Crimes against social


Image courtesy of freefotouk

2012 may not have be greeted by the industry with a great deal of enthusiasm, after all the big Olympic event that should have marked the end of our economic woes will now merely record their nadir. Nonetheless, it is a fresh, crisp, virginal new year so not only is it ripe and full of possibilities it is also as yet unsullied by much ghastliness from the advertising world.

So with this fresh start in mind I would like to make a plea, a plea that we have a quiet word with ourselves about social media. And in particular that we offer rather better advice to our clients in this arena than we evidently mustered in 2011 – given the social media fare that we allowed to pollute people’s lives last year.

The industry may be falling over itself to set up social media units, hire social media strategists, attend the multitude of social media conferences and devour the outpourings of the blogosphere and that’s all well and good. However, it doesn’t seem to be having much effect on output.

The involvement of most brands and in the social media lives of the public remains clumsy, inept and disrespectful. Driven, it seems, by a profound misunderstanding of our place in this world, our importance in people’s lives and the basic question that we should have learned a long time ago ‘why would anyone give a fuck?’ As my girlfriend incredulously remarked over the Christmas break, ‘how sad do you have to be to ‘like’ a brand on Facebook?’

So I thought we might make a little pledge, a pledge to eradicate crimes against social media that we are either perpetrating or more dangerously, allowing to take place on our watch.

In 2012 we pledge not to:

1) Bribe people to ‘like’ or follow our brands. Engagement with a brand must be driven by affection or admiration and if the truth is that you are short of either its not a social media campaign you need it’s something rather more fundamental.

2) Accept or set social media metrics as the KPIs for a campaign. We must demand an end to briefings that include arbitrary number of likes, views or followers as campaign objectives. While these are indicative of popularity they are only a means to an end and can never be the end in itself, we need to prove the value of these relationships.

3) Ask people to do something that we wouldn’t ourselves want to do or that requires effort far greater than the reward. It sounds bleeding obvious but how come we so very rarely learn this lesson and continue to ask people to confess, upload and create for us?
4) Desperately try and start online conversations with vapid inanities - you know the kind of thing ‘we love lemon cupcakes, what’s your favourite cupcake?’ If this were the conversational style of a real friend we would punch them repeatedly in the face.

5) Collude in the idea that social media campaigns provide a cheap or even free way to have a constant dialogue with customers and prospects. Providing constant content of sufficient quality is extremely difficult to pull off and it’s rarely cheap – though we need to develop new production models in order to deliver this and ensure that the task doesn’t fall to the PR agencies for reasons of cost.

6) Create mediocre content hoping that it’s going to ‘go viral’ – even worse paying someone to seed mediocre content. People only engage with content that is either useful or utterly delightful and delivering this takes a set of skills that we possess in spades but need to learn to deliver more consistently.

So let us commit ourselves to eradicate these and many other crimes against social media and help ensure that in 2012 social media marketing not only comes of age but grows up.


Brands Behaving Badly - most of the brands we work on have a reasonable idea of how to act in passive, entertainment mediums such as TV. I think this is a function of the fact that brands were the ones that actually helped create television. They helped popularise it with soap operas and their sponsorship of live sports. I think that the reason so many brands behave badly in 'social media' is that they fail to realize that people were the ones that created and popularised social sites like Facebook. Typical of many of the things that people create for themselves, the DNA of social media is based on the way human beings see the world and relate to each other. Until brands are willing to understand the human experience again, they'll continue to fail at engaging people in the media channels that people created by themselves, for themselves. (Or something like that).

Posted by: Adrian at January 21, 2012 05:05 PM


Totally agree, this is alien territory for brands, unlike the media that they helped to create and provide the funding for. Brands in social media behave like brits abroad - they speak loudly and slowly and are constantly in search of the English pub.

Posted by: Richard at January 22, 2012 02:26 PM

Fantastic post, per usual. From the get-go, the whole "conversation with the brand" has usually rung hollow to me. Social media merely shines a bright flashlight on the all-to-common meaninglessness in brands' attempts to "connect" with customers. As your girlfriend said, how sad to "like" a brand.

Posted by: Kevin at January 22, 2012 04:19 PM

Kevin, I think there needs to be a far greater understanding of the role and nature of the brand. I had a very senior UK marketer in this week who had decided that in their portfolio there absolutely was a brand whose role and relationship with consumers meant that it was never going to be social. That said there are brands that I do follow principally because they have something interesting to say. The truth is they tend to entrepreneurial brands that are still about to speak with an authentic voice.

Posted by: Richard at January 22, 2012 04:39 PM

Fantastic. I might have to beg you to come and say some of that in public - if you're up for it.

Posted by: Tess Alps at January 23, 2012 10:56 AM

There are a few brands I listen to, too--and one or two that I connect with semi-regularly. And also similar to you, I assume anyway, it's because they occasionally have something interesting, authentic, or expert to say.

But many brands, including some really top-notch ones, just aren't in a position to offer up interesting, authentic, or expert--especially in a consistent enough way to be considered a "conversation" with me.

(To be honest, I've only experienced true conversation with a brand a couple times in my life. And those times have been with micro-brands--or more accurately, with people who work at small but interesting orgs.)

So that said, I can see why that senior UK marketer is senior. Seems rather sage--not to mention downright heretical right now.

Looking forward to your next post.

Posted by: Kevin at January 23, 2012 07:36 PM

Fantastic post. you have put across a simple truth. " We need to be present in social media" has become the norm rather than "what do we do with social media I guess if brands can leverage social media" to communicate and resolve conflicts that itself would be a great platform for conversations instead of pushing stupid content in the guise of engagement.

Posted by: Anbuchezhian at January 24, 2012 10:29 AM

Great post - I think some people do genuinely 'like' brands (not to say that your girlfriend's take isn't sometimes entirely accurate).

Love, "People only engage with content that is either useful or utterly delightful and delivering this takes a set of skills that we possess in spades but need to learn to deliver more consistently." Hope to see more of this in 2012!


Posted by: Lou Pardi at January 24, 2012 11:08 PM

Wasn't it Michael Porter who said that a technology, available to all, is an advantage to none? Surely it's all about content: especially when we see the eagerness of legislators to stop Kim Dotcom and his Ilk in their tracks.

Posted by: Gordon at January 26, 2012 05:42 AM

Bravo! usual...this is stuff even sales people would agree with...(BIG achievement for marketing...)

Posted by: Rosario Di Dio at January 31, 2012 01:22 PM

Violently agree with all but #2 - we believe we MUST assign KPIs to social with deep and trackable rigor.

Not simply 'likes' or 'follows' - but embedded links within socialize content with which we can track and attribute social distribution and, hopefully, traffic and engagement back to branded environments.

It's the only way we're ever going to prove out the immense viability and efficiency of the channel and thus shift some of those bloated, monstrous advertising budgets into the new marketing.

Posted by: Thom Kennon at February 3, 2012 12:35 PM

This was all blindingly obvious three or four years ago and it's incredibly depressing that you have to say it. But, as ever, you say it well, albeit a little restrained.

Posted by: John Dodds at February 6, 2012 02:26 PM