BooksSocial networking

Marketing through social networking – a smart move or unprofessional?

Last month I attended a marketing meeting. The focus of the marketing meeting was, unsurprisingly, selling things, and how effective this is through social networking.

The presenter showed us a range of products as follows: a garment, a book, a CD and a piece of luggage. He immediately discarded the garment and the luggage with a large sticky ‘EBay’ label and told us that online shops were the best option for ‘unit items’. They are what they are, and need little marketing save an accurate picture, a good description and a price tag.

Then he turned to the book and the CD. He told us that because these are scalable items, that is and original piece of work that has the possibility to sell to many people, rather than a unit item that will make a limited profit. For this reason, it is possible to ‘viral’ market on social networking to bring the product into people’s awareness.

The subject of this seminar was whether it was useful to use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to sell your scalable product. The outcome was surprising. There were over two hundred professionals at the seminar and only five people said that they took marketing by social networking seriously. The rest of the audience told the seminar that the their decision to buy was usually based on the point of sale or more sophisticated advertising. The same people found people advertising themselves or their product on social networking:

  • unprofessional – the advertisements were often full of opinion rather than facts about the product
  • desperate – ‘seems like a last ditch effort to sell’ 
  • pointless – the potential audience is limited only to those who are ‘friends’ or ‘followers’
  • misleading – those people who have chatted as ‘friends’ about family and pets suddenly target you with advertisements for their products
Of course, this sample only included a small number (around 200) of social networking experts, and did not include the opinion of the many people who do not use social networking. The most unsettling comment that came  from the seminar leader was as follows:
‘People who advertise their products on social networking are unregulated, that is, they are not subject to advertising standards, and can claim anything they like about their product, even that they are an expert and that their product reflects this. A good question to ask these people is the 10,000 hour question, as this is the approximate time commitment to become and expert in a particular field. Social networking is a powerful way to make people feel that they have an audience, and many get carried away with what is often scrappy, homemade, marketing. This is worse than no marketing at all, because if a consumer buys a product based on false marketing, they won’t come back, or pass on a good review. And word of mouth marketing is valuable.’
This is interesting, because marketing by social networking seems so much like word of mouth marketing, but it isn’t. To think that it is assumes a passive audience. Social networking audiences are not passive. I am very aware of who, on my Facebook social networking is an actual friend as opposed to someone who is in my ‘business network’. I am also aware of marketers on Twitter who apply the 80/20 rule of chatting about pointless issues relevant only to themselves (like most of Twitter) for 80% of the time then hitting followers with marketing for 20% of the time. But social networking audiences may be desensitized.
Another point raised at the seminar was that when social networking was fresh and new it seemed like a perfect arena to sell to a captive audience. Since it has evolved, and a computer savvy public have all got a Facebook and Twitter account and a blog to go with it, more and more people have bombarded the space with trivia until it is saturated; to be noticed (an consequently sell products) you need to have something to say. You need to be an expert. Most people can sniff out a faux expert – they will try to bend their product to the trend and appear knowledgeable about a multitude of matters.
The seminar organiser suggested that we conduct our own experiment to assess how desensitized we were to advertising on social networking. The experiment had two main parts:
  • stay off social networking for 2 – 4 weeks
  • when you go back on, use the ‘show in newsfeed’ to deselect everyone who has tried to sell you something on Facebook and unfollow everyone trying to sell you something on Twitter
The time away from social networking is necessary because, of we spend a lot of time reading social networking (or newspapers or watching TV) we become desensitized to aspects of it that are repeated over and over again. After a break from it, these aspects become more prominent or noticeable.
I stayed off social networking for 3 weeks. Whilst I was away I had more time and less annoyance – I spent all the time I would usually have been social networking either being creative (painting or writing) or walking. I lost 6lbs and a lot of stress. Sure enough, as soon as I returned, I could clearly see who was marketing to me and pushed the button. It’s refreshing. I haven’t read newspapers for years, and I’m selective about what I watch on TV, and releasing myself from social networking felt a lot like the time in my life when made those decisions. Other people who attended the seminar reported that they were unable to stay away from social networking for the required time and were compelled to log on, which suggests a different problem of potential addiction. 
The bottom line is, that unless you’re advertisements are factual and targeted, advertising via social networking is pointless at best, and unprofessional at worst. Saturating your audience with trivia mixed with the odd plug for your product is no longer savvy. Two particular point is stand out:
  • bad advertising is worse than no advertising, and it creates a negative view of the product and prevents word of mouth advertising
  • social networking audiences are often desensitized to advertising and therefore it would be pointless advertising to them
If you are reading this on Twitter or Facebook, where my blog is set to feed, I’m not trying to sell you anything! I went to the seminar expecting a lesson on how to market via social networking fro my company, which is maintained on completely separate social networking sites to my personal profiles, and came out wondering why I didn’t see how saturated the social networking advertising market was beforehand. I’ll still have a Facebook and Twitter account because they have their positive social uses, but I won’t be swamped with marketing or pretend experts any more. Please feel free to ‘unfriend’ me or ‘unfollow’ me that is your only use for me.