What it says on the tin
Social media is enjoying much success these days. Agencies enjoy high margins and few marketing/brand managers dare challenge the assumption that brands must engage the online beast which is their customers, or die.
The definition of engagement by many brands, however, reveals an arrogant and condescending attitude towards their customers. “Tell us about your holiday and win…”. “Upload a photo of…..”. “What is your dream….?” And so it goes; requests for so-called content with a forced link to some brand value/vision/whatever to tick the messaging box, acquired ultimately only by promising prizes and give-aways in return. Content which nobody reads (except the poor social media person who has to pick a winner), nobody cares about and which doesn’t add value to neither brand nor customer, suggests an ulteriror motive drives these activities.
What is achieved by this type of promotions is not emotional connection and loyalty and other pleasantly sounding terms, but something less sexy and more rational: clicks, likes, comments and entries. These entities are conveniently measurable and easy to acquire. As a result, a fallacy which clouds our collective rational faculties has emerged; invented and kept alive by agency-land, it says that these measurements equal connection and loyalty. In other words, a customer which likes a post is a loyal customer who (not likes) loves the brand.
After establishing a social media capital in which ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’ are the highest form of currency, the ruling class, constituted by agencies rich in social media “skills”, start, like any governing entity with respect for itself, exploring creative forms of corruption and exploitation. How can we get as many likes, comments, pictures, clicks and entries as possible? This usually includes sending out an all-staff email, encouraging clicks and likes and to forward it to their networks. Then a stream of meaningless posts on the brand’s facebook site to “connect” with the fan, in other words to hassle them for comments and likes; every single of which are carefully counted and whose value is inflated, before presenting to the customer as evidence of success. Also, a hard core of above-average enthusiastic fans who comments on, and likes, every post gives a highly skewed impression of the collective engagement among the fan (a patronising term in itself) community.
There is a hysteria surrounding social media at the moment, and brands are worried about being left behind if they don’t participate. Suddenly, it seems, people have this extreme need to be entertained and activated by brands; there is this common understanding that unless we give people something to do, their hearts will stop and they will die. We need to give people what they crave: our attention of our Facebook profiles. Agencies are guilty, partly of creating, reinforcing and exploiting this groupthink, partly of believing in the hype themselves. As a consumer, I resent being perceived by brands as willingly sacrificing my spare time on their half-hearted social media campaigns.
Social media is the emperor with no clothes. It is ran by digital planners who are great at finding infographics on Google and social media planners who are really good at being on facebook. It is just a matter of time before clients and consumers recover from their temporary blindness to discover the public nudity on display and start demanding higher quality of work. Meanwhile, the value of social media will slowly but surely decrease in value as we milk it for money and suck it dry of credibility.
All that said, social media has an enormous potential, and there are countless campaigns which prove this; campaigns that are based on a sound strategy (brand strategy, not social media strategy), which again is based on genuine insights and innovative and creative ideas. Social media must no longer be regarded as a strategy and idea in itself, but rather, as the name suggests, as a medium.
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