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Social Media Today: "Is Bad Social Media the New Bad First Date?" February 4, 2011

By Kathleen Stockham. Published on Social Media Today, Jan. 18, 2011

We’ve all had them: first dates and connections that we honestly thought would be “it,” only to be let down gently – or harshly – by our dream companion. You put on your best duds, shave and perfume every appendage, while you vacuum and hide the laundry. Getting ready to open your living room to a Mr. or Miss Right is a heady task. But with social media, there’s not just one Mr. or Mrs. Right, there’s a whole crowd of them.

Just like there are millions of books on how to get into a love relationship, there are countless articles, blogs and books dedicated to how to “Pick Up Friends” and foray into the Social Media world. Case in point, I just returned from a rather large conference where talking head after talking head professed to have “unlocked” the secret formula to successful social marketing debuts. Conference attendees scribbled furiously and social media application salesmen smiled with expectation. However, like in dating, isn’t social media’s “can’t-miss secret of success” in the eye of the beholder?

Success Is Variable in Social Media
Marketers have to understand that what really constitutes “success” in social media varies from consumer to consumer, brand to brand, and moment to moment. Also, not all relationships are created equal. Your mileage may vary. Sometimes, there’s no chemistry, no connection. And despite your best efforts, your newfound friends do not engage or advocate your brand and cumulatively show no impact on revenue. Then the question is, what type of relationship do you have with these friends? Is it a mutually valuable relationship where you are providing as much value to them as they are to you? What can you do to bring up your conversion rate and get more “true” friends?

Social Media is a delicious gamble that we all want to take in hopes of making the ultimate connection with a multitude of consumers. As marketers, we want to create that moment when the earth stands still, the ocean parts, birds fly off in unison, firecrackers explode overhead, while consumers hungrily click the Like button and make campaigns go viral. What often happens is more akin to an E.F. Hutton moment, but the record skips and everyone stops dead in their tracks to gawk at you while you pull the back of your skirt down after it was mistakenly tucked in the back of your panty hose. In essence, if you screw up your debut in Social Media, will there be a second date?

For any company considering entering social media or attempting a more daring presence in that space, the competition can be intimidating. The interpretive dance and contortions being performed daily by some companies on Facebook and other social media entities seem to be more designed for attention-getting “look-at-us-we-are-cool,” me-too-ism that can sometimes freak out even your most loyal and rabid fans. But as the creative new tactics play out and the press releases rapidly roll out, have you stopped to consider what your customers may think once the heavy make-up has worn off? Is all that’s left some tired-looking “average” experience in the bright light of day? Will these relationships even matter to you once your number of “conquests” reaches a certain point? Was it all talk? Will they even call the next day?

Authenticity Goes a Long Way
In this world where words like “transparency,” “trust” and “relationship,” are thrown around like formerly free peanuts on airline flights, you have to locate a shred of authenticity in your attempts. Simply, if you want folks to like you, be near you, want to spend time with you, can you just be yourself? Can you be exactly who you are as a brand with your tone, your identity, your flair (or lack thereof) your attitude, your “je ne sais quoi” out there so to speak? That means don’t go over-the-top to be something you’re not; don’t try too hard to make headlines or get your name written on the bathroom wall. Be exactly who you are. Sure, you may not have all the bells and whistles, hair extensions and extra padding as the eye candy next to you. But in the end, for a long-term relationship your “true self” as a brand/retailer/CPG/whatever-you-are will shine through whether you really want it to or not.

Spending a lot of time on a “manufactured” image in order to cover up or mask pimples, warts or some rough character flaw will no doubt backfire as you have now invited into your living room a total stranger who will decide in 20 seconds or less whether or not they want to even “invest” in this burgeoning relationship. (And let’s not even cover what they will say about you tomorrow to their friends!)

And there’s that kissing rule: Remember for every potential suitor out there, what you can’t see is the invisible crowd of people behind them that they know and have been with way before you. They too will be privy to every detail, emotion, good or bad sentiment your new hook up will feel. You not only have to win over this new connection but they will bring all their friends and followers along for the ride. It can be a very “crowded” first date.

Should you go too far and try too hard to make that first impression, you may end up with a quiet phone that never rings and an empty calendar of future dates that will never happen. Succinctly, each and every “Like” or “Follower” is someone saying, “Hey, I would like to get to know you better…” And while you may be processing those suitors with the efficiency of Speed Dating on “Jersey Shore,” don’t lose sight of the fact that there will be those who are less than impressed and will bail without even a look back – or worse, turn into a troll and express negative sentiment about your brand.

Before you bust out the spray tan, the spackle, the paint and invest in deep, probing tools to get the full DNA on every customer headed your way, why not take a step back and look in the mirror and see if even YOU like what you see. Chances are, if you like what you see and you are relatively “authentic” in your approach, everyone else will like you too. You may even get that second date.

Ultimately, your new love connections may turn to you at the end of the encounter to say what we all dream of hearing, “Can’t we just be friends?”

Author: Kathleen Stockham is Director of Strategy & Analytics at Response Media, a digital advertising agency specializing in relationship marketing and customer acquisition services.
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