Are We, Social Media Professionals, Destroying Social Media?

FrankEliason
Frank Eliason Director of Global Social Media, Citibank

Posted on February 27th 2013

Are We, Social Media Professionals, Destroying Social Media?

ImageIf you are hanging out at Social Media Today, you most likely have a vested interest in social media, often in a paid capacity working for brands or advising them in some sort of agency situation. Maybe you just are striving to learn more and build a career path involving social media. I hope this post can help challenge some beliefs or others may challenge mine, but either way it should be fun and a learning experience for everyone.

We are often advising brands to develop their content strategy and they 'must' do these things such as engage and be part of social media or they will be destroyed (or something similar). We have all drank the Kool Aid at times, but I have to wonder if our efforts are the ones destroying social media. I know you think social media will be around forever and will change the world. In many ways I do believe it will do both, but maybe not as we know it today. I have been watching trends that indicate less and less engagement by the masses in our typical social hang outs, such as Facebook and Twitter. Now there are many reasons for this, and not always indicative of efforts by brands. Often it is more an aspect to how Facebook shares content, or strives to have users pay to spread their message but it does not dimish the realities in our little world.

During the Super Bowl, Oreo did an amazing job with creating a real-time marketing message involving the outage at the stadium (you can read about it here). So that brings us to the Oscars.  In preparation for the real-time marketing efforts many people participated in a discussion using the hastag #OscarsRTM.  I watched this conversation as well as followed the Oscars by following #Oscars and Oscars in my Twitter search. By doing this I had the opportunity to see many interesting attempts by brands to be a part of the conversation. If you want a good recap of better attempts, check out this post on Hubspot.  But let's face facts, none of these brand messages resonated with the audience like the Oreo spot a few week earlier.  Many of them felt like they were trying to just be the cool kid, like Oreo at the Superbowl.  Even Oreo felt that way to me.

Now the reason I love Twitter, it offers the best opportunity to meet new people and engage in conversations on topics of interest. To me it is all about the ability to search.  This is the way I have used Twitter since my first tweet in April, 2008 as @ComcastCares. We have all used it this way at one time or another.  How did you feel when you were at the conference and they displayed the tweat stream and trolls started messaging the hashtag?  What about when that happens during your Twitter chat? I have seen that happen during the #CustServ chats.

The reality is brands are becoming the trolls, or spammers (at least in the way they do it today), which over time will hurt these social networks causing people to find alternative places to track and participate in conversations. This is nothing new, since the same thing happened to email marketing. At first it was cool, but then when too many brands started bombarding us with messages we sought ways to simply block them out.  

In my view we have to do our part to ensure success of these social networks, including helping the networks create the right user experience. I know our product leaders want to see their product front in center of social media, but if we chase people away, what good is it being front and center?

As social media leaders we have to help our brands better understand what it is like to be a member of a community and how to add to it as opposed to detracting from it.  This is often a fine line, and difficult to decipher. As an example Oreo during the Super Bowl was unique and unexpected, but during the Oscars they were one of many doing similar content. At best the Oscars content was just noise, but I bet some felt they were being spammed.

I for one love to be able to use Twitter search to add value in my life, just like my Facebook stream is best when filled with my family and friends talking about what is important in their life. Anything that interferes with that hurts my experience as a user. I think the best brands will find ways to encourage others to talk about their brand as opposed to pushing some message that does not resonate with me. The key is making your product and experience do the talking for you and help facilitate your Customers to spread that message. Changes have to be made! What would you encourage brands to do differently?

FrankEliason

Frank Eliason

Director of Global Social Media, Citibank

Frank Eliason has been described as the “most famous customer service manager in the U.S., possibly the world.” By expanding the reach of customer service via social media, and taking the simple approach of asking "Can we help?” he repositioned the relationship between Comcast and its customers. At Citibank, Frank and his team are helping to change the way a global financial institution manages its relationships with a diverse community of consumer, small business and corporate customers—to serve and exceed their expectations and helping build a lifetime of trust between Citibank and its customers.

Frank Eliason is currently Director of Globalof Social Media at Citibank and author of @YourService published by Wiley. Frank became well known in social media for the Customer Service outreach function that his team at Comcast was involved with. This work has been recognized by many news organizations such as ABC News, New York Times, Business Week, among many others. Follow Frank on Twitter at @FrankEliason

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Comments

Robin Carey
Posted on February 27th 2013 at 10:03AM

"As social media leaders we have to help our brands better understand what it is like to be a member of a community and how to add to it as opposed to detracting from it."  It all starts with conversation, which then creates community.  As Marc Benioff stated yesterday in New York, trust is a key element to maintaining community.  Great post, Frank.

Nate Mendenhall
Posted on February 27th 2013 at 10:27AM

Great post!

Christina Trapolino
Posted on February 27th 2013 at 11:05AM

Social media professionals are no more destroying social media than printing press experts destroyed the written word. 

Those of us who strive to help values-led businesses learn to better understand their customers through new technology are absolutely NOT ruining social media. We are, if anything, advocates of the customer -- not the brand.

As consumers begin to understand the power of their networks, I believe they will demand certain standards of brand behavior. At scale.

These channels are still new and the risks of early adoption are what they are -- if a brand isn't prepared for the responsibility of cultivating community and behaving with the kinds of ethics that nuture that community sincerely, too bad. If a brand listens to snake oil salesmen (aka "social media gurus") who tell them to "engage or else" but don't take the brand's core values into consideration to determine alignment with their customers, that's on the brand and on the guru. And still -- too bad. Consumers will spend their money elsewhere. :)

Daniel Schiller
Posted on February 27th 2013 at 3:54PM

A solid post, Frank!


I think the issue you've identified is brands 'pushing' a message. That's were they often run afoul. To foster a conversation that is additive to a brand- they must first identify where the conversation is, and identify whether their customers are participating. From that craft a strategy that is additive and solutions oriented. Otherwise they are obnoxious and smankerish.

Oh, and the Oreo thing was pure luck. Looking to reprise that isn't additive, it's self serving and smankerish. It detracts from community.

 

Adam Chapman
Posted on February 27th 2013 at 6:42PM

In social media, the most effective marketing is the kind that adds signifcant value to their audience's experience. All too often I see ads that don't bring anything to the party, yet companies expect their customers to carry their banners for them out of sheer affinity for the brands. Create content that makes your customers look good if they share it. It's as simple (and hard) as that. 

prosperitygal
Posted on February 27th 2013 at 6:47PM

There is no easy answer.  It reminds me when poeple want an off the shelf solution to a custom problem.  You live by formulas you die by formulas.  When you focus like Frank said on user experience, then you are co-creating along side them.  Big difference.

Bernard Aguirre
Posted on February 27th 2013 at 11:11PM

I totally agree, Michele!

People start to become "conditioned" to the force feeding of things "designed" to be cool etc.  Michele brought up an excellent point about co-creating and this requires a form of "active listening," if you will.

In some cases, especially when a company/brand starts to take the first steps wading into the social media pool, you might fumble as you find your voice and even try to establish a pulse on your social media platforms.  In those cases, you do have to try to start the conversation and "force feeding" is an obvious risk. 

For those jumping into an established brand, researching past conversations and seeing how they morphed/evolved over time is a valuable part of the process, in my opion.  You get to see the varying changes and the directions that conversations can take. 

This has been a truly fascinating thing to watch unfold! 

This was a great article!

makemyblogmoney
Posted on February 28th 2013 at 12:03AM

This is so true.  Social media marketers are becoming trolls and spammers here lately.  Most of their stuff is done by automation and it's really an overkill.  

Richard Masters
Posted on February 28th 2013 at 3:08AM

Thanks Frank

This is a really brave post.

It puts into words a feeling that has been floating around in my mind for some time- and far more eloquently than i could have done!

I recently deleted 39 groups from my LinkedIn profile for the very reason that the majority of the post were just promotion with no attempy at a discussion! Similarly i don't like promoted tweets appearing in my feed nor adverts in mt Facebook stream because i am in thier social graph!

I also confess to some amusement at the Superbowl fiasco. It has just turned into a corporate ego trip for big companies. Fortunately on this side of the pond we are spared the ads!

I expect you will get howls of derision or more likely tyhe cold shoulder from other practitioners- nobody likes to be told the king has no clothes on!

Thanks, Richard

 

 

JeromePineau1
Posted on February 28th 2013 at 10:17AM

This is a bittersweet post because on one hand you want to say "nahhh, Frank's just in a negative mood today", but on the other hand you _know_ he makes a good point ;)

I tend to think that we let the audience/customers vote with their e-Feet. You will always have people polluting the channels and an overall high level of me-too and/or mediocrity. It's an opportunity for those first/unique/different content/conversation producers to shine. 

Seems to me (no data, just constant observation) that we are still in one-way communication (push marketing) on digital channels for most brands out there -- some have made strides but mostly on the content front (moving towards being media houses really - coke, red bull, the usual suspects).

I believe overall, "our brands" will sometimes knock it out of the park, and sometimes crash miserably. At issue to me is which of those will benefit from the highest customer tolerance? Building that tolerance shielding is important and take a long time -- few places think of that IMHO.

mwallcomm
Posted on March 13th 2013 at 11:58PM

Frank:

Such a great post.  I wish I had seen it before now.  I could not agree with you more.  

The best relationships in life are genuine.  Social media needs to be too.  

Thank you for writing what many of us are thinking.

Mark

Azita
Posted on March 14th 2013 at 1:26AM

Your point is very valid.  There truly is a gap between how consumers want to engage with brands in social media vs how brands are using social media.  As you pointed out, companies have turned social into yet another advertising channel and consumers are turned off by that. And the more Facebook and Twitter use our social graph to sell ads and make more money, the more they risk loosing the power that got them to be so popular.  Thanks for pointing it out.

In fact for fun check out our cartoon precisely about the topic Frank talks about. ;-)

http://blog.getsatisfaction.com/2013/02/19/social-marketing-a-how-not-to...

ChrisSCornell
Posted on March 14th 2013 at 7:39PM

You're one of the few, Frank. Thanks for the great post. Unfortunately, I believe you're preaching to a very small choir.

Best,

Chris