Businesses spend billions on it. People spend billions of seconds on it. But what is it we’re buying?
Social media has become this unstoppable cultural phenomenon that’s almost an intrinsic necessity to communicate and be accepted by peers. There are the rogues out there who privatize their accounts and use these platforms as glorified message boards, or at least those who recognize the potential marketability of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and even Google+ (four of which are in the top 25 of the world’s most popular websites).
But what are all the insomnia-induced newsfeed scrolling, hundreds of friends, and connections for? It seems the age of information calls for virtualized relationships. I can’t argue this, nor can I dismiss the fact that businesses need people to market to. Those people are online, so why not jump in and earn the self-gratitude your company deserves?
It’s because of this:
There are so many interlinked ways to communicate and be noticed. The once virtualized social experience is now a quiet battle of managing 30+ passwords and trying to avoid being “that guy” even though there are no rules.
For personal use, the platforms to choose from work to our advantage. More ways to express ourselves, learn, and connect online, right? From a business/marketing perspective, this means an overwhelming amount of virtual chores. But they do them, which takes us to the first cruel reason we suffer social media:
1. Peer Pressure
It was well into the Facebook craze when I finally got an account. It was college, freshman year, and without friending everyone on campus I’d be utterly uninformed and virtually marooned. I think I was hesitant to “conform,” though now I’m glad I did.
The socialization element of Facebook and Twitter is unarguable. We connect with long-lost family members, create pages for fundraisers, and get to share our lives via virtual photo albums. Of course there are the bad apples who use social media “wrong,” and we all know who they are. But who’s to say there’s a right way? Whatever the case, a simple de-friend does the trick.
The millions of companies that use social media are the ones I’m concerned with, the businesses that started smoking beneath the bleachers in 10th grade because it was cool. But did they know what they were doing? Did they actually make the effort worth the effort? Unlikely.
I work with businesses all the time on social media. I point out flaws, ask the hard questions, and throw stats left and right. I’m not alone, either. But what I’m really doing, I’ve realized, is help befuddled business owners and marketers realign their goals with social expectations.
Businesses…in our virtual social experience? How invasive. They invest the marketing power into social media because it works (sometimes). Why then does that hip coffee shop have half the city following them when your lumber yard does not? Because the hip coffee shop full of swirling e-cig vapor is already part of the social experience.
You know who gets social media right? The one-horse town corner store with 200 likes from regulars.
2. The “So-Me” Element
Social media — labeled “So-Me” in this section — has turned our exciting news and cool Instagrams into attention-grabbing ploys to justify our status to peers. This isn’t always the case and not even entirely evil or wrong. It’s like having the best joke at the party and everyone laughs (likes) and retells (shares) it to their friends.
So-Me is just a digitized catalogue of our ups and downs, wins and flops. There’s nothing wrong with this.
The worst of So-Me comes out when companies can’t stop talking about themselves. This doesn’t bother me, of course, because I never follow or like these businesses. Acknowledging, liking, sharing, and following a company page that publishes ultra-promotional content is like selectively pausing the DVR or fast forwarding to watch a specific commercial.
This is why so many businesses hire experts, have entire teams of analysts, and generate leads through social media. These brands are either household names already or simply publish content that avoids the “So-Me” side-effect of using Facebook and Twitter like billboards.
To the average user: Use social media however you want. It was built for you. Businesses: Don’t invade social space with deals, discounts, and bargains.
3. The Numbers
Brands spend billions on social media because it’s all 1s and 0s. Activity can be analyzed and deconstructed, the value of words chugged through tools, and post views published in easy-to-use admin panels.
From what I’ve seen, this flood of numbers is like the flashy lights in a casino. Who can’t resist the $1 million bank of slots? Or, better yet, why not throw a stack of chips on Red 12? It’s like 50-50, right?
For businesses, social media (like casinos) is obvious. We know this because of facts, reports, and statistics compiled over the years. Have a new blog post? Great. Throw it up on Facebook and maybe win a few clicks and hopefully a business lead from a reader. Announcing a super discount for holiday shopping? Pay Twitter or Facebook to expose your post to tens of thousands of targeted users.
These paid promotions are becoming more prominent all the time, largely due to the shortfall businesses experience when trying to build up their followers. “Hey,” you may think, “why not spend $5 to shotgun-market this e-store discount and quintuple this quarter’s revenue using our social followers?”
Guess what: The house has the odds.
This links back to the social connection and invasive advertising companies are infamous for on Facebook and Twitter. These paid promotions, however cheap, seldom pull meaningful traffic to business-sponsored websites and stores. It’s like buying the biggest billboard space in Times Square and filling it with four words (in Comic Sans, of course): “We’re Desperate. Shop here.”
Too bad social media users (me, at least) seldom care to acknowledge “Sponsored Posts” that show up on their newsfeeds where they’d rather see what their friends are up to.
However intoxicating they are, numbers and reports can’t compete with organically building a sizeable fan base on social platforms. The numbers give brands hope that they’ll be the next trending thing on Twitter and Facebook when really they distract these companies from being themselves.
It boils down to potential and the off-chance that a post will tickle the masses. Unfortunately, the ball usually rolls into Green 00 and they keep trying until they hit the money.
4. The Addiction
Being part of the social buzz is addicting. Getting likes, shares, and comments is addicting. Watching fan views on a business page is addicting.
Social media has become a part of who we are, what we do, and how we interact. There’s no substitute, not when businesses invest so many dollars into it and entire industries have sprouted from it. Social media is the new way news is spread and people are informed.
The social media industry is evolving as it becomes more accessible and interactive. As long as it stays “pure” (an emphasis on information and friendship / an un-emphasis on poorly delivered advertising in the social space), why resist?
There’s nothing wrong with sharing thoughts to boost self-affirmation or social marketing. The latter works all of the time, though I’d say 95 percent of businesses active on Facebook are rolling downhill with their pants down.
Here’s what I recommend: