Social Media Marketing Fatally Undermined By User Sabotage

I was at a funeral the other day. A group of us were sharing memories of the deceased. Talking about her laugh, how mean she could be, how we never told her that we loved her.

Suddenly, a stranger walked over to us in the graveyard and said, "Friends, have you tried the great taste of the Big Kahuna Burger? With its mouthwatering blend of herbs and spices, you're sure to have a Big Kahuna Day! High-five me if you agree!"

Needless to say, we each gave him a high-five in the face and spent the rest of the week telling everyone how crappy Big Kahuna are.

That's where we are with Social Media Marketing today. The Prophets told us that "Markets Are Conversations" - but, somehow, the people doing the marketing didn't realise that conversations are bi-directional.

Part of the problem is just laziness. Vice magazine have done an excellent round up of all the faux-interactive marketing messages which are being pumped out by major companies every day.

The other part is that we don't like our private and personal spaces invaded by those we haven't invited. We use Facebook to woo, to reminisce, to love, to share, to play, and to argue - and we do it all with our friends and family. So when a brand tries to muscle in on that conversation, it cheapens the experience and makes us angry. Properly angry.

Go up to a couple kissing in the park, or a parent playing with their child, and start talking to them about the benefits of of a cordless drill and see how long it is before they tell you to piss off. Why should it be any different online?

Actually, online it's far worse; your positive message can be fatally undermined by the people you have angered.

Take this example from Tom Tom on Facebook.
TomTom Sponsored Facebook Post
It's unbelievably lazy (and sexist) and it doesn't fit in with a social network. Unsurprisingly, users revolted. Below are a selection of comments left by angry users. Each one visible to anyone commenting on the advert. Warning - some strong language ahead.
Tom Tom customer revolt
I've trimmed out a number of people who engaged positively with the advert - no doubt sharing their sentiment with their friends.

Is this what social marketing is? Shoe-horning your tone deaf messages into personal spaces? Ignoring the conversation? Refusing to acknowledge to legitimate complaints? Subjecting social media managers to a torrent of vile abuse?

James Whatley has asked some really important questions about how advertising will work in social spaces. I think he's missed the most important question of all - what do you do when people start rejecting your advertising and begin to sabotage your message?

18 thoughts on “Social Media Marketing Fatally Undermined By User Sabotage

  1. Terence,

    Great words as usual, and the ad above is exactly as you say: lazy and sexist.

    However, not ALL brands are guilty of this and of the thousands upon thousands of them out there doing this, many are getting it right. In the same way that the #PRFail eventually gave way to #PRWin [to celebrate when agencies got it brilliantly spot on] I hope the same thing will happen when it comes to branded content in social media.

    It is too easy to point and make fun of those that get it wrong (I know, I've done it) it's much better to celebrate those that get it right. BUYING your way into anyone's personal social network/newsfeed is always going to be a bone of contention so it is down to the planners and creatives of this world to take that challenge on and come up with the right solution.

    Your question: 'what do you do when people start rejecting your advertising and begin to sabotage your message?' is null and void IF your advertising is good enough to not be rejected. This comes down to brands and agencies taking social media more seriously (especially paid-for placement). When that happens - and it IS happening - these cases will be few and far between.

    One hopes.

    Ps. Yesterday's piece assumes that this entire creative challenge has been solved and brands only have to pick the platform that's right and relevant for them. But it also made the point that - 'Platforms are innovating as best they can to create a suite of seamless and dare I say it, native advertising options that will not only satisfy their partners but also be acceptable to their users.' - we know what they say assuming things, but be sure that the platforms want to get this right too, not just the [non lazy / non sexist] creatives / social planners / community managers of the world.

    1. You make a fair point. But I'm not sure I've ever seen a good example of advertising. I've picked on the Tom Tom one because it was particularly egregious - but every "sponsored story" I've seen on Facebook has negative comments on it.

      I don't think that brands should stay away from Facebook; merely that they shouldn't invade others' personal spaces.

  2. Greg says:

    Ahh, but what's personal space? My living room, yes. Mcdonalds, no. I can have a personal conversation with a friend at Starbuckst, but if someone comes around interrupting us with offers of samples of seasonal lattes, it IS their space. Facebook is the space of Facebook, and they let us in for free; we just sell our souls to the advertisers for the privilege.

    1. I guess it's like having a pushy waiter. I'm fine with them recommending me a bottle of wine at the start of the meal - but when I'm having an argument with my wife, continually barging in to upsell car insurance is just crass. That's where we are with social media advertising. It's tone deaf.

  3. Echoing James, it's really about the decision to advertise, and how that advertising is targeted.

    It's too tempting for a lot of people to just lob some money at Facebook, in this example, to get big numbers for a Sponsored Story, without considering the intrusion or bothering to actually target at people who may be somewhat interested.

    Having been involved in campaigns including sponsored stories, it's blatantly obvious which comments come from people who have seen the content naturally, and which comes when the advertising has aimed at the biggest reach rather than being closely targeted at people who might be interested...

    It's why I'd generally rather see the majority of social media spend go into 'organic' growth over a longer period, and limited use of sponsored content.

  4. sarah says:

    Surely it's more like having an argument with your wife in the middle of a street lined with billboards? Advertising is all around us, the conversation on facebook (or twitter, or anywhere else) just gives users the opportunity to respond to it.

    1. I fundamentally disagree, Sarah. Passive advertising is one thing - banner ads if you like. This is barging into a conversational stream, posing as a friend / family member. I don't necessarily have a problem with advertising - but it's obvious that a great many people hate the way it intrudes into their personal space.

  5. By my observation, very little of the messaging/creative that is going in to the "native" spaces that are front and centre in our attention on social networks is good enough not to be rejected. In fact, I still have a chuckle thinking back to Microsoft's hilarious hashtag attack on Android the backfired so spectacularly a year ago.

    The Vice piece is facetious, but non the less correct, those campaigns are retarded. Advertisers really need to invest the time and energy of the best talent if they are going to succeed in the native advertising space. The message has to witty, timely and above all charming or it will be rejected.

  6. Eb Adeyeri says:

    While I do agree that there are flaws in the social media marketing model as it stands - where they are eyeballs, there will always be advertising.

    We’ve become accustomed to the having adverts while watching TV and listening to the radio. It’s a natural part of modern life and I think most of us will have to live with it.

    Why? Well the flip side is no advertising means less products are bought and sold and a depressed economy (and I realise that’s a crude analogy but ultimately whatever industry you work in relies on buying and selling).

    Personally what I’d like to see is brands that earn the right to advertise to people ie brands that take a stand on an issue that I’m personally aligned to so I don’t feel they are intruding. As an example, Arsenal FC could probably try and sell me X-Factor tickets and I wouldn’t be offended. The trick for brands is finding something (over and above selling) that they stand for and resist the temptation to go for those people who will probably never to buy from them (in this case Tottenham fans).

    1. I think you're wrong. Part of the success of Netflix is that there are no adverts. They certainly don't seem to have a problem generating "product".

      What we need is a way to perform micro-transactions in such a way that it's more profitable for companies to sell us services rather than sell our eyeballs on a CPC basis.

      1. Eb Adeyeri says:

        I like the Netflix model. And agree that micro-transactions should be used more then they are. However that model can't work in every industry. I just can't see a paid-for social network getting off the ground and until micro-payments are ubiquitous I'm afraid we're stuck with intrusive ads.

  7. Sorry, Terry, I'm totally with James (et al) in this one. TomTom's ad is crass and tasteless, but they're not pretending to be a friend and you're not in a private space, you're on Facebook.

    The downside to the Internet being around for non-techies to share with us too is that the spaces we share with them need to be paid for somehow. Charging users directly is exclusionary, so selling our eyeballs is the obvious next option.

    Do you complain about adverts on commercial radio or on the TV, or about sales offers over the tannoy in a department store or a shopping arcade?

    1. Let me explain where you are wrong, my friend 🙂

      If this was an advert on the side bar, I wouldn't care. If it were a banner up the top, fine. If I'd chosen to "like" the page - meh, I signed up to it I guess.
      This "sponsored story" came in my news feed - it was nestled between one of my friends announcing their new baby and another from a family member who is ill. How is that not personal space?

      I don't mind commercial messages in a commercial environment (although I don't watch commercials on TV) - but this feels like visiting Santa Claus, sitting on his knee, and being told "If you've been good, maybe I'll bring you a GI Joe. With real attack action, GI Joe is the perfect gift! Ho Ho Ho! GI Joe - the greatest hero of them all!"

      I think there is a level of cognitive dissonance here. Facebook feels personal. It may be a rapacious commercial entity - but it tickles our "community" neurons in just the right way. That's why the people in the screenshot get so angry when their illusion is shattered by something inappropriate.

      1. Sorry, I totally don't see it. It's clearly labelled as an ad, on a commercial space we all make use of. For most people it's also going to be interspersed between an Instagram photo of my dinner and their sister's score on Cow Clicker.

        If the Internet were run by the Post Office as a public good, I'd see your point. If it were shown on your friend's wall, I'd agree. Otherwise, though, I just don't see it.

        1. Rationally, I agree with you. Emotionally, I don't.

          We all know that it's a commercial service - but the fairly sudden and flat-footed conversion to ad-supported obviously leaves lots of people feeling conflicted.

          I guess it's like the difference between commercial TV in the UK and the US. Over here, there's a fade to black, title card, then advert. When I watch TV in the states it can literally go from scene to advert with no discernible difference. It's probably fine if you're used to it - but very jarring and confusing if you're not.

          As an aside, I think I use FB in a very different way to most people. I've blocked all games, and apps like BitStrips, so I really do mostly see interesting / important updates rather than fluff.

          1. I understand what you're saying, I just don't see that difference. Though, as you mention, it might be that you're quite aggressive in how you block things on Facebook, which would make monetised interlopers more jarring, I guess.

  8. Interesting, I fall on the side of it being a necessary evil of a free service testing theories that I'm forced to ignore until they get it right and someone gets my attention, until then it looks like anyone trying out this space needs to be very careful.

    Be interesting if the advert stopped some of those commenters from using FB any more, but I doubt it.

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