ll be so accustomed to lousy content, colonized social media feeds, and overflowing inboxes that we won’t remember what good, well-curated content even looks like.

So for now, we need to locate good marketing practices in the realm of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The most respected businesses in the CSR world are those that adopt “triple bottom line” accounting, which considers the environmental and social costs of business decisions alongside their financial impact. The health of the Internet needs to be part of that equation. We’ve got to look at companies that pollute the Internet the same way we look at companies that pollute the air and water supply: as an enemy of public health.

At Qonsult, our goal is to acheive balance in your content, paid advertising, and your brand image. If you've been curious about social media and it's negative effects on your business, please let me help you out, free of charge.

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