The Scary Side of Social Media Marketing

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emmadavis | Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Filed under: Editorial Page, Social Media Tips & Advice, Technology

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When you market a brand, connecting with customers is a top priority. This is why so many companies have shifted their online marketing strategies to include more and more social media marketing efforts. Between the big names–Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, to name a few–and the myriad smaller, newer social networking sites, most businesses can find a happy medium of community-building and greater exposure. However, social media marketing is one of the least controllable areas of online marketing, meaning once a campaign is set in motion there may be no going back. Here are some ways your company can avoid joining the dark side of social media marketing.

Be Careful With Self-Promotion

The first thing most companies do when crafting a social media strategy is to consider how the publicity will help the product. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be bothering, right? Still, it pays to tread carefully when it comes to posting positive comments and reviews on your own social media pages. If visitors to your community are aware that some contributors to your site might be biased employees, you may have the opportunity to wield more influence in discussion due to your knowledge of the product and deeper understanding of your best-selling pitch. However, if you think you’ll be able to add anonymous comments or reviews to social media promotions of your product, think again. Think carefully! You’re going down a dangerous path when you try to pull the wool over your consumer’s eyes. Today’s internet users are a savvy bunch and chances are if you’re trying to fool your customers, the joke will end up being on you. Can you imagine a worse fallout to a social media campaign than having your most glowing accolades be exposed as coming from a member of your staff? For a painfully perfect example of this you can refer to Honda’s Facebook promotion of their Crosstour model last year, in which users immediately recognized Honda’s Manager of Product Planning when he complimented the unpopular CUV model.

Don’t Expect Full Control

When you plan a social media marketing strategy, your goal should be increased awareness of your brand and product. In the days of traditional advertising tactics, a brand had total message control over advertising campaigns and the image presented to the consumer. In today’s turbulent marketing atmosphere, you’d better be prepared for your marketing pitch to shift and transform before your eyes as your customers consume it. This means having the foresight to spot potential problems long before they have a chance to unfold, but also the patience to accept that once a campaign is in motion, it’s out of your control. This means you had better be thoughtful and truthful when it comes to your promotions, promising only what you know you can deliver and delivering more than that if you can. Some companies immediately think “contest” when planning social media marketing campaigns. While this strategy is a proven way to generate buzz and instigate web-wide sharing of your message, you have to be prepared to be happy with the results, no matter what they might be. You might get only a few entries and you’ll still have to deliver on the prize you promised. Contrastingly, your company might not be thrilled with the outcome of a contest, but you had better be willing to go with it and learn from your mistakes rather than getting your hands dirty trying to ‘fix’ the situation. We can all learn from the painful backlash that computer manufacturer Asus experienced after altering the method of judging a blogging contest when they weren’t happy with the popular winner. It goes to show that a little criticism here and there is a much smaller public relations issue to deal with than fixing a supposedly objective competition.

Start Embracing Those Skeletons In The Closet

Why a company with shady practices and a history of consumer backlash would participate in social media marketing is beyond me, and yet so many companies trying to improve their image do just that. Social media marketing provides you with an incredibly direct communication with your customers, but you must never forget that this is a two-way street. While you can display whatever happy message you’d like, you had better be prepared for every allegation of poor conduct that has ever been lobbed at you to rear its ugly head once more. This has never been more true now that so many social networks don’t even require a site-specific username and password. Because you can log into just about any site these days with your Facebook, Twitter or Yahoo! usernames, most visitors don’t even have to register before leaving a comment. This means the second you’ve given consumers a forum to speak their minds, you’d better be prepared for them to do so. Customers with bones to pick with a company have never had a better opportunity to be heard and to support the criticisms other users may post. It’s too easy to say that only companies with spotless reputations should take advantage of social media marketing. Rather, companies with past PR problems can use social media as a way to apologize for these previous allegations and put the spotlight on these issues as a work in progress, instead of attempting to contain all these skeletons in their crowded closets. You may remember the social media marketing disaster that Nestle faced after creating a Facebook fan page only to be met by fervent criticism of some of its practices. Rather than using the crisis as an opportunity to spin the bad publicity into something positive, Nestle responded by cracking down on critics and banning certain anti-Nestle images and sentiments from the Facebook page. The company even went as far claiming copyright infringement on anti-Nestle videos on YouTube in an attempt to have the content removed. It just goes to show that while consumers may have criticisms of your company that you don’t want to hear, it is never, ever the right move to react with censorship.

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Whatever You Do, Don’t Get Defensive

Using social media marketing campaigns can be a great way for a company to learn humility and grace under fire thanks to the constant stream of consumer input available to a brand with a social media presence. So if you decide to embark on a social media marketing effort, make sure you can stand the heat without needing to get out of the kitchen. Social media marketing opens your brand up to more visibility than a simple website and traditional methods of online marketing ever could before. This is of course a double-edged sword in that your greater numbers of visitors will include both supporters and naysayers. This is what free use of the internet is all about, and if you ask me, it’s good for consumers to hold brands accountable for the messages they use in their marketing. Many companies are not prepared, however, for the way criticism can spread like wildfire. Everyone knows that a customer with a positive experience tells three people, while one with a negative experience tells nine. When the internet comes into play, that negative experience has faster legs than ever and will reach users who may have never even heard of your product before. It can be difficult to respond to these critiques but it’s crucial that you do so, and in a non-defensive manner. Customers already view most companies as big corporations with only their own interests in mind; it’s your job as a brand to use social media marketing to dispel this myth. You’ll never be able to do that, unfortunately, if you can’t accept criticism without getting defensive. This means responding in a civil and helpful manner wherever possible, and proactively fighting the negative press with positive content for your visitors to consume. It’s far easier to keep customers that you’ve won over after a moment of negativity than it is to attempt to keep all your users in the dark about criticism against you. We can learn from the example of poor response behavior set by Tiger Airways after users posted complaints on their newly-created Facebook page. Rather than actively participating in discussions to learn what was bothering their users, the company chose to remove negative posts from the page and ban users that seemed to hold a grudge against them. The internet is just too big a sandbox for any company to lose its cool over a handful of negative responses; before you know it you’ll be dealing with outrage over censorship rather than a thoughtful, if criticizing, conversation.

Has your company ever suffered from social media marketing gone astray? Leave a comment with your experience, and get in touch for a free consultation on how to best implement successful methods of social media marketing that will work for your company.

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