Read our new manifesto

All too often, social media marketing is like an indecent proposal

Mark Etingchap is a self-proclaimed expert in marketing, PR, and social media. He also enjoys cricket on a decent wicket, a good smoke, and anyone who is a good egg. You can find him on Twitter @Marketing_Chap and LinkedIn.

A marketing proposal over lunch

Several weeks ago I was sitting at my desk in a rather despondent mood when my telephone rang.

“What ho,” I muttered feebly, not at all my usual cheery self.

“What ho yourself, chap,” said the voice on the other end of the blower, which I recognised at once as belonging to my chum Caroline Saunders, the communications manager at SilverDoor Serviced Apartments. “Your valet just texted me to say you’re in a stew about this YouGov survey of Facebook usage. He said I should ring you at once.”

“Did he?” I asked, only mildly surprised. My manservant Perkins often took liberties when he sees me feeling subpar.

“He did,” she explained. “He also said I should insist you give me lunch, and that I should ply you with moral support from the first crudité to the last spoonful of Cambridge burnt cream.”

I had to admit, this was a capital idea. Caroline is an ideal luncheon companion as she is well versed in all things marketing and a has a keen appreciation of cricket to boot. Within half an hour we were seated at at my favourite chop house, deliberating over whether to have the chilled tomato soup or dressed Paignton Cock crab for starters.

“For the life of me,” Caroline said, beginning the promised moral support, “I can’t see why Facebook usage dropping 9 per cent in the UK has you so glum. Haven’t you often compared Facebook to an empire in decline?”

“Oh, it’s not that,” I explained. “I’ve been expecting interest in Facebook to wane for ages. No, it was that bombshell they slipped in at the end: ‘Overall, the findings indicate that most social media users feel negatively towards marketing strategies by companies on social media sites.’”

“Oh, that,” she said. “That was a stinker.”

“Rather casts a pall over our entire industry, don’t you think?”

Before she could answer, a smartly dressed waiter came and took our orders (I had the crab and the South Devon 30-day aged ribeye steak; Caroline had the soup and the herb-crusted Somerset chicken), and then I felt the annoying sensation of a firm hand clamping down on my right shoulder from behind.

“What ho, chap! What ho, Caroline!”

The voice and hand belonged to my dear, but rather thick-headed chum Topsy Montecute.

“Fancy meeting the two of you here like this,” he said. “What’s the occasion?”

“We’re discussing the decline in Facebook usage and the growing distaste among users of social media marketing generally,” Caroline explained.

“Oh,” Topsy said, clearly disappointed in our choice of subject matter. “I can’t abide that sort of thing either. On Facebook I mean. Nothing but spam, really.”

I objected to having my entire industry labelled as spam, and was about to say so, when Topsy said, “Well, I must dash, really. Pip pip!”

I wanted to resume our earlier conversation, but my curiosity was piqued. “Chapette, how do you know Topsy? He greeted you like an old friend, but I didn’t know you were even acquainted.”

Caroline smiled grimly.

“We met over a picnic lunch on day four of the Lord’s Test,” she explained. “He came and sat next to me when play resumed. And then, just after Swann had Brad Haddin out LBW in the second session, he asked me to marry him.”

This revelation almost caused me to choke on my Paignton Cock crab, which had arrived just moments before.

“He proposed?!” I asked. Topsy has form with this sort of thing, but even so, it seemed awfully forward.

“Don’t worry,” Caroline reassure me. “I had been warned in advance. I’m told everyone who’s anyone in society has turned down at least one marriage proposal from Topsy Montecute.”

I was still shocked, but much impressed by Caroline’s equanimity. No shortage of poise. And she likes cricket.

“Ah!” Caroline interjected, holding her soup spoon aloft. “I’ve just realised something. Topsy is an excellent illustration of what’s wrong with most social media marketing. Especially on Facebook.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, intrigued.

“Topsy goes about proposing to virtually every girl he takes a quick fancy to. Am I correct?”

I nodded. Topsy was never shy of popping the question upon meeting anyone eligible.

“It stands to reason if he asks enough times, eventually some poor girl is bound to say yes.”

I could not fault her logic, painful though the conclusion was..

“Too many marketers approach social media in the same berserker fashion,” she explained. “It’s hardly their fault, really, because this is how marketing has always been done till now. Put a campaign in front of enough people and eventually it will get some traction.

“But social media is not like traditional media,” she continued. “Marketers talk about social media as if it exists for their benefit, but it doesn’t. Users hold the balance of power, and they engage with social media to have fun and be social. Purchasing thousands of Facebook impressions in the hope that a small percentage of consumers will click on these and follow through is intrusive and annoying. Marketers are getting in everyone’s way and it comes across as spam.”

This was good stuff, I had to admit, but I needed clarification.

“What’s the answer then? Is the entire concept of social media advertising flawed?”

“Hardly,” she explained. “but in order for social media marketing to be successful it needs to be creative, savvy, and extremely clever. There’s no point in recycling an old advert in the hope that it will work on Facebook as it has elsewhere, because it won’t. Someone very wise once told me that the most successful social media marketing won’t appear to be marketing at all.”

“Really?” I asked. “Who was that?”

“You, you silly goose.”

I made a mental note to start paying more attention to what I said.

Our main courses then arrived (my ribeye steak was cooked to perfection), and I invited Caroline to elaborate.

“But what do you mean ‘clever,’ chapette. Lots of advertising is clever. You must mean more than that.”

“I do. But this is the hard part. Too many marketers think the key to success is to be entertaining. They think if they can merely advertise in an entertaining way then people won’t mind it so much. But this is at best a stopgap.

“People want social media to be entertaining, yes, but it also must be social. Brands must present themselves in a way that users will want to interact socially with. When brands can learn to do this like ordinary people their marketing will no longer seem like spam.”

I must admit, I was impressed. Not only did Caroline appreciate cricket, handle tricky social situations with aplomb and grace, but she seemed to have social media marketing cracked as well.

I began to wonder if Topsy perhaps had the right idea, stumbling badly over it though he did. Would I ever come across a more ideal partner? And my family was always badgering me to settle down….

“I say, chapette, what about it then? We’re both marketers. And we both like cricket. I mean, you and I have so much in common...”

“Indeed we do, chap,” she said, interrupting me. “Which is why I like you so much. I mean, neither of us would ever be so crass as to blurt out a marriage proposal out without any warning. Can you imagine? A girl wants to be wooed with subtlety over time. But of course you know that already. That’s why we shall always be such firm friends.”

“Oh rather,” I said, smiling weakly. I returned to my steak. It did not seem nearly as delicious as it had moments ago.

Many thanks to Caroline Saunders for permission to recount our conversation

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis