It must be something in the air. On Sunday, I was reading Melanie Kissell’s very honest and sensible post, “Not Afraid To Say I Disagree With Social Media Experts,” over on Weblogbetter.com, and I wanted to give her a high five. How disingenuous of any business to pretend that they are engaging in social media activities solely to have fun and make friends with their customers! It’s almost insulting to people’s intelligence, really. Melanie points out that for business owners, spending hours a day just being “social” is “pure, unadulterated rubbish.”
There’s a lot being said about “the role of social media,” but too often overlooked is the fact that “social media” is a natural outgrowth of people’s need to socialize with friends (not with brands and businesses) and share their perceptions and experiences of the world around them (and their opinion of those brands and businesses). Of course, we consumers want it all now – and we want it free (or cheap) and so, as with our favorite television stations, we need advertising sponsors to support our media habits.
And that all goes well, until the sponsors start raising the noise level, demanding more and more air time, and pretty soon an hour-long program is actually a 22-minute program interrupted at predictable intervals by commercials. Before we know it, we’ve got feminine hygiene products and condoms being touted during dinner hour. And in reaction, we grab the DVR remote to record our favorite shows and zip right through those ads. Except maybe the ads these companies produce to entertain us during the Super Bowl. But see – even there, they’ve tipped their hand and given us reason to expect that sort of quality all the time. We resent getting bombarded, constantly, with less than their best work.
Advertisers catch on, and we’ve got a problem – we hate the ads, but they’re not going to give us a free ride. Before long, there’s a strange sense that the relationship, once founded on mutually beneficial problem-solving, has turned adversarial. They’re playing in our playground, and they don’t really “get” us, but they keep the sandbox sandy and the swings in working order. Maybe, just maybe, we’d feel a little less sullen about it if they’d give us a push, or sit on the other side of the teeter-totter and give us a fair share of ups and downs, along with an occasional nod or a smile that says, “I see you – and I appreciate your business.”
As I said to Melanie, it pays to be sociable and friendly, to give as well as to receive, because people don’t like to buy from strangers they actively distrust, and there’s a lot of that out there. “Free samples” are a tried and true incentive to buy stuff. A business engages in social media to do more business – no one’s fooled into thinking their motives are anything other than that. There’s no ROI for businesses in “hanging out just to socialize.” But to give business an edge, in general, it helps to put a human face out there – people like to do business with real people, not faceless corporations they don’t like or trust. Too often, they invade the playground and then – in an attempt to make friends fast – they try sticking a rollercoaster up next to the sandbox. It makes too much noise; the other kids give up and go home in disgust.
Interesting that Seth Godin’s post, “The trap of social media noise,” touches on a similar theme, this week, in which he points out that “everyone is a marketer,” using social media as a soapbox from which to hawk their wares, always on the lookout for a louder megaphone. He talks about game theory and the choice of strategy: push the spam envelope in pursuit of critical mass, or focus and build a reputation as a thought leader doing worthwhile work. I know that I’ve felt pulled in both directions, lured by the bells and buzzers into chasing the numbers as if they were points for the win – but always, naturally, gravitate towards doing things the hard way. The high-touch, one customer at a time way. I can’t say that’s better than striving to reach critical mass, because my way is more likely to lead to repeat business than to high, quick turnaround profits. I think a healthy balance is called for. Because numbers alone have no personality, no soul, and no real influence. People matter – and if you don’t sincerely believe that, go chase the numbers. But if you do believe it, try listening at the edge of the sandbox first, before putting in a rollercoaster.
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