Before you start laying into me about a sensationalised blog title, read what I’ve got to say first and then you can challenge my choice of words.
The twinkling idea of social media began in the heads of several entrepreneurs amidst the growing power and influence of the internet. As the 2000s rolled by, the desire to use digital communication to stay in touch with our family and friends grew – pushed along by the popularity of SMS and the Nokia 3210 (in my case).
Something needed to be done. A gap needed filling. This problem needed a solution.
Early editions of a social media platform caught the eye, but never went mainstream. Friends Reunited and MySpace did a lot to strike the match, but weren’t able to light the fire.
Enter Facebook. Enter Twitter.
Two platforms entered the global arena, with different propositions but the same end goal – communication with the people we love. Suddenly, we were able to discuss football to our Uncle Craig in Hawaii, talk ‘shop’ to our work colleagues, or randomly drop messages to ex-partners in the hope the old flame was still burning strong.
“Wow – surely these FREE tools can’t get any better?”
Wrong! A few years later saw the introduction of photos and tagging and videos and photo galleries and check-ins and direct messaging and profile customisation and EVERYTHING we needed to be the people we are, was available. The golden age of social media existed, and we were a part of it.
And then it went downhill
Faced with masses of personal data, a successful platform and a requirement from shareholders to make some money – what would be your next action as head of Facebook or Twitter?
Of course, generation Zuckerberg fell hopelessly down the capitalist route, handily pushed by a few clever, but hugely ruthless money makers. Advertising on the two social media platforms was born and the cracks in what was a “social media”, began to appear.
Google anything to do with ‘advertising’ and the words ‘segmentation’, ‘demographics’ and ‘targeting’ swiftly follow. Not content with appealing to the mass, unlike the original idea behind a social media platform, advertisers required bunches of people with the same interests/age/location (delete as appropriate) to get their messages across.
In a flick of a switch, users, particularly of Facebook, were asked to not ‘be who you are’ but ‘be someone we want you to be’ with the introduction of ‘liking’ brand pages and adverts that float into our news stream. From that point on, the tone was set as to what we, as consumers, should be using social media for.
Me, the semi-fictional representation
Early 2014 saw the re-birth of me on social media. No longer was I using Facebook and Twitter for friendly conversations, this was my chance to show my values and beliefs to others. Like a walking, talking, video-playing corkboard, my social media posts oozed ‘me’, or at least what I wanted people to think of me.
Instead of saying I was “Sat on the sofa watching Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway”, I’d share an article from Men’s Health and how “Getting the perfect abs in 6 weeks is as easy as 1, 2, 3”.
… what had I become?
I’d become a semi-fictional representation of myself. I'd realised that instead of posting an image of me slumped on the sofa, I wanted people to realise I was physically fit, aiming for perfection and being the person I “really” wanted to be.
Doesn’t apply to you
I’m not one to ‘tar everyone with the same brush’, and I’m perfectly open to the fact that others have retained the sole reason of social media, or, are happy to be consumed by what social media has become.
Whatever your position, it doesn’t stop the fact that as you read this sentence, someone has lassoed you into a cluster of users ready to throw money, and probably a video of a cute looking dog, in order to gain your attention and part of your wages too. This is all perfectly natural, though.
Even as Neanderthals, us humans felt better as a group, and now is no different. We feel a sense of security and belonging in knowing that we like things that others do too. These feelings have been abused throughout the birth of advertising to play upon our insecurities and ultimately get us to buy that ‘thing’ that will make us feel better.
We like. We don’t buy
Social media, for the first time in a human’s life, has allowed us to express things we like, without actually buying them. Again, our semi-fictional representations of ourselves want to provide our friends with ammunition to understand our beliefs.
This means that there will be pages, brands and business that we are ALL following, that actually mean nothing to us, at all.
Cue the disgruntled advertisers.
You won’t be surprised to hear that social media engagement of B2C brands has dipped over the last few years (without the intervention of advertising). And with social media users becoming more and more wrapped up in our ‘representation’ rather than our ‘real’ self, what chance have business and brands got at appealing to us – the person who actually holds our own credit card details? That once essential personal data has now been skewed.
What we’ve created
Through an intrinsic social whirlwind, stimulated by billions of dollars along the way, we’ve created the biggest virtual world ever – out-trumping anything you can build on The Sims or World of Warcraft. As advertisers look to target groups, consumers look to idealise their lives in different ways – a recipe that spells money for now, but disaster for later.
But wait. There’s a phone light at the end of this dark tunnel…
Messaging services have exploded once more. Messenger, created by Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat have all seen massive rises in popularity, and why? Because they do that one thing that we always strive for - communication with the people we love.
The integration between the two types of “social media” will be fascinating to watch over the next 12 months, but clearly, brands aren’t going to let consumers get away with messaging without exposure to their business.
On a cold Tuesday night in January, I sat down and listened to the podcast The Growth Show, which features ‘good news’ business stories from around the world.
This edition of the podcast featured the owner and founder of U.S clothes’ brand Everlane – a self-promoting transparent business that revels in fairness and equality. Not happy with contacting people across social media and email, they’ve now started communicating to customers using Facebook Messenger to talk to them about their purchase.
Going where the people are
In a frank conversation on the podcast when questioned on the use of Messenger, Everlane’s Michael Preysman simply said, ‘we need to be where the people are’ – and this gets me to my final point.
Wherever we consumers want to be ‘us’, there will always be a brand poking their nose through the open door. Being truthful to who we are, or what we want to be is not only a good benchmark for life, but in a weird sort of way – it’s good for what we want to buy too.
Better identification leads to better targeting - better targeting leads to better purchases – better purchases leads to happier consumers and happier brands. Simple (in theory).
For the blushing businesses
My tone seem sceptical of business and brand accounts on social media, but there still is a genuine need for them on the platform. As a consumer, they enrich our news feeds and inspire us to do, think or feel differently about something.
And from a business point of view, social media is still hands-down one of the best digital marketing tools you can use to drive awareness and engagement. Just like the simple advice I gave to consumers earlier on, brands should be truthful to who you are and what you’re trying to achieve.
Who cares if you’ve only got 50 page likes on Facebook or 100 followers on Twitter? As long as they are engaging with you, and ultimately buying from you too, you’ve reached your objective of making marketing work.
So, back to the title…
Social media has drastically changed over the past eight weeks, let alone eight years that it has been an embodiment of our existence. Yes, it has become home to more brands and adverts, but look around you, there’s nowhere in your life that doesn’t involve some sort of marketing message looking your way.
For Facebook, Twitter et al, social media has become yet another platform for businesses to get involved which has seen the death of the genuine ‘social’ messaging media platform as we used to know it. From this thought and the observation of what consumers are dressing themselves up as on social media, I now want to exclaim at the top of my voice from the roof of Katapult HQ…
Welcome to the world of social brand media marketing
Now I feel my blog title is justified!
Photo Credit: Original Photo via Flickr