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09/24/2012 Are you buying what Facebook is selling?


My favorite social media profile these days is one called Condescending Corporate Branding. It satires how major brands manage their Facebook pages. The philosophy is simple: In social media, brands treat people like they’re idiots, and most people don’t seem to mind. 

The beauty of Condescending Corporate Brand is how they share photos posted by major multinational brands. Of course none of these posts has anything remotely in common with what the the brand sells. Which is why they’re so absurd.

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The bigger question in all of this is: why are brands doing this? The reason is simple. Brands on social media have chosen to measure their success through metrics that have nothing to do with the brand or its business.

Brands on Facebook focus on “engagement.” That means that you want as many people responding to your posts as possible. The solution for doing that is formulaic

  1. Get as many followers on Facebook by any means possible.
  2. Post anything that will get likes or comments. Pictures of cats, for example.

Now, this strategy might be smart if you’re Pet Food Warehouse. But for anything else, it seems like a complete waste of energy. I’m waiting for the data that shows that liking stupid stock photography increases sales. 

I think brands do this for a number of reasons. Truly integrating your business into social media is hard. It takes work and internal change is very difficult. Finding pictures of cats or waterfalls on Shutterstock is easy (and cheaper).  Getting lots of likes and interactions looks good on monthly reports. When you show the marketing director and senior management those numbers, they fell pleased, even proud, that they’ve been so smart to approve the social initiative.

Smarter brands, though, are looking more closely at how social impacts the business. For example, American Eagle added a Like button next to every product on its site and found that Facebook referred visitors spent and average of 57% more money than non-Facebook referred visitors. I’m betting the referral wasn’t a cute picture of a Mom and a kid.

One of the biggest drivers for brands missing the focus and opportunity here is that Facebook itself is the biggest influencer in promoting Likes and Engagement. That’s really the main currency Facebook has; when it sells itself to brands, it’s selling Likes and Engagement metrics. Unsophisticated consumers that they are, brands and marketers snap this up faster than TV viewers snap up Sham Wows.

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The other big driver, in my opinion, is the reliance on social media agencies to run big brands social presences. The outside agency will never have the internal, on the ground intelligence that you get from working within a company. The relationship itself makes it impossible for the vendor to push for meaningful social business inside the company. Instead, social agencies take the easy way out, getting clients hooked on Likes and Engagement and then feeding that habit through fill in the blank posts and word puzzles.

Someone once said: to change your vision of success, change what you measure.

That’s why every social marketer should be watching Condescending Corporate Branding Facebook page. All social marketers should pledge to do the opposite of what you're seeing there.

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