An Apology To Brands On Behalf Of Social Media Experts Everywhere

by · April 14, 201431 comments

They don’t all know it yet, but social media experts, promoters, advocates and douchebags everywhere owe brands an apology. Granted, we were well intended when this whole thing started. We thought we were doing you right. In many cases we were. But as time went on and the industry matured, some of us saw the *slight* error of our ways.

It seems that brands have been mistaken about how human they can be. They’ve been convinced, by us, that they too can earn a never-ending stream of comments and likes and re-tweets and shares and thumbs up and so on. They too can just sit and write a little Tweet or Facebook post or blog entry and, for absolutely no more money or effort have hundreds or thousands of people see, read, react, respond and refer.

And these brands are mistaken, because that’s what we’ve led them to believe.

But we were wrong. We were showing them Apples when all they had access to were Oranges. And no matter how you cook, clean, slice or serve an Orange, it will never be an Apple.

You see, many of us social media folk sat out to show you, the big brand with the big bank account, how we built an army of passionate people who followed us, bought into our philosophies and tickets to our events. We wanted to show you how easy and cheap it was to just sit down and write something that people found meaningful and passed around the big, viral caldron known as the world wide web. And you could become one of our many followers and maybe even pay us a little consulting fee or speaking fee along the way. You got what you wanted. We got what we wanted. The world was a better place for it.

Except we were wrong. Or you were gullible. Or both.

As much as our puritanical philosophies are noble, a brand is not a person. As human as we can help you become is still, unquestionably, not human. As much as we can teach you about being engaging and audience-centric and community building, you’re still a big company, a building, a logo.

Unfortunately, it’s taken Facebook’s unweilding sword of organic reach killing to make this painfully obvious. Now, if you’re not human, or more specifically have a brand page, you’re not worth showing or seeing. You can’t become human and Facebook won’t let your content appear as if it’s coming from one, either. It may not be fair, but it’s accurate.

What a company says to me will never be as relevant as what a friend does. Facebook is not wrong in this regard.

Also unfortunately, there are those still holding on to the puritanical notions of human-ness, engagement and joining the conversation who still argue the soon-to-be moot point. My friend, and social marketing smarty pants, Scott Stratten, trying to point out that organic reach is still very possible on Facebook, posted this last week:

Scott Stratten's organic reach post

His point was valid. If you provide incredible content and consistent engagement, you will get organic reach. But what Scott left out was that it’s going to be a hell of a lot harder for you to match the numbers of him, or me or any other actual human being.

Granted, Scott was sharing metrics from an UnMarketing brand page. So there appears to be some logic there. But UnMarketing is him (and his podcast co-host Alison Kramer). It’s not a company/logo/business from a perception perspective. It’s also where he personally engages that audience regularly, driving organic share and reach with his smarts and ideas and discussions. It’s more trustworthy because it’s a person-as-brand execution. Provided Facebook’s dialing down of organic reach continues, he’ll see less organic reach over time, too. But not to the dramatic degree those less human-like in approach do.

In the comments of that post — please, do go read them — Scott pointed out that most brands still spit advertising masked as content that wouldn’t engage anyone. He’s right. But even the brands that do a great job of engagement and content creation, the ones that add value to their audiences and have fantastic, organic success on Facebook … they’re going to have to now work 6-10 times harder to achieve the success they’ve already earned.

When Facebook turns down the dial, preventing any brand page’s content from reaching it’s intended audience, fewer people will see it to begin with. Fewer people will engage with it overall. The same success will take driving people there and asking them to carry that content’s torch forward for you.

It’s not a question of whether the good brands can still be good. It’s that they are going to have to be 10 times better now to achieve the same success. And for them, that sucks.

Brands are not people. And we’ve been leading them to believe they are for a long time now. As brands begin to understand they can’t have the same type of organic success a human-as-brand consultant has, we need to also inform them that what used to be a great benchmark for engagement metrics, is now going to be next to impossible. Their outcomes will change. Their expectations need to change. Their investment may need to as well.

Scott’s point is valid: Organic success is not impossible. But my point is, too: Leading brands to believe they can also be human-like with human-like social media success is perhaps the biggest disservice we could have done over the years.

Let’s start fresh and make sure we point them in a more realistic direction from now on. Fair?

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://lovable-marketing.com/ Maël Roth

    I think it is very interesting, that you basically say that people want to interact with other people, and not a brand (you can’t really put a face on it). I wanted to write a post in German some time soon around that subject linking it to the importance of authorship for corporate blogs. Some organizations got that and they show the faces of people who interact with the users / clients (e.g. the Deutsche Bahn – @DB_Bahn on twitter) and every tweet is signed with the initials of the CSR who answered.

    Great post :-)

  • http://www.jumbocortex.com/think mkedave

    But… all those eBooks… sigh.

  • http://flavors.me/40deuce 40deuce

    Very well put Jason.
    I think that this has put people like you and I in a bit of quandary. I think this because I do still believe that people want to interact with some brands as if they are people, but maybe not as much as they do with real people. However, if I “like” a brand on Facebook it’s because I’m interested in seeing what they’re producing or have to say. The fact that Facebook has made the decision for me that I don’t really want to see that stuff is quite strange.
    On one side, I get what Facebook is saying and doing, but on the other hand, why do they get to make that decision? If I like a brand that happens to be on Twitter, I chose to follow that brand and see what they have to say. I can stop following them at any point should I decide I don’t want to see their content anymore. It’s that easy. But over on Facebook, even if I like a brand and want to see what they have to say, I now have to work extra hard to see that because of a choice that wasn’t my own and I see that as being a bit unfair both to the brands that are working hard to give me stuff I like and to the consumers that have to work extra hard to interact with the brands that they want to.
    It’s fair to say that we do have to be more realistic in how we tell brands to act and what they can expect, but is it really fair to everyone? Is it fair to me as a consumer that wants to engage with a brand? And is it fair to the brands that work their butts off?
    I don’t have an answer, but I felt like I needed to say something after reading this post.

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  • http://www.socialfish.org/ maddiegrant

    A-bloody-men, brother!

  • http://fernandolabastida.com/ Fernando Labastida

    I’ve always been suspicious of the “I want to engage with my brand” siren call. However, I’m becoming a big believer in brands as media properties, such as Whole Foods’ Dark Rye magazine and Red Bull Media House. They’re trying to build their own platforms independent of Facebook and they seem to be succeeding.

  • http://recessiongardening.com Nicole Castle

    Sure, the changes are unwelcome for brands like Coca Cola or Nike. The big brands will have to massage their advertising budget. But for a little one or two person business or small local charity, the changes mean Facebook is not really worth their time and there’s no budget fluff to absorb the loss of reach The small guys will take themselves — and their personal social media activity — elsewhere.

  • augieray

    You and I posted almost the same message, but I am less inclined to let either the social experts or brand marketers (who both should have known better) off the hook.

    http://www.experiencetheblog.com/2014/04/ducking-responsibility-marketers-and.html

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  • http://www.socialidentities.com Hugh Briss

    Does this mean you won’t be exploring social media anymore?

  • Storewars News

    Nice
    read! Very informative. Did you know that? French Connection Retail Sales Rise
    11% In The UK, Europe. Full story here: http://on.fb.me/1hGbfsz

  • venkyiyer58

    I like this post. A lot of wisdom in hindsight, but that is the way the world is: if something looks promising, everything jumps first and looks later.

  • Jonathan_Trenn

    I was never much for the universal held belief that almost all brands must now “engage” with their “community”. That’s because most brands don’t have THAT many loyal customers/clients/users that seek out to be engaged with on a consistent basis.

    Having said that, and with Facebook’s change of its algorithms, I’m wondering is services such as GaggleAmp will be more important. Or will there be money simply moved over to ads?

    • http://www.industryinfographics.com/ Bill Roth

      I agree. I work in the oil and gas industry and balk at some of the social ‘gurus’ attempting to help these industrial companies build ‘community’ or ‘tribes’. Really? Is social media strategy a one-size fits all? No. There needs to be a legitimate business case, especially for B2B.

      It’s more about delivering useful content than ‘lets get social!’.

  • Jonathan Eyler-Werve

    Where’s the critique of building content and audience for platforms that can can arbitrarily set up a toll booth as soon as you start having success?

  • James

    You’ve brought up valid points in this article including a reminder that social media is an ever-changing medium. Using social media as a part of our PR and marketing plans requires that we constantly evaluate the platform as well as our intended audience on a much faster pace than in the past.

  • http://www.brand.com/blog James R. Halloran

    You are so right about non-human brands. No matter how you try to make a company a person — you can tax it, sue it, etc. — but it still won’t be accepted by people as a human because everyone knows deep down it’s a non-entity.

    In the case of Facebook, I don’t think their intent is to keep non-human brands from ending up in a human friend’s feed. I think it’s solely because they want a non-human brand to cough up “rent money” for being there.

    I think that’s their little way of “clearing out” their users’ newsfeeds; however, the end result is only going to hurt “human-as-brand” types because they don’t have the financial backing of a non-human entity. It’s strange how all this works, but it’s happening.

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  • Lucky

    Affected person Facebook, Post don’t believe its objective would be to keep non-human makes from ending up in the human friend’s give food to. I believe it really is exclusively general health want any non-human company to coughing up rent money” internet marketing there.
    Thanks………………….
    Social BookMarking site

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  • http://www.thesocialexec.com Ryon Harms

    Jason, thanks for helping me think this out. In some respects you’re right, but I think you’re missing a fundamental point here. It’s not that social media can’t help a company communicate a more human message, it’s that 99% of so-called social media experts ironically miss the whole point of social media. I wrote a blog post response to your post. http://wp.me/p4wF60-fA. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

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  • http://twitter.com/leslie Leslie Poston

    YES. “Anyone who had all their eggs in Facebook’s basket didn’t have a mature social media strategy to begin with”

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