There is no doubt that social media networks have changed our lives. We are able to communicate with each other at the click of a button and can capture and share moments instantly. However, something about this interconnectivity is still unable to reach its full potential. Why do we find ourselves scrolling through oceans of Facebook status updates before bedtime like zombies? Why are our Instagram feeds little more than a bland collage of cats, dinners, and feet on beaches?
Although it is well on its way to creating quality discourse, inspiring social engagement, and changing global paradigms, social media is a constantly changing route of communication. It can only be expected that despite all the good things social media offers, people fall into the trap of online voyeurism, banality, and emotional numbness. If tweets, status updates, and photographs left by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram shine light on how people are awkwardly adjusting to new routes of communication, the same evidence creates a much harsher reality and challenge for businesses attempting social media marketing.
Business owners, listen up: there’s a pink elephant in the room, and you know it. There are plenty of articles out there telling businesses that good social media marketing requires sincere engagement, one-on-one relationships, and quality content generation. What nobody seems to be admitting, however, is that these very efforts to be as altruistic as possible online can turn on a business and mercilessly define it as a manipulative and insincere organization.
There is one main reason that social media marketing inherently seems so repulsively desperate to the average social media user: people are innately in tune with their level of engagement on social media websites. People aren’t using Facebook or Twitter to invest in new products—instead, they are using it to socialize in a quick, convenient and therefore essentially surface-level way. You don’t have to be a genius to know that on such a limited platform (sometimes 140 characters or less), you won’t make the deepest and most meaningful conversation.
This level of engagement is further explored by Malcom Gladwell in “Small Change”, an article in The New Yorker. Gladwell explains social media engagement versus real-world engagement as the “strong-tie” vs. “weak-tie” phenomenon. If you are emotionally and physically invested in your cause (like marching in a protest), you are creating a strong tie. Social media platforms, however, develop weak ties. Social media users are only provided with intangible profiles and character-limits: they interact on a less personal level than they would face-to-face, and do not have the capacity to engage physically. Social network users can increase their participation but they do so because the level of motivation required for participation is much lower than is required to make a decision in the real world. So, someone can “like” your business’ facebook page—but physically visiting your office to sign up for your services requires an entirely different level of authenticity and engagement that isn’t even expected on social media platforms.
It’s those distinct boundaries of expectation on social media networks that create tricky situations for social media marketers. For the most part, people do not view social media platforms as areas for purchasing or taking real-life action: people see them as tools to foster social circles and information-gathering. So a user might not see a business reaching out to them as an organization attempting to sincerely engage people in their service: they might see the business’ initiative as a pathetic attempt to make headway in a saturated medium. Earnest and committed approaches like engaging individuals by replying to comments, responding to tweets, creating content that fosters conversation, and posting Instagrams that give a “face” to the business can fail to communicate a business’ desire to connect with people—instead, social media users might see them as evidence of just how committed social media marketers are to disguising their profit-based motives. To a suspicious social media user, all those levels of a business’ engagement can be viewed as a lie: a cold-hearted, two-faced attempt to make profit off of people by pretending to care.
However, not all is lost. Social media marketers are still figuring out how to conduct themselves honorably and efficiently – a balance between the personal and the impersonal, the formal and the informal, the quiet observer and the loud communicator. It takes time and experience to figure out what the ideal balance is.
So now, we’d like to hear what you think.
How can we be the best social media marketers we can?
Is it worth investing in social media marketing?
What is preventing social media from reaching its full potential, and how can we push it forward?