by Paul Novak
Article critical of social media hype.
|Social Media: Is It Worth the Effort?
A lot of hype has been generated in marketing circles lately regarding social media and its ability to serve as an effective advertising tool. Ads and sales pitches are popping up everywhere promising to teach the "secrets" to exploiting this great new marketing opportunity, and there is no end to the numbers of people who will insist that if you don't get on the bandwagon now, you're going to lose out.
But there's another bit of hype that is beginning to make itself known. And it's the distant voice in the background that gets drowned out by the excitement of the moment, but if listened to carefully, just might be making the only sense. It's a voice saying, "Slow down, use your common sense".
The truth of the matter is, social media's inherent traits drastically narrow its usefulness. If you doubt this, all you need to do is try finding for yourself more than the handful of individuals who have had better than meager results in utilizing it as a marketing tool. Finding them isn't easy. And yet there is no end to the stream of enthusiastic experts who insist they can show you how to get great results using it. According to them, if you're not getting great results, you must be doing something wrong, and they are just the people to help you get it right.
But what if it really isn't you? What if they have no better results from it than you? Is there some secret? Is there some special way of doing it? Or is there something else at work here responsible for the poor results?
With the advent of Myspace, FaceBook, and several other forms of interpersonal networking sites and their rise to prominence, it's only natural that marketers would in short order zero in on this internet phenomena. Anything that identifies, concentrates, corrals, and directly connects to an audience is red meat to ever hungry marketers. But I believe a fundamental trait of social media is being overlooked in their zeal to capitalize on its ever growing audience.
That very trait is glaringly announced in this medias label. "SOCIAL" MEDIA.
Think about that a moment. Social media. What does this term tell you? Simply put, that this is a tool for the social interaction of individuals.
The vast majority of people do not join social media networks for anything other than interaction with friends and family. Further, this media was not designed as a marketing tool, thus it lacks necessary abilities such as targeted advertising. Before you say "But Facebook and
Myspace target their ads directly to their members based on information taken from their profiles!!", let me remind you, that those ads are being placed by the given applications owners, not by marketers. It is the marketers themselves in this instance, who are the customers, and it is the Media owners, who are making the sale. And not to their members, but to you, the marketer. Totally backwards if you are a marketer wouldn't you say?
But it's still targeted advertising right? Technically yes, however, you the marketer have only the option of purchasing an ad, just as you would anywhere, such as with Google or Yahoo. So, there's no real advantage there at all. Worse, these ads performance show again and again, very weak returns for their investors. One marketer's social media campaign reported "out of 10,080 impressions there were only 8 clicks". That does not sound like an effective medium to me.
But what we are looking at is, the marketer who wishes to actually use the media itself to promote his product, service, or brand by directly utilizing the services intended application. And this is where it really becomes clear, he is barking up the wrong tree.
Folks want to be entertained on FB or similar sites, not asked to buy something, or to receive endless friend requests from obvious marketers. But in the rush to make the sale, thousands of would be marketers are completely ignoring this fact, or worse, rationalizing it away.
Few if any ad campaigns really go anywhere with social media, and those that have, are accidental or well funded, professionally designed, and specifically created to take advantage of its natural traits such as the organic reposting of clever, interesting, or humorous videos. Otherwise known as "going viral". Problem is, it does not lend itself well to everything, and selling a product cannot always be made clever, or funny, or interesting. In other words, they managed to squeak through that narrowness I'm talking about here.
Online, the tendency is to actively avoid advertising by the targeted audience. This is easily seen in the big uproar which occurs when one of these social media giants begins dropping ads into their services after a period of relative ad free service. Because, the audience is not there for that, is not interested, and feels annoyed. You may have heard of or remember at least two instances of FaceBook receiving huge user backlash over advertising. Why? Because the users are there for social interaction and not to be targeted by salesmen. It's a free medium, so users accept that some advertising is going to take place, and basically accept and ignore it as part of the necessary noise. Sort of like going to your mailbox, and dropping the junk mail into the trash on the way back to your front door without even looking longer than it takes to identify it as junk, (as I and maybe even you the reader do). Hence the 10,080 impressions, and only 8 clicks.
It's been forgotten in the zeal to exploit this new medium, that part of the allure for the internet was, and still is, that it was free. Well, aside from paying for your actual internet connection. You could do your thing, and just enjoy the ride. It was a great break from TV, Radio, Theatres etc, which all have become inundated with, and become beholden to, advertising. No commercials baby, and I decide what I see and don't see!
But what happened when the net became popular and marketers took notice? We got banner ads. Okay, they were supposedly great, for awhile. Then what happened? People got sick of em, and a new marketing ploy was born on free services like Geocities, where you paid to get rid of the advertising!
Then we had pop ups, pop unders, redirects. The marketers rejoiced. Then what happened? Another whole new marketing arena opened selling pop up blockers, redirect protection, to get rid of the advertising! Ironic and instructive at the same time eh? Do you the reader remember Net Zero? That great little service had a great hook. "Free internet!" they exclaimed. All you had to do was accept an advertisement at the bottom or top of your browser. And if you paid for service, you could get their service, banner free.
See the trend here? Advertising when it hit the internet, almost immediately took on the same persona it has had for decades outside of the internet. Who doesn't complain about all the commercials interrupting our TV shows? Then we had cable TV, where the big draw was, wait for it, ...... no commercials! As far as the public is concerned, no advertisements equals "good", and being forced to accept advertisements equals bad. Something big media learned and began manipulating a long time ago. Common sense yes, I know. But that common sense seems to be totally ignored with the push to turn social media into the next great source of advertising revenue.
The important question though is why does all this happen? Who is behind the growth of these tools specifically designed to get rid of advertisers? Simple answer; the users who do not want to be interrupted from their intended activities by advertising. They do not want to get hit with marketing, when all they want to do is have fun or get some work done. If it were not for their annoyance, their vocal and majority desire to have this marketing done away with, none of these products or services designed to protect them from advertising would have been in demand. In the case of pop ups, it's become so problematic for the user, these ad removing services in such high demand, that these services are now integral parts of internet browsers and no longer have to be purchased separately.
It was inevitable that the internet would become a new marketing resource, since marketers see anything that concentrates and locks in a group, as an opportunity to sell. But marketers need to remember some things. One of them being, that your everyday user, is usually function specific. If they want to buy a car, they'll search out the deals on their own. If they want to learn business strategy, they look it up. If you're a company like Google, then fine and dandy since you can sell ads to appear which are specifically targeted to these audiences who are primed to become actionable. Or any company for that matter, because then you all have to worry mainly about is SEO, ranking and all that. It's why Google's ad programs are so effective. They are directly targeting your purchased ad at an audience that is not only searching for your specific product, but an audience that is also highly actionable.
But when you begin intruding into personal and social media with sales pitches or ad copy, you automatically trigger an adversarial reaction, because you are doing just that, intruding. The user did not ask for a pitch, was not interested in it, and feels annoyance at having it there so their first instinct is not to look further. It is not to ask questions. It is not peaked interest. Their first instinct is to ignore, and their second is to actively find ways to avoid it in the future.
One needs look no further than that once "great" advertising ploy e-mail marketing, now more commonly known as "spam" in order to understand this.
Think of it this way. Social media equals personal media. Users are there to interact on a somewhat more personal level with each other than on say, a message board, or simple forum. That level of intimacy while not enough to inspire a feeling for needed absolute privacy, IS enough to inspire a sense of personal space. Attempting to insert marketing into that personal space is seen as an intrusion, and creates an adversarial reaction in the users.
Speaking of forums or message boards; why is there no great push to utilize the market that should be generated by them? Going by the same criteria being applied to Facebook, Twitter, or Myspace, they should be "great opportunities" since they too fall well within the realm of social media. Could it be that unlike these large SM groups, the smaller ones have much greater control of their privacy since they are usually moderated by the users themselves, and thus much more actively discourage marketing and sales? Point being, why would they do that? What do they call those who try it? And what happens to those who do try it?
To answer the rhetorical; They discourage marketing to the group, because it is not what the group is there for. They call those who try it, spammers. And they ban and block those who try it.
The only difference with the giants of Facebook and the like is that there is no tight control over the privacy and direction of the group. The door is open to all and so the marketer gets in the door also. However, just because he can get in the door, does not mean that the group is any more willing to listen to him. To the contrary. Without the control provided by close moderation that is present in small social media communities like forums and message boards, it falls on the users to maintain their personal space and keep it free of the unwanted known as spam. And they understand this, and are automatically in that frame of mind; just by the very fact they are using these forms of social interaction.
Any pitch, no matter how you couch it, is going to be labeled an intrusion, and therefore spam in the heads of the users
The point is, SM users don't care about your gizmo, and if they want to know about a gizmo, they'll go where the information is on gizmos.
When they go somewhere to talk about Jill's birthday party, or Bob's new job, or Jacks mean ex girlfriend, they simply are not interested. "Social" media. The name alone should be the main hint. Socializing, friendship, enjoyable interaction.
Consider being at a party.
You are talking with 2 people, shooting the breeze, talking about last night's game.
A fourth comes up and introduces himself. Seems a nice guy.
You all talk for a few minutes.
Soon he's found his opening, and is expounding about his great real estate firm and how he'd be happy to hook you guys up. You really should call him, because if you don't act soon, he won't be able to help you out with all those great deals that won't be around forever.
In all three of the original conversations participants, something has now just happened.
Each one of them has had a red flag go off in their mind. Each is now considering this conversation dead, or needing some trimming of a fourth party.
The next day, the three talk.
What do you think they're going to have to say about new guy?
Will it be "Wow, can you believe our luck meeting new guy and getting all that great info on real estate!"?
Or will it be "Geeze, doesn't it seem like every party has some yahoo trying to drag business into it or sell ya something?"
Given their choice, the average internet surfer would choose having no marketing whatsoever in his internet experience.
The whole point behind all this is that effective marketing is effective because it is properly targeted. Google sells ad space that gets it's customers ad placed right where it needs to be; in front of a motivated buyer searching for that particular product. Newspaper ads are effective, because buyers read them to find local sales and deals. Television manages to pull off advertising because if a viewer wants to see their show they have no choice but to put up with the commercials. But to put TV in perspective, don't forget, when does the viewer choose to use the restroom, or refresh his drink?
During the advertisements.
With the internet, the consumer has the best options of all. He doesn't even have to wait for the commercial. All he has to do is ignore you, whether that's by blocking your invites, ignoring your friend requests, or leaving a particular social network for another if the marketing gets too bothersome. Social networks like Facebook and Myspace are not there because people wanted to have a contact list full of marketers at their fingertips, but because they want to share life with other like minded people. They already have all the advertising they need at their fingertips. It's known as Googling.