Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Simon Esler, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of ConvoNation.

As companies become increasingly pressured to move towards greater transparency, social media users are becoming more and more aware of how social networking environments are being utilized to either encourage their awareness of brands, products and services, or to gather information for target marketing. As someone who works in social media I am obviously also a committed user, and I have to say that these two parts of me have often felt both at odds and strangely ready to collaborate.

I can say that as an avid user of social media, part of me has always been a little bit disgruntled about highly targeted marketing that’s supposedly zeroing in on me, possibly even more so for writing this blog. We all get feelings that range from disgust to honest surprise when we glance at an ad that seems to be targeting our online personalities and is either eerily accurate or completely oblivious. Regardless, the sense that some sneaky, behind the scenes calculations are delivering this particular content to our digital doorsteps has never quite left me.

Tug of War

Image by daftgirly via Flickr

That being said I have always been one to resolve conflict. Maybe it’s the middle child in me, maybe it’s my desire to see social media reach a greater potential, or maybe I’m just sick of seeing these two sides of myself at odds. Either way I sympathize with the marketing side of things, and I certainly understand the fact that most social media sites are free because they generate data sets that have actual value.

But I can’t help but dream of a more honest situation, in which users are wholly accepting of the presence of brands who are seeking their attention and/or money, while marketing campaigns step down from the “jam this in your face while you surf” platform towards something more humble, and up front. Perhaps this sounds like an idealistic concept to both sides of the argument, but I’m going to keep this rant positive for now and forge on.

Imagine if you will a space that empowers users to directly engage with brands whose online presence is, so far, mostly de-humanized ad campaigns. How? By greatly helping users to refine their own personal brands. That’s what social media is letting everyday people do after all. It is one long exercise in personal branding. If companies are being forced into greater transparency then what better way to move into this than to enter an environment that is designed for them to directly engage user generated criticism and support? We all know that user-based brand advocates emerge when the right circumstances are created, but beyond that there is something to be said about a company that enters a space with the wisdom to also be seeking brand critics. And not just any old brand critics, but the ones who go out of their way to pinpoint glaring issues with eloquence and accuracy.

Now, surprisingly(!) both the part of me that sympathizes with the marketing side of things and my user-friendly self happen to work at ConvoNation.com. As a co-founder of the company I cannot say that we have this dream space realized yet. I will, however, say that even in Beta we have carefully planted the seeds for just such an environment to grow. We believe that knowledge is an ongoing conversation and I can only say that we truly feel passionate about both sides here.

It’s important that the world of social media begin to reflect two things: the ever-expanding empowerment of users to brand themselves and generate meaningful content, and the increasing transparency of brands and companies in the eyes of the public. But it’s not enough that each of these things is already happening in certain spaces, this needs to occur in the same space around the idea that the direct engagement between users and brands is an interesting and meaningful experience for both sides, not just in focus groups, but publicly.

Sigh.

Like I said, maybe this is an exercise in easing my own inner turmoil. The Don Draper in me sees the opportunity, and the righteous consumer in me would certainly appreciate a more honest situation, but for now it’s going to have to continue to be the proverbial carrot that I dangle in front of myself to keep motivated. Either way there is no doubt in my mind that the empowered, self-branded consumer is going to meet head to head with brand advocates and CEO’s that have been shoved into an arena which demands something more of both parties.

With these changes in mind, those of us working in the world of social media may want to consider taking a more diplomatic approach when engaging the evolving tension between consumers and brands. What do you think?

Simon Esler, Co-Founder & Managing Parter of ConvoNation, has developed a specialized skill set that allows him to approach any situation with an open mind. As a high concept site, ConvoNation offers many unique difficulties, ranging from issues of design and interface to marketing and branding. These challenges are what Simon thrives on. He is also engaged in a number of other endeavors, including providing one on one meditation services, and performing with Mysteriously Yours Theatre in Toronto. Connect with Simon on ConvoNation, or @convonation on Twitter.

 

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He 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 CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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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://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

    Hi Simon,Great post. I feel that Social Media is the cheapest and the most effective option of connecting with potential customers. It is certainly here to stay. It is important that the business decides before hand what they want to acheive – Branding, Word Of Mouth, or Just Sales…and then take the approach that best matches these goals…

  • Ying

    With social media, everyone can be a publisher and a reporter, not only at individual life level, but at a social level that empowered public can make world changes by utilizing social media, call for transparency and democracy. This is not what an organization could ignore, and more important, utilizing social media strategically to increase brand awareness, to build socially responsible image,  to not only reach but communicate with public should be included in the future plan of an  organization. Social media is such an efficient way for communication, ROI on social media might be an interesting topic to discuss.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Pinto/100002498220096 Joel Pinto

    Hi, Simon. I wouldn’t say you are dreaming. It’s possible and I do believe it’s the direction in which we are all going. Companies should realize market is different today from what it was a few years ago, when consumers didn’t have a voice. Not they do and they do want to be listened to, and want to relate with other on a transparent way. And that’s good for everybody. I am certain social media is a wonderful venue for businesses, as long as they understant the new set of rules. Nice post. Congrats! :-D

  • http://buyrealfacebookfans.com Gracearreza2007

    I agree with @facebook-100002498220096:disqus  – Social media is all over the world and entrepreneurs must adopt that ways…

  • http://buyrealfacebookfans.com Gracearreza2007

    I agree with @facebook-100002498220096:disqus  – Social media is all over the world and entrepreneurs must adopt that ways…

  • http://www.facebook.com/apex.pacific Apex Pacific

    Interest to read your article. Simon:)
    I agree that  the world of social media begin to reflect two things: the ever-expanding empowerment of users to brand themselves and generate meaningful content, and the increasing transparency of brands and companies in the eyes of the public.

  • http://twitter.com/BrandRanter Sean Duffy

    Great post Simon. As a fellow middle child, I too was torn. But I’ve past my conflict period. I’m at the point where I want brands to know more about me but would like more control over what they know. As it is, they are mining all sorts of info anyhow to target their messages. Most of the time they get it wrong and that means every day I am bombarded with marketing that is completely irrelevant to me. So I love your idea of helping them understand me in a more transparent manner. I think your idea could be win-win. See also: http://bit.ly/kGO3Vy

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  • Simon Esler

    Well….two months later! Thanks for the input ladies and gentlemen. Sean that’s a great article. I think you’re right in that it’s time for both sides to do something that, before now, felt very counter intuitive. Foif we r brands their not able to create a brand like a shell, it’s gotta be true to the core, and for the individual consumer it’s the wisdom to perceive what you have aptly pointed out, and what that article so clearly iterates, that if we become more conscious and active in offering a relevant info then we stand to benefit greatly.