Brands and Marketers Won’t Ruin Social Media – Consumers Will

There’s a popular saying that marketers ruin everything. As a marketer, I agree and disagree.

Yes, crappy marketing by brands, or crappy marketers in general, ruin social media. Yet that’s been true of any crappy marketing, and it’s not restricted to social media.

Let’s face it, crappy anything ruins something.

  • A crappy experience with a customer service adviser who’s having a bad day can ruin your perception of a brand;
  • A crappy meal can ruin your special evening;
  • A crappy update of your favourite movie series can ruin your fond memories of what came before (I’m looking at you, George Lucas!!!).

But for some reason, marketers and brands are coming in for special attention recently, with many articles across the web decrying how social media has been ruined by brands and marketers.

For me, though, it’s not marketers of brands who have ruined social media – it’s consumers. Specifically, consumers who say they want brands to be a certain way on social media, but their [consumer] actions don’t back that up.

Why Are Marketers Being Blamed for Social Media’s Descent?

As I mentioned at the start of this post, the belief that marketers ruin everything, especially social media, is pretty popular and widespread. Run a search on Google for the term “marketers ruined social media” and you’ll get almost half a million results.

Some of the posts and articles include titles like How Marketers Ruined Social Media, What It Takes to Succeed at Social Media, Is Marketing Ruining Social Media?, and Don’t Pee in the Pool: How Digital Marketers are Ruining Social Media.

Spot any recurring themes there?

In addition to these posts, my friend and co-author on Influence Marketing, Sam Fiorella, published an interesting post the other day titled Social Media Has Killed Consumer Trust.

Sam uses graphs from Student Monitor that shares how US college students make decisions. The most trusted resource was still friends and word-of-mouth, with “information on the Internet” coming in at less than half the word-of-mouth percentage.


The takeaway was that social media, because of brands and marketers and their method of sponsored content, placing importance on numbers of followers, and using fake influence scores to determine authority, has been ruined by lazy marketing and poorly implemented tactics.

And on that, I agree. But do the actions of lazy marketers (and I use that term loosely when speaking about some of these “professionals”), who put more emphasis on quick hit, low return campaigns speak for all of marketing and brand engagement strategies?


Much like you wouldn't blame the dog for the stink coming from the cat litter box, don't blame the wrong people for social media's perceived downfall.
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But it’s not just lazy marketing that’s to blame for social media’s so-called fall from grace – it’s consumers, and the demand for more personal and human interactions, and then crucifying the brands that do this.

Be Human, Except Don’t Be

One of the reasons social media was seen as turning point in the relationship between consumers and brands was that it finally allowed us, as consumers, to have a one-to-one conversation (or as close as) with the brands we do business with.

Yet, much like anything that affords people extra power, this can be (and is) abused. For example,

  • In 2011, social media guy CC Chapman went after Ragu in not just one blog post, but three, each one escalating a little more, because Ragu had reached out to Chapman about a new campaign they were doing involving dads, and Chapman took offense to the approach.

These are three early examples of consumers not only reacting to brands and their faux pas, but reacting in a way that essentially placed the brand in a no-win situation (just ask GAP when they crowdsourced a new logo on social media, and the response they got, for another one).

What each one does is show while consumers (even marketers are consumers away from the “day job”) want brands to be on social and be receptive, it’s actually more about being on social and on the consumer’s terms.

Does that sound like the kind of two-way interaction/relationship that social media was originally lauded for?

We All Need to Be Responsibly “Social”

Of course, times change. While social media may have been celebrated for its ability to connect consumers with brands, and vice versa, that relationship goal (or the perception of a relationship) has changed.

Eager to avoid a “social media fail” like the 89 million results a search for the term results in, brands lost their voices, and subsequently acquiesced to any and every little bit of criticism online. Even when brands were in the right, they’d apologize and advise they’d try do better.

The only thing to fear is fear itself. That, and being a brand on social media when the cards have been stacked against you before you even sit down at the table.
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Sensing this, consumers have become more vocal, and even when they’re in the wrong, the groupthink mentality kicks in and the social media consumer “wins” pretty much every time.

When this happens, we all lose. Brands pull back from social, and the research and intelligence that can be gathered to improve the customer experience is lost.

While we, as consumers might celebrate the fact our publicly available data and updates aren’t being mined by brands, is it actually a victory? If it means crappy marketing strategies and questionable approaches to privacy are concerned, yes, it is.

But if a brand is answering queries on social media, and the consumer still craps on them for daring to provide the right answer, is it really the brand at fault?

Is it really the marketer who’s at fault for tailoring ads, offers and campaigns that a consumer has specifically said they want, and then that same consumer complains about seeing the promotion in their social feed?

Like I said earlier, it’s become a no-win situation for both brands and marketers on social, even when they’re doing things the way consumers say they want things to be done.

Ironically, perhaps the lazy marketers have got it right. After all, if brands spend a sizeable amount of money and personalized approaches to please the consumer, and still get beaten down for it, why bother? Why not just spray and pray like the crappy marketers have been doing for years?

Why indeed.

If we really want social to be the place it can be, we need to stop crapping on brands that try to do it right. Otherwise, it won’t be marketers and brands that ruin social media – it’ll be us, the consumer, by turning it solely into a soapbox for the loud and brash bully.

And that never works out well for anyone…

Customer Service is Not the Same as Being Customer-Centric

Last year, for an ongoing period of three months, I tried to to resolve a payment issue with a national water heater service provider here in Canada.

When my wife and I moved home the previous summer, we switched from our current provider to Reliance, and took advantage of a special introductory offer that would see us receive nine months free rental.

Unfortunately, the sales guy completed the form incorrectly, and we only received eight months. Additionally, the payment amounts on the paperwork didn’t tally with the payment taken (early) from our bank.

So I contacted Reliance customer service – or attempted to. That’s where the fun began.

Why Would You Make Your Customers Dizzy?

On attempting to call Reliance, I was placed in the phone tree from hell.

  • Did I want French or English?
  • Did I want customer service, sales, technical support, billing, rental, overdue payments, or arrange an appointment?
  • Did I have an account or did I wish to create an account?
  • Did I wish to speak to an operator or automated message?

A-ha – the last option meant I was going to finally get somewhere, right? Wrong.

  • Do you wish to speak to a sales operator or a service operator?
  • Is this for your current bill or are you inquiring about payments?
  • Is this your account?

WTF?? Why would I call up to pay someone else’s account? This is getting ridiculous. But then the magic statement:

We are transferring you to an operator, please hold.

And, kudos to Reliance, they actually placed me through to an operator. Who promptly asked me for the account number I had just entered previously using the touchpad buttons on my phone that Reliance had told me to use!

Sense any frustration here? And this was the exact same process I’d gone through every time I’d called for the previous three months.

Add to that the fact that no-one called back with a resolution, even though that had been agreed between myself and Reliance’s customer service resolution team, and you might wonder about how customer service is defined at Reliance (or any other company that believes phone trees are still the answer).

What’s even more ironic is Reliance’s customer service statement on their website:

Our Vision:

We will change the way people think about our industries by providing vital products and services in innovative ways. Working together, we will lead the market in customer satisfaction.

A worthy mantra – except using a phone tree with about 100 branches isn’t exactly innovative, nor does it encourage “…leading the market in customer satisfaction.”

While Mandy Champagne, a supervisor on the Customer Solutions team, eventually reached out to me and credited the account with a goodwill gesture of an extra month’s usage, the whole experience was frustrating and made me reconsider our decision to move to Reliance.

It doesn’t need to be this way, either.

Becoming Agile With Customer-Centric Service

Back in 2010, I was tasked with a client’s customer satisfaction rating. They were a call centre for a leading smartphone provider, and their rating was awful. Since I’d led customer service teams back in the U.K. with leading mobile telco O2, the client was hoping I could improve their own team’s performance.

After reviewing their set-up, the problem became instantly clear – they were wasting too much time on the little things, and the big issues were being left unresolved because of this.

Add in the fact their phone tree was even more archaic than the Reliance example I used earlier, and it wasn’t too surprising customers were hanging up and going elsewhere.

The solution was simple – become agile and use better tools to provide a truly customer-centric experience.

The social media solution

My team discovered that around 80% of the problems were simple, relatively minor calls. How to set up voicemail, how to access the app store, etc. We also discovered that many of the customers were on social networks, especially Twitter.

So we allocated around 20% of the call centre team to Twitter to answer these questions, and we had direct links to FAQs and graphic guides to direct the customer to. The result – dropped call stats fell by half, and customer satisfaction rating went up by 67%.

The channel solution

As well as the social media approach, we implemented a survey of our client’s customers, either when they called in, by direct email, or via Twitter (sharing a link to the survey). This was to determine how they would like the resolution team to contact them.

This ensured two things – the social team could concentrate on the small stuff while the resolution team not only worked with the customer directly, but on their preferred channel (phone, email, letter, etc.). This was a key moment in the strategy, and saw the client win an award in both customer rating and escalated call resolution.

The pro-active solution

As well as using Twitter for dealing with simple issues, we also trained the technical service team to use social monitoring platforms. This allowed them to take control of any mentions of the brand negatively, and jump into the conversation to see how they could help, as well as arrange a solution.

We also monitored how the customer had been treated at one of the client’s resellers; and we monitored competitor conversations and directed the sales team to potential leads.

The result – new activations increased by just over 30%, and better education tools were sent out to resellers. Additionally, tech calls dropped by 14% in the first six months, since the tech support team were handling and solving issues online.

And the client phone tree that had previously been in use? That was restructured to three simple choices – customer service, tech support and sales. Simple, clean, and direct to a relevant company agent.

Since 2010, the client has continued to improve processes and is regularly cited as one of the best in class in the mobile communications market for customer service and best practices using social media.

Your Customers Are Your Brand

The example with the mobile client isn’t a unique one, nor were the solutions anything majorly innovative – it was simply a matter of looking at what was going wrong, and turning the company into a truly customer-centric one.

We can talk all we want about great marketing initiatives, and crisis communications, and how cool our products are – but if none of that rubs off on our customers, we won’t be talking about the cool stuff for very long.

Customer service, and how you treat your customers, is the biggest, most organic method of marketing your brand will ever use. Frustrate them, and you will lose them. Work with them, and you will build advocacy more effective than any marketing or customer acquisition budget could ever hope to offer a return on.

Your customers are your brand – and you wouldn’t let your brand suffer, would you?

Why We Shouldn’t Confuse Real Time Marketing with Data Driven Marketing

When I was a teen, back in the 80’s – yes, I’m old – there was this bakery just off my local high street.

It was a family-owned bakery, and had a mix of fancies, pastries, bread and sweets (candy, in North America). While the goods being sold were a great mix, and kept the bakery successful, it was what the owner did to keep it that way that interested me (and probably instilled the first concept of marketing to my subconscious).

If there was a sports match on, he’d make small cakes in both team colours. Nothing new there. Except when a team took the lead, he’d quickly put little sad faces on the cakes of the losing team, and sell those at a discount to cheer the losers up.

It didn’t hurt that the bakery was two doors down from a pub, and he’d send his help into the bar to sell the new cakes, with the challenge to make the other team wear the sad faces.

When the game finished, he’d invariably give the remaining cakes away to the losers, and he’d have baked a bigger cake in the shape of the winning team’s mascot for them to eat for free when leaving the bar (for afternoon games).

This is just one example of some of the cool things he’d do on the fly. Royal weddings? Check. Huge charity events like Live Aid? Check.

For every major event, as well as local sporting ones, he and his bakers would be on the ball, making something essentially on the fly to take advantage of the occasion. Sound familiar?

Real-Time Marketing or Old School Initiative?

In February 2013, the lights went out at the Super Bowl. Oreo Cookie famously took advantage of it with a quick creative that they posted on Twitter.

Twitter   Oreo  Power out  No problem. ...

As you can see from the image, it received almost 16,000 retweets, and was favourited 6,400 times. It received praise from various publications, and was used by many social media consultants as the dawn of real-time marketing.

Except, it wasn’t really real-time.

While there’s no doubt it was a masterful stroke of quick thinking and marketing on the day, it was more than just that. The Oreo team and their social media agency had been strategizing for the previous 18 months on how to effectively use the medium, in order to celebrate the brand’s 100th birthday.

Cue the power outage, cue the result of being ready to act and the ensuing praise.

Yet as deserving as Oreo and their team was of the praise, it wasn’t the start of real-time marketing, despite the best efforts of those consultants trying to capitalize on the new darling phrase and charge clients more for the benefit.

Real-Time Marketing, Before Social Media

The funny thing with social media is it often makes marketers – or at least, digital marketers – forget there was ever a time before 2006, when the words “social media” and “marketing” were beginning to be used together more.

Yet for those purporting real-time marketing as the latest new child in the social media-led school of business firsts, they might want to look a little bit further back.

Over at the evergage blog, Rob Carpenter shares his thoughts on where real-time marketing first became more visible, based on search terms and traffic spikes on Google Trends.

Real time marketing web search

The blue line relates to “real time marketing” while the red line relates to “web personalization”, or the ability to personalize your business website based on traffic, demographic, cultural offers, seasonal specials and more.

As digital marketing via e-commerce and landing pages was growing (personalization), so was the need to be able to quickly put together offers that would initiate your desired call to action (CTA). This speed to create was the same as today’s real-time marketing, except today we have better tools to do it with.

As the blue line shows, there was a huge initial spike back in 2005, then a steady rise since 2007 (as social media filtered its way to the mass market).

Real-Time or Data Driven Marketing?

You only need to look at the clamour by brands to offer the coolest celebration of the Royal birth of Prince William and Duchess Kate’s baby to see how big the “business of real-time marketing” has become.

Yet the problem with real-time marketing – or at least, the version brands are trying to emulate but often failing at – is it’s too fast for its own good, and is simply trying to take advantage of a major news story without thinking through how that brand fits.

The beauty of the original Oreo tweet at the Super Bowl is it had been planned meticulously. Perhaps not the tweet itself, but certainly the message, the way it appeals to Oreo aficionados, and the execution.

Because it was based on data the brand knew about its audience.

And this is where the real value of real-time marketing comes into play, and has been used for as long as the first business owner thought on their feet on ways to beat their competition, and bring customers to their store versus a competitor’s.

It’s exactly the point David Meerman Scott makes in his book, Real-Time Marketing and PR, published in 2010. In both the book and on his blog, Scott shares examples of the best types of real-time marketing that don’t hype themselves by using the phrase.

Just look at how the airlines adapt to ensure there are rarely empty flights, and how they can change pricing on the fly to sell unsold seats. Or look at the way Amazon has redefined the customer experience to ensure every visit is optimized to offer products and services that truly interest the visitor.

This isn’t the result of some buzzword – instead, it’s taking years of data and research about customers, their buying patterns, their purchase life cycles, and their value to a brand, and utilizing it into offers and timely promotions that make sense.

It’s like my hometown baker with his winning cakes, regardless of the victor on the sports field that day.

There’s no doubt that real-time marketing, when done well, can provide a mix of viral buzz and sales success. But let’s not be mistaken that it’s a new tactic, nor is it the saviour of marketing today.

The saviour of marketing today, much like the saviour of any business strategy, is and will remain simple – know your customer, understand what makes them tick, use the data you have on top of the data you’re continuously gathering, and integrate all of that into something called “marketing strategy”.

You might be surprised at the results, real-time or otherwise.

image: evergage

The Sunday Share: How to Use Social Media to Grow Your Business

As a business resource, Slideshare stands pretty much head and shoulders above most other content platforms.

From presentations to educational content and more, you can find information and curated media on pretty much any topic you have an interest in.

As a research solution, Slideshare offers analysis from some of the smartest minds on the web across all verticals. These include standard presentations, videos, multimedia and more.

Which brings us to this week’s Sunday Share.

Every week or so, I’ll be sharing a presentation that catches my eye and where I feel you might be interested in the information inside. These will range from business to content to social media to marketing and more.

This week, an excellent and insightful presentation from Robert Clarke, partner at Op Ed Marketing, a digital agency that helps businesses attract, convert and keep customers.

Social media continues to evolve in the ways businesses can use it to meet their goals. In this presentation, Robert delves into just how businesses can use social media for their own needs.


Six Simple Ways to Measure Owned, Earned and Paid Social Media ROI

There’s a popular misconception that it’s difficult to use targeted metrics to measure your social media ROI. Not true.

Nor is social media only good for measuring an increase in brand awareness, although that’s definitely a measurement gauge.

The fact is, social media can offer some of the best metrics for measuring your ROI. All you need to do is set your success guides—what you want to achieve and how long you want to spend achieving it—then measure your results against that.

Here are six simple metrics for the main networks  to measure your social media ROI – financial and brand – across earned, owned and paid media.

Blogger Outreach

A key component of many (if not most) social media campaigns, blogger outreach programs can offer some of the best mileage and results of any marketing tactic. Measuring your success isn’t too difficult, either. All you have to do is determine the answers to the following questions:

  • How many bloggers wrote about you?
  • How many comments did these posts receive?
  • How many social shares did the post get?
  • What was your traffic pre- and post-outreach?
  • How much product did you have to provide for bloggers versus how many sales you received?


One of the stalwarts for any product launch, service or business, Twitter not only offers instant eyeballs but great returns as well. Again, measuring your impact is relatively simple:

  • What was your retweet value (cost of manpower/resources versus follower who takes action)?
  • How often was your hashtag used?
  • How many times was your vanity URL used?
  • How many new (genuine) followers did you get while your promotion was on?
  • If you used something like Sponsored Tweets, what was the cost versus the click-through and conversion?


Although it has its critics (including me), Facebook offers some great built-in tools as well as demographic options to help gauge a campaign:

  • How many new worthwhile fans did you make versus how many you targeted?
  • How many times was your promotion message liked/acted on?
  • If you built a Facebook application, how many times was it installed or shared?
  • Were you successful in reaching your target demographic? (Facebook Insights can help you here)?
  • How much did you spend on a Facebook ad, and how did click-throughs and new sales/customers compare?


While brand pages are still being judged on their effectiveness on Google+, and in-line Google Ads are complementing Google+ content, there are ways to measure your current activity there:

  • Has your profile on search, and resulting traffic to your site, been raised because of your use of Google+?
  • How many Circles have you been added to?
  • How many Plus Ones are your comments and discussions receiving?
  • How active is your community?
  • How many Ripples are your discussions creating?
  • How many attendees are taking part in your Hangouts?

YouTube and Other Video Sites

More than just a fun place to see kids hurt themselves on bikes, YouTube is a key tool in any marketing campaign now—just ask the companies that used it to such effect during this year’s Super Bowl.


Here are the questions you should be asking:

  • How many views did you get?
  • How many Likes/Upvotes and Favorites did you receive?
  • How many downloads did you get (on video sites that allow downloads)?
  • How many embeds has your video seen elsewhere on the Web?
  • How many subscribers did your channel attract?
  • If your video had a call to action with a vanity URL, how many times did people click through?
  • How many social shares did you get across networks your target demographic use?


As marketing evolves, the different ways to reach an audience combine to create new outlets. Mobile marketing is the perfect complement to social marketing, and measurement can easily be achieved:

  • Did you use a push SMS system to drive traffic to a mobile-friendly site? If so, how many views did that account for?
  • Did you use QR codes, and if so, how many times were they used?
  • How many downloads did your mobile app receive?
  • How many check-ins were used on Gowalla and Foursquare?
  • What was the most popular operating system? (This can tell you a lot about your audience’s demographic and buying options.)

These six metrics offer just some of the immediate ways you can measure how successfully your social media goals were met. There are more still, including monitoring tools and more defined analytics. Which ones you use will  depend on the goals you’ve set and how you define success.

No matter how you collect the information you need, it all comes down to comparing man hours and financial outlay to your return to see how successful you were.

It’s important to remember that a lot of marketing can come down to luck and circumstance as much as brilliant strategy—timing and a welcoming audience are key.

But the one thing you can control is measurement, and with social media and mobile marketing, measuring the metrics has never been easier.

So what’s the excuse?