I don't want you to be my friend on facebook


Believe it or not there are some partsof our lives brands shouldn't follow us.
Image courtesy of snap cat.

When I say I don't want you to be my friend I don't mean you, dear readers.

I mean brands. Even lovely Innocent thinks I might want to chum up to them on the social network de jour and I don't, I'm sorry I don't.

People may be brands but brands are by and large not people.

And yet marketers consistently get confused about this. I put it down to too many brand personification exercises in those ghastly all day "off site" brainstorms that peope in marketing love so much.

And I guess to the idea of brand personality.

Brand's do have personalities and I spend a lot of time thinking about powerful personalities for organisational brands that capture the specialness of the place while legislating for it to be delivered in every expression of that brand.

But just because a brand has a personality doesn't make it a person.

And I want my relationships to be with people not businesses. Sure that can be the people in those businesses but not the business as a whole.

It's why I refuse to join "loyalty" programmes regardless of how fanatical I am about the brand or the bribe that they are offering to hand over my loyalty. I am loyal to people not to brands.

And this is why I think corporate blogging is such a bad idea. People in organisations can blog and people can blog on behalf of organisations (Visit Wales is building a series of blogs written by people in Wales about their experiences and lives for instance), but brands can't blog - who'd be interested?

And I guess that's what makes me so angry about the way brands are gatecrashing social media - media that we built to create communities and conversations with each other, not with packaged goods.

Guys just because you can doesn't mean you should.

At least in traditional media there is a basic level of respect that keeps the communication inside ad breaks and clearly demarcated from the content. But on the internet brands brands wander around like really irritating guests at a party, intent on looking in every room, having a butchers in your wadrobe and trying on your pants.

Online there are no no go areas at all, and guess what happens once a brand has had its fun? It sods off to the next big thing which, in the words of the fast show, 'this week is mainly Facebook'. Witness the speed with which brands got into and out of Second Life faster than a particulaly nasty bug gets through your digestive system.

And this behaviour is driven by unscrupulous brand advisers that treat the internet like the big trawler fleets treated the oceans for much of the twentieth century - a place where you can do what the fuck you like, cause any amount of damage and never suffer the consequences in your lifetime.

Even those of us that eat, sleep and drink brands acknowledge that there are places where brands aren't welcome. And I am increasinglly of the opinion that social media is one of those places.

There are many brands which I am absolutely fanatical about but I don't want to be their friend on facebook because, and I hate to break this to you, brands are not people.



Though, of course, the secret of social networks is that they're all about scraping data to create lists to sell to er brands.

Posted by: John Dodds at November 22, 2007 10:08 PM

Richard - provocative as usual, and there's certainly a strong grain of truth in your thesis (especially re: trawler fleets), but:

a). you deliberately obfuscate the real and meaningful difference between 'friend' and 'fan'. Who knows how successful Facebook's new model will be, but it certainly looks better than previous attempts to me (interrupt my viewing pleasure with something at irrelevant, anyone?)

b). you also tacitly imply that any attempt by a brand to engage with people in social media is equivalent to trying to be their friends. It isn't.

a). corporate blogging clearly is a good idea. It allows companies (more specifically individual people that hold positions in them) to have a conversation with some of their most engaged customers.

Although you'd never be caught using the word consumer, I think you're still suffering from that above-the-line malaise of trying to fit everyone into a "target audience". This kind of thinking is redundant. People are individuals, some of whom might want to be a brand's fan on Facebook, others might what to debate with the CEO in the comments of the corporate blog.

We can be sure that they're all both avoiding interruptive advertising more and trusting it less, and when they see genuine opinions expressed by people such as themselves within social media, they will be swayed by them. Brands that listen and engage with people in social media will provoke these expressions and increasingly come to dominate.

We should perhaps have a beer soon - I write the above based on experience not dogma.

Posted by: Robin Grant at November 22, 2007 10:11 PM

tough shit. you open the door, the guests come in, its just that some bring the blue nun. The doors are open 24hrs nowadays old man, not just every 15 mins for 30 seconds at a time.

Posted by: anon at November 22, 2007 11:54 PM

So how does this apply to something like widgets, those 'branded utilities' that people often choose to display on social networks? Say like the Trip Advisor widget that allows people to display where they've travelled in the world?
I think there is a real oppurtunity for brands to play a powerful role on social networks, not with advertising, but via the distribution of mini services.
If brands can create useful applications that people choose to use and display, surely thats a win win situation for audience and brand alike?

Posted by: Duncan at November 23, 2007 12:36 AM

They to brands appearing on social networking is that they say or offer something to make their appearance relevant.

Too many brand just thought by being on Second Life they would rake it in (just as they did with UGC, and before that Websites). Some companies can make it work, but far fewer than are trying to.

Posted by: Rob Mortimer at November 23, 2007 08:03 AM

"like really irritating guests at a party" - excellent analogy.

That said, I think Robin raises some interesting points, not all of which I think you are in disagreement with because to me, you're talking specifically about those times when brands try to behave like people. Still, I look forward to reading your response to Robin.

The 'fan' concept is one I shall watch with interest.

Posted by: Angus at November 23, 2007 09:33 AM

Not sure what happened to my spelling there... I meant "The key to brands appearing on social networking is that they say or offer something to make their appearance relevant."

I agree that Robin raises some good points.

I am interested in where this debate will go.

Posted by: Rob Mortimer at November 23, 2007 10:50 AM

Just as a matter of interest, how many of this august gathering are still on FB for any reason other than a vague attempt to stay abreast of things?

Most of my online friends seem to be drifting away from FB for the simple reason that - now they know what their mates are doing every minute of the day - they realise that it's not all that and a tube of Pringles.

Actually, the real promise of social media for business, which is...


... fails because the content is so arse-clenchingly dull to anyone not networking a single braincell amongst their entire friends list.

With a week of signing up to facebook, my friendlist included dozens of ex-work colleagues, a raft of failed cyber-gurus trying desperately to keep up, most of my family and a girl I dated at college who used to write bad poetry and liked being weed on. If, after a couple of months of trying, I couldn't feign interest in what that lot were crafting as their hourly 'status' then I doubt very much that a brand's 'personality' is going to do it for me.

While I'm at it, the 'brand personality' of Innocent has always appeared to me as that of a couple of dead-eyed, venal, ex-saatchi poshboys pretending to be hippies. It ranks for inauthenticity only slightly behind Branson's cheery champion-of-the-people schtick.

If a request-for-friendship from someone with that profile arrived in my box, mere 'ignore request' wouldn't be enough. I'd want a button marked 'Consign to digital hell and take out an injunction to stop them coming within a kilometre of me or my family'.

As always Dickie Rem acu tetigisti

Posted by: Tim Hayward at November 23, 2007 11:46 AM

I love Marmite.

Posted by: James Cherkoff at November 23, 2007 01:06 PM

@Tim : Ouch. Sharp.

Posted by: Rob Mortimer at November 23, 2007 02:24 PM

I don't doubt that many people are annoyed by this but at the end of the day, numbers speak volumes.

If people are reacting and interacting with brands in the social space, more will come, and rightly so.

If it is not a valuable space to be, brands will quickly leave and there won't be a problem.

Posted by: anon at November 23, 2007 03:05 PM

I totally agree with Tim. but with Richard also. I think it's still basically the prehistory of communication to say well, we want to get onto FB and then just make a profile and start adding friends. Brands are supposed to deliver service if they are to be trusted and true I will not make friends with a jar of breadspread. I think the real issue here, talking specifically about FB, is that people really do not know what to do with it. Most of the applications are crap and the basic interaction you get is click on accept and then spam all your friends with it. I think brands should concentrate of making something truly useful to enhance the experience of users instead of acting like a user...

Posted by: Bogdana at November 24, 2007 08:24 AM

While we wait for Richard's further comments, see:

Posted by: Robin Grant at November 24, 2007 04:09 PM

Thanks for the post. We need to come up with a better way of discovering and linking similar conversations. I blogged about this last week here ( ) and here (

Posted by: jon burg at November 25, 2007 02:46 PM

Thanks for the post. We need to come up with a better way of discovering and linking similar conversations. I blogged about this last week here ( ) and here (

Posted by: jon burg at November 25, 2007 02:48 PM

Some interesting stuff form Influx Insights here analysing the success of brands on facebook in attracting fans - I was particularly amused by Pizza Hut's 5 fans.

Posted by: richard huntington at November 26, 2007 08:49 AM

@ Rob Mortimer

What college did you go to Rob - I reckon I know that girl too!

Posted by: anon at November 26, 2007 09:44 AM

Which girl?
Have I missed something? !

Posted by: Rob Mortimer at November 26, 2007 11:23 AM

Posted by: Adam at November 26, 2007 11:54 AM

Does that mean you don't love me anymore Huntington? Bugger.

God, my life really is shit.

Posted by: Charles Stab at November 26, 2007 12:46 PM

don't blame me for your fetish

Posted by: veronica at November 26, 2007 01:07 PM

Tim/Richard/Planning agony uncles etc.

Advise me.

Having created a blog (now a bit dormant) for as you rightly say, "a vague attempt to stay abreast of things" should I now join Facebook for the same reason? (or is the ex-girlfriends from college a better motivation?). I feel I should have done this a while ago but is it still better late than never?

Or should I skip the whole thing and jump on the next bandwagon to stay ahead of the next (mixed) metaphorical curve?

If the latter, which one should I go for to ensure maximum bragging potential (some of my less media savvy friends think I'm really "with it" cos of my blog)?


still raging against the dimming light, Jon.

PS I'd write to Jeremy B but the thought occurred to me right now...

Posted by: jon leach at November 26, 2007 03:12 PM

Dear Jon,

You could go mad chasing the latest greatest thing in the social media space.

My feeling is that you should find the tool that works best for you and stick with it. I think that when the blog thing dies down (as it already possibly has) those voices that have something to say will endure. But maybe we will just call them websites.

Posted by: richard huntington at November 26, 2007 05:36 PM

This is a wary prediction, but I think it more likely that personal email will fall off than the use of social networking sites.

Different forms of interpersonal communication are currently jostling for relative position: in time they will find smaller or larger niches depending on

1) How convenient the medium is to use. (NB sometimes the less convenient is better - it conveys effort. That's why we mostly send wedding invitations by post, not by SMS.)

2) How impactful and immediate the message is when received. (NB sometimes less impactful is better - I don't want to interrupt someone's job interview with a singing telegram, or use a hand-written letter for casual jokes).

3) The kind of content you can send (NB sometimes less is better - a text message is gloriously useful because it is limited in length)

4) How personal it is to the recipient - from highly personal and private (a hand-written letter) to totally public (a blog).

Certain forms of communication - the SMS, the phone call, seem to occupy distinct positions on that matrix. Others (the fax) far less so. I suspect the email will lose out over time to SMS, IM, Facebook, Skype, etc.... but Facebook to me seems to occupy a useful niche in allowing me to micro-broadcast information of low importance (a kind of down-market court circular) to a group of friends without obliging them to pay any attention to what I have written. To me this seems sufficiently different to any other medium to guarantee its future. At least for now.

Posted by: Rory Sutherland at November 26, 2007 07:52 PM

Email certainly seems 'due-for-review'.

As I started reading your comment above I got a sort of panicked catch in my throat - as a freelancer, my filed emails comprise my life.

But, tragic, geek early adopter that I am, I recently sprung for both Leopard and an iPhone, wherein email and SMS have begun to elide.

Also breaking down is the barrier between, mail and todo lists and diary events - which, after all are timed communications to self.

The great thing about apple, to me, is that though they seem to be selling tech, what they actually shift is new models for information handling - it was never about the ipod, that was just a sexy way to get itunes into your pocket.

Similarly, it's not about the much anticipated iphone, it's actually about a combined personal communication/time management package (currently imail/ical).

Posted by: Tim Hayward at November 27, 2007 11:42 AM

Richard - apologies for using your "salon" for sorting out my personal comms portfolio but based on a combination of your, Rory and Tim's POV (what a team!) I might try this portfolio:

1. Keep my blog for any Planning/PR stuff I want to punt out there
2. Create a facebook thing partly to explore the "replacing e-mail" thing and partly cos not having one may leave me feeling a bit cut off soon (not to mention anti-social)
3. And at the experimental end I am going to try a BT Tradespace acccount for my small training side-business. I saw an interesting presentation from BT who claimed that it was small businesses who can use and need (ahem) web 2.0. So i shall give that a whirl (also fulfilling my smart arese need to do something no on else has thought of....)

PS nice quote from the conference "how do you do Web 2.0 at Organisation 0.5?" Tell me about it.

Posted by: jon leach at December 3, 2007 01:10 PM

I think there's definitely a role for brands within social media - but it's unfortunate that most will get it wrong.

Brands will only be successful if they cleverly engage with this audience. People that use social networking sites just don't notice blatant brand messaging - they filter it out to get to content that is relevant to them.

If o2 had simply created a group and tried to recruit 'friends' they would've failed miserably. Instead, their 'Battle of the Universities' campaign appealed to the loyalty uni freshers and existing students feel towards their university and gave them a platform to express this in the place where all students spend most of their time (on facebook). They asked students to register as a member of their uni offering points for doing so, as well as for posting comments on discussion topics, on the wall and uploading photos - the uni with the most points was to win a huge party at their campus. V.clever. It recruited over 100k 'friends', thousands of wall posts, discussion posts and pictures and the rivalry it created was immense.

Also I think it's important to say that social networkers aren't stupid - they know brands don't want to be their friends. But if a brand is making the user's experience richer and enabling them to have more fun online then what's the problem?

Posted by: Urchin at December 5, 2007 12:45 PM

Bear with us on the blogs featuring National Park Rangers, we at Visit Wales are very excited about it and think the rangers are on board but the idea has to be approved by a committee somewhere....

Posted by: Hannah at December 5, 2007 02:34 PM