Brand and the social media addiction

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I put a call out recently, ironically on social media, asking for feedback on the question “What genuine good has social media done for the world?”.

The answers didn’t inspire me. Some waxed lyrical about enhancing their personal networks and relationships, or about how social media has cut down the time in which issues or movements get traction, with many admitting this may not always be a positive.

Events like those of March 15 have highlighted both the good and the bad. Our chosen social media gave us a platform for our grief and a vehicle to share our support. It gave us a voice for our outrage and comfort in the sense of community that flowed from around the world.

But it also gave “him” a voice. It is the mechanism by which he was allowed to feed and grow his ideologies, and share his hatred.

For brand owners on social media, the emotion and sensitivity in the aftermath of the Christchurch atrocities left them with many a marketing dilemma.

I certainly noticed a reduction in the more inane messaging coming through in ads on Facebook and Instagram for a few days. And good job too. Most companies seemed to have the foresight to suspend pre-scheduled promotions but a few sneaked through, of course.

Others had the dilemma about whether to refer to the attacks in their own posts. Some did so in ways that seemed a bit … icky. Leveraging the misfortune of others does no brand any favours, but some brands managed to choose careful wording and timing to show their support and empathy.

As marketers, we rely heavily on social media now because that’s where our audiences hang out. As users feed off brands’ messages and brands feed off users, it’s a symbiotic relationship. (Or should that be parasitic…?)

A friend who loathes all social media regularly expresses concern about how our data is collected and used, especially in terms of our youngsters. Marketers justify this by saying that the more we know about customer demographics and their likes and dislikes, the more accurately we can target them.

Marketers love social media for the insights available from its data. After all, we don’t want to waste our advertising dollars on people who will never buy our
products.

We’ve been collecting data on people for centuries. (I know, I watch Who Do You Think You Are avidly!) Births, deaths, marriages, the census. Retailers have collected information about the customers that cross their thresholds for ever. I’m picturing a Victorian florist, writing neatly in a leather-bound journal, cataloguing the dates of customer birthdays and anniversaries from previous sales. Understanding as much as you can about your customers is nothing new.

Many people are concerned that advertisers know too much about us and we’ve seen much about the misuse of information. But now I’m picturing our florist sharing her journal with her friend the baker, to approach her customers for birthday cakes. Nothing changes. But it gets scarier by getting bigger and more personal.

Now we’re not only bombarded with advertising via email but via our social media messaging too. My anti-social-media friend pondered why we don’t use the phone to introduce our businesses any more. Fair point, but it depends on the brand, the message and who the purchasing decision maker would be.

There are many brands for which social media has limitations but serves purely as a digital footprint. Isn’t it amazing that new businesses will likely set up their social media even before they build a website? Is it not a shame that the perception is that you’re not a legitimate business unless you have a tangible online voice? Like how you’re not really dating until you change your status to ‘In a relationship’. 

Would the world stop turning if we closed down all social media? Probably not, because it rotated quite effectively without them before. How would we cope with the cold turkey? When Facebook went down for half a day recently, many were shocked by how reliant we’ve become on it not just for social interaction and entertainment but for work purposes too. And that’s not just talking about company social media managers, but everyday users as well.

Users. Cold turkey. We’re hooked on social media. It really is a drug. Perhaps we shouldn’t view it as narcotic, however, but a self-prescribed medicine which, if used as directed, can do us some good.

Yes, it does offer businesses a fabulous tool for connecting with the people they want to know their brand. But the questions raised by online activity around March 15 may mean that the world looks at its power more carefully. And that won’t be a bad thing.

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz