I have been on a bit of a tear as of late on the topic of authenticity and ethics in social media. While this is a vital issue, I had intended to move on--and then I saw a Facebook advertisement that induced me to click. The experience I had with the Bank of America ad has returned me, once again, to the topics of ethics, authenticity and the danger of chasing "fans" rather than furnishing positive brand experiences.
The Facebook ad that caught my attention asked, "How can you support service members and veterans?" The answer: "LIKE Bank of America to find out."
So, I liked the brand. Want to know what happened? Nothing.
Of course, I know how Facebook advertising works, so I did not really expect anything to immediately occur, although I wonder if less experienced Facebook users might expect an instantaneous response that furnishes the promised information. I proceeded to the Bank of America Facebook page to see if I could "find out" how to "support service members and veterans" as promised by the ad.
To give credit where credit is due, the page has terrific content. It is obvious Bank of America is trying hard to produce content that educates and informs rather than merely amuses and entertains. In the past week, the page has furnished information on how to save money, teens active in the community and tips for new graduates. You can also find some military-themed posts, including a shout out for Armed Forces day and a link to a community that is a great resource for veterans.
What I did not find--and what the Bank of America ad promised--was any information on how I can support service members and veterans.
What am I to think about Bank of America because of this experience? Do I think they support the military community? Or do I think they trade on people's desire to help veterans in order to collect "likes" for their page? (Hint: It's the latter.)
Perhaps even more troubling is that fact it took Bank of America less than two hours before they turned my "like" into an advertisement to my friends. I received reports from my Facebook network that a sponsored story was appearing conveying that I "like" the brand.
So, to recap: Bank of America promised to tell me how to support service members and veterans if I liked the brand; they did not live up to that promise; instead, they immediately converted my "like," which was intended as a statement of affinity for service members and not for Bank of America, into an advertisement for the bank.
Sadly, this sort of situation is hardly newsworthy. I am sure you have seen ads like this yourself. "Like" an ad because you support the US flag, and you end up being a friend of Walmart.
The curious thing about this sort of advertising is that it is more likely to damage brand reputation than help it. The potential range of outcomes range from anger to apathy:
- Someone clicks "like" and is upset that a brand exploited his or her desire to help military members or support the US flag.
- Someone clicks "like" but does not notice they have actually "liked" the brand. Soon, brand posts are appearing in his or her or news feed, but the user does not know why. The brand posts will not be welcome, which means the consumer is likely to report it as spam, immediately unfollow the brand, or complain about the perceived spam in a post to the brand wall. About the best the brand can hope for is that the consumer will merely ignore the posts, which means before long the brand will have disappeared from that person's news feed; Facebook EdgeRank will have correctly intuited the person has no affinity for the brand and will omit future brand posts from the page.
There is a better way. A more ethical way. A more successful way. Instead of deceiving people into thinking they are liking one thing (such as support for service members) when they are really liking another (a bank), brands could simply opt to be honest. There are two ways of being honest--the hard way and the easy way.
- The hard way--the more successful way--is to create real fans by offering a great product or service experience, and then inviting those people to like your brand on Facebook. Those real fans will be more likely to welcome and engage with your content, to advocate on behalf of your brand and to become a strong, brand-loyal customer. You know many brands like this, ranging from Disney to USAA to Apple to Whole Foods.
- The easy way is to create an ad like Bank of America's ad and then deliver on the promise. Had the brand lived up to its promise of telling me how I can support service members and veterans, there would have been no adverse brand impression (and no negative blog post about the brand.) Bank of America could have opted to dedicate their company page entirely to content that lived up to the promise of the ad, at least for a short period. Conversely, the brand also could have launched its own military-themed page--"Bank of America supports service members"--and committed to engaging over time on nothing but this topic. Either way, the brand would have delivered on the promise in the ad and furnished a positive brand-building experience.
The recipe for success with Facebook advertising isn't that tough, at least at a high level: Target the right people; test creative; and be honest in your advertising promises. The latter requires some work to make sure your paid media aligns with the information the brand posts on Facebook. Creating this synergy between paid and earned media is a strategy that works--and one that Bank of America failed to exploit.