Manipulating Social Media: The Epilogue

About a month ago I posted my views on the “social media” and it became the most discussed post I ever wrote. Several people replied with comments and their own posts with their takes on the subject. So I thought it was only fitting that I write a short follow-up to the discussion.

The opinions split and I was happy that I am not alone in my dislike of the further intrusion of the annoying marketing into our lives. I realize that in the age when the dream of manned space flight an ability to skip TV commercials became our everyday reality, the businesses still need to find a way to influence consumers: product placement, sponsorships, online ads, viral infomercials and other venues are constantly being tested for their legitimacy and effectiveness. I feel that my responsibility as a consumer is to avoid these things as much as I can and, while enjoying the entertaining parts, completely ignore the marketing message. After all, the marketing people are not well-known for being concerned with the consumers, their job is to make any product look good from cigarettes, to fattening foods, to medicines that cause anal leakage and sleep-driving; I don’t feel the need or obligation to tolerate any marketing in my life.

After my post and the follow-up discussions I thought about the reasons why the social media marketing annoys me so much. Long time ago when my daughter was a toddler I used to take her to a nearby playground. On one of these days another guy was watching his kid play with mine and we had a usual playground conversation parents have – about the kids, about the weather, etc. Then for no particular reason® he started pitching some shady MLM business to me. I had to cut it short, tell him I wasn’t interested and leave to avoid further uncomfortable silence. That guy was not carrying a sign or handing out fliers, he created a personal connection with me and attempted to use it to sell something unwanted to me. This, in essence, is what’s wrong with the social media marketing: they catch you when you don’t expect it, they barge into a conversation, they pretend to be your friend while trying to influence your behavior; you have to cut your activities short and leave, unfollow, unsubscribe, add a spam filter, etc. Just to show that I am not making this up here is a quote from an email I got inviting me to a “free marketing webinar”.

Businesses now have the power to leverage the Internet – search engines, blogs, social media – to reach customers more effectively. This includes connecting with customers where they hang out online and engaging in conversations about the topics most important to them. Social CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is all about joining the ongoing conversations our customers and prospects are already having and not trying to control them. It’s realizing that people like doing business with people they like and love doing business with people they trust.

In other words: find people having conversations, barge in, sell, force the people to prevent you from intruding in the future. It was all fun when people just shared opinions online, now it’s all a “Social CRM”, the key word is “management”. To quote the rant-master himself:

Then the Marketing (bleep)tards catch up to us. They see all of this free and open communication occurring. And, being Marketing (bleep)tards, their first thought is “How can we piggyback on this (bleep) and manipulate it, without people knowing we are manipulating it, and use it to sell our useless (bleep) to people for $19.95 (But wait! There’s more!) so as to make the rich (bleep)ers we work for even richer?”*

I am not saying that everyone is doing it, there are still plenty of independent and honest opinions to be found on the internet, but this trend casts a shade of distrust on many. Not that I was very trusting before.
In conclusion, here are some immortal words from George Carlin:

UPDATE: After this was written, I found another post (apparently private so it was an accident) on the subject discussing how my (and other’s) blogging caused at least one organization to try and become more transparent with their social media promotions. My issue was not with overall transparency or lack thereof; what I don’t like is a trend of creating positive coverage by stroking the “social media’s” ego, whether by preferential treatment, creating a feeling of exclusivity or giving away free stuff. I do realize that for many people being a part of an exclusive group is worth more than a free ticket or a drink.

Coincidentally, via The Food Section another thread discussing the conflict of interest and conflict in general between the wine industry, wine bloggers and professional wine critics. Many of the same sentiments expressed and the reactions range from agreement to ridicule, pretty much in the same way the opinions split in this case.