Monday, January 7, 2013

Three Corporate Social Media Trends That Should Die in 2013

Over the weekend, I read a funny article on called, "10 Social Media Trends We Wish Would Die in 2013." Although it is included in the site's "Comedy" section, the article seems an accurate overview of the dubious habits many of us hate on Facebook. Unappetizing Instagram photos of food? Duck faces? Cryptic Facebook posts (a/k/a "vaguebooking")? Die. Die!

The article got me to thinking about the corporate social media practices that should die in 2013. I hope you will comment or tweet me (@augieray) with items to add, but here is my list of three business social media trends that we should kill in 2013:

Demanding people spam their friends in order to participate in Facebook sweepstakes and deals

I did not have to look far for the first item in this list--it comes from the article. Some companies are running sweepstakes and offering deals that require (or give the appearance of requiring) entrants to tag their friends in order to win.

One such sweepstakes was the Acer S7 Select sweepstakes. To enter, participants had to tag seven friends. People entering would then arrive at a screen with two options: Either confirm that friends will receive notifications from the application or "cancel." The "cancel" option would still allow users to proceed to the sweepstakes entry form, but I am sure most people assumed this button would cancel their sweepstakes entry. The result is that many folks believed they needed to spam their friends in order to enter. Similarly egregious sweeps and deal models on Facebook are those that require people to like your brand before they can even view your official contest rules (such as Omni Hotels Social Sweepstakes) and forcing people to repin your images to their Pinterest friends in order to enter (such as Style Bistro's Fashion Week contest.) 

Some may find this a smart way to spread awareness in the social era, but it is difficult to square how forcing customers to disseminate spam is ever a good practice. Moreover, to the extent that people are unaware they are being exposed to branded, sponsored advertising as compensation for a friend's access to a sweepstakes or deal, this practice violates FTC requirements for disclosure. This does not mean that you cannot use social aspects to promote your sweepstakes and deals--go ahead and ask sweepstakes entrants to share, and give them the means to do so.

In addition to being aware of FTC regulations, make sure you also understand Facebook's rules for running a sweepstakes on its platform; for instance, if you require users to take an action using any Facebook features or functionality other than liking a Page, checking in to a Place, or connecting to your app, you are violating Facebook's Pages Terms.

Holding charities hostage in return for Facebook likes

Remember when this 1973
magazine cover was considered
a parody, not a strategy?

Remember when Donald Trump offered to donate $5 million to charity if President Obama released his college transcripts? If so, then you will recall Trump was roundly criticized for withholding money he could have given to charities until Trump got what he (and others) wanted. (Many in the New York City region were further enraged when, in the wake  of superstorm Sandy, Trump took to the airwaves to extend his offer to Obama rather than donating the funds to the many in need in the region.)

It is easy to understand how Trump's "quid pro quo" offer to make a donation only if someone responded to his demands might be viewed as self serving. Why, then, do so many brands do the exact same thing, demanding people like their page before they will make a charitable donation? If your company has money to donate but you will not do so until your customers honor your selfish request, what does say about your brand?

Yes, I know this model has worked to gain many fans for many brands, but as consumers experience more of these programs, the message it sends is becoming clearer--not that organizations care but that they are selfish. Does your brand wish to be seen as Donald Trump, only donating cash if people do something that your brand wants, or would you prefer to be Mark Zuckerberg, who selflessly donated $100 million to Newark schools without requesting a single like, tag or share? (If the founder of Facebook can donate millions without requiring Facebook reciprocation, certainly your brand can do so, as well.)

Source: Chase Community Giving
There are appropriate ways to integrate social networks into your corporate giving programs that do not run the risk of making your brand seem greedy and self-serving. One way is to involve customers in the allotment of your brand's charity dollars, as demonstrated by Chase Community Giving. (To participate, users must allow access to the Chase Community Giving application and may earn additional charity votes by liking, tweeting or emailing content from the application.) Chase also does an excellent job promoting its charitable efforts and encouraging others to get involved in their community via frequent Facebook posts and images with a distinct and recognizable brand aesthetic.

Pandering for Meaningless Engagement

Too many brands pursue Facebook strategies with engagement as a primary goal. The problem is that engagement is a means to an end and not a goal unto itself. Brands can get caught in the trap of chasing every like, comment or share without considering the larger brand impression that is being conveyed.

One way a brands' obsession with engagement can manifest is with Facebook pages that are nothing but jokey and vapid posts unrelated to the brand, mission or audience. Check out the page for "Flo, the Progressive Girl." In recent weeks, Flo has posted jokes about unicorns, dogs, the limbo, Christmas sweaters, s'mores, houseplants and dinosaurs. This strategy may increase the page's "talking about this" statistic, but what do these posts say about Progressive? Meaningless posts cannot build meaningful relationships on Facebook; that was quite clear when Progressive faced a PR crisis last year and found the brand had earned little to no advocacy despite having 4.5 million "fans."

Another way to detect brands that are overly focused on engagement is when every single Facebook post requests a like, share or comment. There is a fine line between encouraging engagement and begging for it. The Clorox Facebook page is an example of one that, I believe, crosses that line. Almost every post on the page asks you to "like if you..." or "share if you..." The impression one gets is of a brand desperate for attention and more interested in what fans can do for the brand than vice versa.

Who wouldn't want to share this post?!
There is another way. Disney does not need to ask people to like or share their posts because they provide content that is so good people engage and share without being asked. Of course, not every brand can be Disney, but you do not need to be Disney to furnish strong, powerful, brand-appropriate content that gets engagement. Look at Kit Kat, Starbucks, Samsung, Barbie, Intel, Kohler, PetSmart, Ford, Gibson GuitarMonopoly, Sharpie, Duracell and Duck Tape. These diverse brands are creating engagement on Facebook without having to ask for it, and they are sharing humorous posts that aren't just funny but say something about the brand. These brands do not beg for fans and likes--they earn brand-building engagement by offering Facebook content that conveys confidence, desirability, style, personality, affinity with customer interests and respect for customers' time and intelligence.

It is vital to remember the reason your brand is on Facebook in the first place: not to get "likes" but to build business. Focusing only on the factors that affect EdgeRank will not build awareness, consideration, intent and advocacy. Don't forget your brand vector--if your Facebook posts are not moving people closer to your brand, then you are just wasting your brand's time and opportunities on Facebook. (To learn more about brand vector, please read my blog post, The Complete Facebook Success Formula Every Marketer Should Know.)

In 2013, I would like to see better corporate Facebook strategies that give consumers more reasons to pay attention and that result in stronger brands and customer relationships. If brands can kill these three atrocious social media practices, Facebook will be a better place for both brands and consumers.

What do you think? Do you agree with my list? Anything you would like to add? Comment below, and perhaps I can write a follow-up post entitled, "Three More Corporate Social Media Trends That Should Die in 2013."


Liz said...

If you're ever looking for more examples of brands that are begging for likes or engagement, you can always find them here: Love that page!

A sub item for begging for engagement - posting about every single "made up holiday" there is - candy bar day, national pie day, famous birthdays, etc. Generally not at all related to the brand.

Great post, Augie. I added your suggested FB brands to an interest list to keep an eye on their content.

Augie Ray said...

Thanks, Liz, I just found that page yesterday I was working on this blog post , and it's my new favorite. I loved the post about the VERY bad Blackberry post asking people to post the word "Blackberry" one letter at a time. I actually had a paragraph written about that (with a link to the CorporateBollocks Facebook page) but I but it for brevity.

And yes, I hate all those made up holidays. Here's a simple rule of thumb I wish every company used on Facebook: "Could some other brand post this exact same post?" If the answer yes, then the brand's work isn't done. It isn't WRONG to celebrate Candy Bar Day, but then do it with some style and focus that says something no other brand could say.

I appreciate the dialog and the suggestions. Great stuff!

Unknown said...

Great post, Augie. Totally agree that engagement is a means to an end. Companies need to focus on LEARNING what they can about their fans and followers to make a more personal connection. It's simply not enough to say "hey, I got 20K likes". OK, so, what do we KNOW about these people? Sadly, the answer is: not much. Fan Appz is helping marketers learn about their fans and followers so they can make a more personal connection with them and convert them to loyal customers. How long before CMOs and CEOs push to get some accountability from the Social Media teams? Now is the time!

Augie Ray said...


Thanks for the dialog. Instead of the CMO pushing for accountability, I wonder if the natural progression is for the customer service or PR folks to take over the lead. In the end, there are aspects of marketing in social media, but doesn't it seem better aligned to reputation management (PR) or customer service than to marketing (measured by acquisition, sales, etc.)?