The Scary Side of Social Media - Social Media Explorer
The Scary Side of Social Media
The Scary Side of Social Media

Shallow. Transparent.  Contrived.  No, I’m not talking about the latest pop-star train wreck.  I’m talking about the scary side of social media, where popularity rules!  It can be downright frightening at times.

Like it or not, social media is about popularity contests — that which is popular is shared, and consequently, discovered.

Because of that, many brands approach the channel as a mere numbers game. Rather than focusing on content that will deliver the best user experience, they push material that will generate the biggest engagement numbers. This thinking makes me want to scream at times!


Check Me OutUnfortunately, the popularity contest driven climate of social media has caused many brands to rely on some shallow tactics.

Just like candidates on the campaign trail, brands are out stumping in hopes of winning our votes in the form of likes and tweets. They shamelessly play the social media game with obvious pandering — using shallow, transparent, and contrived tactics to win the popularity contest.

Worst still, some of these approaches are kind of creepy – they are designed to prey upon our ego, need for attention, and other human traits.  In other words, brands pander to our weaknesses in order to win our hearts, minds, and money.

Yikes! Watch Where You “Stoop”!

But resorting to such tactics only makes brands look like they’re playing the “lame game” instead.  In fact, there’s a great Facebook page that lampoons brands for their weak efforts. It highlights popular “winning” tweets such as “Retweet if you love bunnies!” and “Long weekend ahead. What’s your plan?”

Dell 4 Breakfast

In the same way, brands also pander to their audience with “ego-baiting.” This tactic allows them to capitalize on the human need to show-off.  The use of brain teasers is a good example of this. Brands post such challenges, but they make the puzzle easy so they can stroke followers’ egos! After all, they don’t want to make them feel stupid — we humans are vain and fragile creatures!

 Tropicana Makes Me Smart

But many brands are willing to stoop much lower  – they turn to pop culture! The fact that a trending topic has zero relevance to their brand is of little concern to them. Their approach seems to be if you really want to boost your brand engagement metrics, take whatever dumb fad you just heard about and relate your product to it in a totally meaningless way! And it’s okay if you’re four years late to the party — you’ll score nostalgia points!

 Twix Late to the Party

You’ve Been Warned!

While such tactics are shallow, they are also considered effective. So, who can blame marketers for using them if they actually produce results–especially since it’s the users who reward and encourage brands by engaging with such trite content in the first place.

Courtney Seiter of Raven Tools refers to some of these shallow tactics as “Yellow Light Social Media” – they can be effective when done right, but potentially damaging if you fail or miss the mark.

I agree with her assessment, but recommend they be used with caution. It seems that failing isn’t scary enough for some brands. That’s because they don’t perceive the risk for serious damage, so they aren’t motivated to use these tactics in a dignified manner. From their perspective, a best case scenario would get them a bunch of random engagement. In a worst case scenario, they get a handful of random engagement and maybe one jerk calling them out for it.

Monsters, Zombies, and Pop-Tarts, Oh My!

Your Man Could Smell Like ThisIf you want to get more out of your social media efforts, be original and relevant. That’s all it takes. You don’t have to knock it out of the graveyard with every tweet. Just have something original to say/share that is somewhat relevant. A little honesty helps too – it can help to humanize your brand .

When you see true social media success, you may notice some of these tactics at play. For example, while Old Spice was definitely pandering and ego-baiting with its hugely successful campaign — The Man Your Man Could Smell Like —  they did it in an original way that was relevant to the brand’s personality.

Pop-Tarts plays the social media game too, but they do it their own way by adding cute drawings for their fans to enjoy. Some might think they’re wasting their time, money, and effort; however, they are mostly likely fostering a lot of quality engagement. Remember, if you make a commitment to provide quality original content to your fans — without being patronizing or desperate – you’ll reap great rewards, as the engagement you get will be far more memorable and meaningful.

NSYNC Pop-Tarts

Freaked Out? Here’s 5 Tips to Do Social Right!

If you want to foster better engagement and get more value from your social media, follow some of the tips below:

  1. Stay away from generic messages. When you want to say how great summer is, you can do a better job than “Summer is so great!” If you find yourself writing a message that any brand in the world could get away with posting, then it isn’t right for your brand. Add your voice to the message. “Sweet chunky monkey! Summer is here and we sell ICE CREAM! This is our moment!”
  2. Make challenges challenging. If you want your fans to play with you, give them a game worth playing – something that really engages them. But remember that on Facebook, everyone is going to see the correct answer to a question in the first comment, so it might be best to keep it on Twitter instead. Or better yet, why not send your fans on a challenging scavenger hunt, and get some user-generated content and photos in the process?
  3. Give away stuff. You sell stuff. Chances are that your fans like you because they like the stuff you sell. You can turn them into brand advocates by giving them some free stuff. And if they don’t like your stuff, then why did you waste money buying these followers in the first place?
  4. Think visually. Sure, you can Hipster-filter an image and throw some text on top of it, but it still looks weird. You need to invest in content production beyond text. Be mindful that the Web is a multi-media channel —  you also need to be producing quality original graphics and videos.
  5. Avoid pop culture. Everyone is talking about Miley Cyrus because they have nothing better to do. That spells opportunity — give them something better to do! Don’t be a part of the “circletwerk” — we don’t need another brand parroting what everyone else is already saying. Unless you have an original perspective or some interesting content to add to the discussion, stay away from it! “Retweet if you also saw that thing that everyone saw” doesn’t cut it.

Don’t Be Lame

You can ignore all my advice and still kill it in social media as generic messages with no creativity actually work. But, they also make your brand look pretty lame. This is bad. Instead, make an effort to be smart, original, and creative, and use social to generate some real engagement with your audience.

Do you think popularity rules social media? Do you find yourself howling with laughter at some brands’ weak efforts? Got any social media tips to help brands avoid being lame?


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About the Author

Clayburn Griffin
Clayburn is an Organic Search Director at Catalyst. He is an Internet marketing guy with an entrepreneurial mind who enjoys coming up with ways to use technology effectively for business. His background in the crossroads of social media and SEO has helped him to provide comprehensive digital strategies to Catalyst’s clients.

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