The Consumer Versus Brand Conflict In Social Media

by Jason Falls |

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 the Author

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).