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Social Media Marketing "Expert" Advice That Will Send Customers Fleeing

I read an article the other day called “How to Manipulate People for Fun and Profit.” I’m not going to link to it because in my opinion, the advice it provided was utter garbage, highlighting the ease with which one can tout themselves as an ‘expert’ while proving they are anything but by giving not just poor, but potentially damaging advice.

The article states that action occurs as a result of inducing a high arousal state – a well known concept in Psychology and absolutely correct. My issue, however, is with how the author recommended you induce a high state of arousal: by outraging people. The author stated that marketing strategy should focus on writing content that is purposely divisive and intentionally controversial. So let's get this straight, to go viral you have to become a troll? 

Internet Troll

The article went on to highlight instances of when highly controversial or outrageous content had been spread and gone viral. I am not disputing the fact that controversy spreads; my issue is that if your marketing activities purposely manipulate people into feeling angry or outraged, both of these are negative emotions.  Negative sentiment does not convert customers, a fundamental fact that any sales or marketing professional would be fully aware of.

Does manipulating potential customers into feeling strong negative
emotions sound like good business sense to you?

If I am outraged by the comments or tactics of a company, yes, I might go and read about them, I might talk about it (as I currently am doing), but I sure as hell won’t shop with them or spread positive word of mouth, in which case the activity has successfully turned a potential customer into a someone who would never, ever be a customer. Which is, of course, is the polar opposite of what any marketing activity would hope to achieve.

social media marketing advice

In advising people to be purposely antagonistic and controversial in their marketing efforts, this author is essentially telling you how to lose customers. High share rates of such an article might make it go viral, but if that virality spreads and inspires nothing but negative sentiment and drives customers away, how is that effective marketing?

Does any business really want controversy instead
of customer conversions?  Of course not!

I’m assuming that the sole purpose of this article was to spew utter rubbish to get people talking. Yep, it’s got me talking, even telling my readers about article, but it’s also put the author and the website on my negative radar, meaning all future content I’m exposed to from them will be aggressively filtered out and ignored. Is that really what any company would want to happen as a direct result of their marketing activities?  Of course not.

No one is infallible, and whilst reputable writers will endeavour to fact check and identify multiple sources before publishing information, we don’t always get it right. In relation to social media marketing and theory, there often isn’t a right or wrong way to do things, only best practice.

As social media proliferates and it becomes ever easier for people to self-publish, so the threat of misinformation increases. Don’t believe all of the advice that you read just because it is published on a popular blog or is written by someone calling themselves an expert. At worst, some articles are based on nothing more than opinion; at best, articles are based on tried and tested techniques which have been proven to work, but that doesn’t mean it will work for your particular customers base or business sector.

Never lose your objectivity, and question the author's
professional credentials if necessary.

Remain objective, and if you aren’t convinced then ask the author a question by leaving a comment on their blog; if you really have strong suspicions, see if you can find other sources providing the same advice or do a bit of snooping to uncover the real credentials of the author. By doing this you will avoid the charlatans out there and won’t end up alienating or losing customers as a result of executing misguided marketing activities.


Join The Conversation

  • Warren Whitlock's picture
    Jun 23 Posted 3 years ago Warren Whitlock

    I've found that understanding the psychology of what motivates people to do something is the best way to help them fulfill their desires. In doing so, I get what I need. 

    "Manipulating" has a bad connotation, it says that person doing the manipulation does not have pure motive. Nothing is that simple. Parents manipulate their children to get the to eat right, form good habits and become the best they can be. For the most part, they are using persuasion to get what's in the best interests of their offspring.

    The tools are amoral. If you use good judgement, and seek to help, the tools can help you help more.

  • Apr 1 Posted 4 years ago longbeach

    Social Media Marketing "Expert" Advice That Will Send Customers Fleeing is a nice heading with some great conversation. i really enjoyed it ad i appreciate your words.

  • ubersocialmedia's picture
    Mar 26 Posted 4 years ago ubersocialmedia

    Hi Tim - The businesses that you highlight are all massive multi-million pound international brands who already had a large and established customer base. I believe a key difference is in size and brand recognition here. Massive international brands are far better equipped to deal with potential fall-out from controversial activities.

    If controversy happens as an unanticipated result of a markting activity or campaign, then so be it, but I believe it is misguided to tell small/medium business owners that "this works" when in effect, it is far more likely to wreck the reputation of a new or established smaller business.

    It also depends entirely upon the brand - if you have a quirky or edgy brand then of course your marketing activities can reflect this.  Most of the businesses who will be using websites such as this one to educate themselves, don't have multi-million turnovers thanks to a large global customers base, nor do they have the instant brand recognition which can often make controversial marketing acceptable - "That's shocking - but it's Virgin, (a brand I know and trust) so it's ok."

    No marketing activity ever gets it 100% right and what attracts the majority may repell a minority.  I personally do not believe it makes good business sense to base marketing strategy around activities planned with the sole objective of angering people. 

    I should state that using shock or anger to highlight injustices that galvanise people into supporting a cause or taking positive action has it's place and is a viable tactic for say a charity or ethical retail company. However, prioritising viral notoriety ahead of converting customers simply does not make business sense. Trolling does not, in my opinion, have any place in a healthy, sustainable marketing strategey.

    Thank you to the Social Media Today admin team for their quick removal of the unnecessary, multiple use of the 'F' word from the previous reader comment :)

  • Mar 26 Posted 4 years ago Alistair Davitt

    Great article,

    Trolling is always seen in a negative light, its never seen in a good way, anything negative & the people involved are dropped, look at celebraty endorsed product the second they step out of line there dropped.

    Also you cant force things to go viral, if you look at 3's latest "forced" viral campaign where they are using the moon walking horse... its a failure, no one i know is using it or sharing it despite me seeing adds on facebook asking me to share it.


  • AaronKocourek's picture
    Mar 25 Posted 4 years ago AaronKocourek

    It really depends on ther vertical you are in, if you are selling an energy drink then this might be effective, however if you are selling soda pop ...

  • Mar 25 Posted 4 years ago jonniedoe2013

    I believe the content of the controversial material matters.  If a company is pushing the envelope as to what is socially acceptable, and its product line is not being cast in a negative light, this form of marketing can prove to be beneficial.  If a condom company were to come out with no-so-subtle sexual inspired ad, far-right Christians are sure to be upset, maybe even outraged.  However, a younger generation might show interest in the product just to achieve a sense of rebellion.  If the controversy is sparked by the product itself, then yes I do believe that people will be turned-off from ever purchasing the product.

  • Mar 25 Posted 4 years ago Tim Gardner

    Does any business really want controversy instead of customer conversions?  Of course not!


    I disagree Shell. I can name many businesses who have used controversy in their marketing. United Colours of Benetton. Virgin. Samsung. American Apparel. They've all used controversy successfully. Polarising can be a highly successful marketing strategy because it does two things very well. People that are angry at the controversy are highly likely to not be your businesses ideal customer. It's likely that they would be that customer that is annoying to serve, never satisfied and would most likely ask for refunds or returns and make complaints. If they are easily angered by your controversy, you don't need 'em. You don't want them as your customers and your polarisation of them successfully gives them the finger and saves you having to bend over backwards to please them. They're haters and they usually have personal issues. If they take the bait and get angry it's their own fault for caring and having a superiority complex. The big win from polarising marketing is it creates devout fans and followers. They're the ones that share the controversy because they think it's funny when haters get shot down. And they'll add comments to the controversy because it's fun to form a gang and side against a common enemy. You have haters because you stand for something. You're an opinion leader. Your fans and followers will love you and worship you for the controversy you're inciting and the troll bait you're dishing out because you're firm in your beliefs and your fans respect your business for that. You create a cult around your businesses value you create cult customers who want to buy from you again and again.  

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