Is Marketing Ruining Social Media?

    December 13, 2011
    Chris Crum

Is marketing ruining social media? I’m interested to see the responses we get on this one, considering that many of you are marketers to one extent or another. There’s no questions that social media presents a plethora of marketing opportunities, many proven to be highly effective, but what about users? Is the experience suffering? I’m not going to come right out and say that it is, but I think it’s an interesting discussion.

What do you think? Is marketing ruining social media? Tell us what you think in the comments.

I’ll give Louis Sokol a tip of the hat for providing inspiration for this piece when he tweeted the following:

#SocialMediaAccessories – Social media is primarily for content and interaction between people, not sales and ads. 4 hours ago via SocialOomph · powered by @socialditto

Social media started with people simply connecting, as C.C. Chapman said in this interview with WebProNews recently:

It didn’t take long, however for marketers to jump in on that connection. And who could blame them? Social media has, without question, opened a direct line of two-way communication with customers and prospects that wasn’t really possible before.

“I remember the early days of the web, and everybody freaked out that there was…’oh no, you’re gonna ruin it by making money,’ but let’s face it. Businesses have to exist,” said Chapman. “They exist for a reason. The online space continues to grow, and the tools and technology are there, and businesses are never going to go away.”

However, “Common sense gets forgotten,” he said. “Basic manners. Basic talking to people seems to get lost in the megaphone of the Internet. Companies suddenly realize they can say whatever they want, and say it to thousands of people. They forget that at the end of the day…people buy from people still.”

“I think at the end of the day, the company that has basic common sense – basic manners, and still has a good product, and is out there, I’m going to connect. I’m going to buy from them a lot more.”

Forrester CEO George Colony led an interesting discussion at LeWeb this week about social media saturation. He says we’re in a bubble for social startups, that we’re moving to a post social world, and that post social startups will dominate. What does that mean for social media in general?

Here’s some video of his speech at the conference.

“We are in a bubble for social startups,” he said. “This is going to sweep away some of the nonsense, like FourSquare. We are going to move to a post-social world that’s a little like the Web in the year 2000. A lot of companies launched, but they did not survive.”

Here’s a PDF of his presentation.

Well, the “right now” social media powerhouses (like Facebook, Twitter and Google) are all about the advertising, and increasingly about the brands. Is this a good trend for users?

Facebook has had brand pages for quite some time. Now Google+ and Twitter have them. Twitter is also focusing more and more on monetization, which means ads, ads, ads. Facebook’s ad market share is growing dramatically. They’re even using people’s non-commercial activity and turning it into commercial offerings for advertisers. I keep hearing that people are often seeing that I “like” Bing on Facebook a lot, simply because I liked their page to follow news ages ago. Because I did that, now it looks like I’m a huge Bing advocate. Whether or not that’s true is beside the point.

Facebook, the indisputably most successful social network ever, became a hit initially because of the personal connections it provided among people. Now, for better or worse, it is a commercial behemoth (and getting ready for an IPO).

Google already dominates online advertising, and rumor has it that they’re looking to start plastering display ads all over Google+.

While all of this may be fine and good, there’s no question that these social networking services are simply much more commercial and brand-heavy. A lot of people don’t like that kind of thing. Is it hurting the social media experience?

Users may initially “like” brands on Facebook because they genuinely do like those brands. Sometimes they may do so to get some kind of deal. Eventually what can happen is that you get more brand updates than actual friend updates in your news feed (and this could really go for Twitter and Google+ too). That can really affect the user experience. And there’s a pretty good chance that even if a user really does love a brand, they don’t necessarily care about 95% of the updates that brand makes.

The main takeaway from this is: as a brand, make your social media presence something that users do care about. Things that they will enjoy or benefit from. You’re not the only one potentially annoying them on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+). You may be adding to the problem though, and in the long run that could hurt all brands.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard a lot of people say recently that they are spending less time on Facebook, and that’s not necessarily because they’re using Google+ or Twitter more. They’re just tired of it. Sure, a user is ultimately in control of their own news feed, but sometimes people just don’t have the time or care enough to take the steps necessary to clean it up they way they’d prefer. It’s easier to just do something else.

What do you think? Are brands damaging the user experience of social networks? Tell us what you think.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.