Has Zuckerberg got us Suckerberged?


…What part of ‘social’ media don’t brands get?

I recently had to serve up a ‘proverbial’ sandwich, telling someone that they didn’t get a gig they particularly wanted. Obviously, this is not the first time I’ve needed to do this but when the person is a friend and an industry figure (celebrity), it adds a layer of complexity. His response however surprised me and got me thinking. “That’s why they call it “show-business and not show-friends” he said happily. Clearly he’d dealt with this type of news before and has learnt to distinguish between a friendship and what is essentially a business call.

So why can’t (or won’t) marketers distinguish or accept that brands aren’t necessarily welcome at a social media party. They persist on actively seeking out and evangelising their message to anyone they can socially corner. Surely they know no one likes a crasher let alone a pesky close-talking crasher.

2007 was the first major attempt by Facebook to engage advertisers and get them to spend serious money on social media. Back then Mark Zuckerberg announced “The next 100 years are going to be different for advertisers, starting today”. “For the last 100 years media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation.”

His speech ushered in an unprecedented period of change in the marketing industry around the world. Suddenly advertising was old hat and the very agencies that created the ads were on the nose. The future of marketing was about having a “conversation” and “engaging” with consumers rather than simply advertising to them. Australian brands embraced this vision of communities and engagement more than most countries and hundreds of millions of dollars was spent on Facebook, Twitter and a host of other digital platforms to engage with target consumers.

There was only one problem. The only people who really wanted to engage with brands were marketers and the agencies that worked for them. Australian consumers used social media extensively but, as the name suggests, they used it to engage with others in a social sense and not with brands in an advertising sense. Today more than two thirds of Australians do not actively follow any brands on social media and those that do average five brands or less. Given there are still thirteen thousand brands out there trying to engage them these are spectacularly disappointing results. But it has not stopped marketers, especially those who are still living in the fevered, oversold era of social media marketing, circa 2007, to keep trying.

In reality, Facebook and Twitter have long moved on. Neither talks about dialogues or communities now. They have developed far more effective, standard methods of advertising in which they’ve essentially become another media channel like Channel 7, 9 or TEN or any of the print publications. But there are those who still persevere the non-tenable vision of marketing to social communications.

Of course there are some spectacular examples of when social media actually succeeds in engaging its target consumers and creating discourse with them; that is when it goes terribly wrong. The recent history of social media is littered with disastrous hashtags that have only served to exacerbate the situation they were designed to allay: #QantasLuxury, #McDStories, #AskBG and now #YourTaxis joins the pantheon of disastrous tweets that only went viral because they were so damaging to the company behind them.

In my view Zuckerberg had us all Suckerberged! Almost 9 years later agencies are still creating ads for mainstream media, which includes internet streaming, that consumers are still like it or not “engaging” with.

Call me yesterday’s hero but I’m yet to be convinced that anything can build a brand and sell something faster than BIG media!


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