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Social media engagement – some unfriendly advice

By Joel Windels |

March 25, 2014 | 4 min read

Social media advice. It seems to me that for the past couple of years people have practically made a career out of sharing the same tips over and over again:

Joel Windels

  1. Be a human brand
  2. It's a two-way conversation
  3. Content is king
  4. Be funny
  5. Be everywhere online
  6. Go where your customers are

And so on, and so forth. But while there is validity to much of this, what happens when the same advice is spouted in every single marketing report, publication and blog, and in millions of tweets for five years? In short, everyone adopts it.

That’s why most brands you see today are still striving to sell themselves as cleverer, funnier and most importantly, friendlier than the other guy. We’ve got it down to a formulaic art, as every newcomer has tried to grab themselves a slice of the pie by being funny, engaging in brand banter and gently mocking some of their customers for comic effect, to be later lauded by the online marketing community.

The problem is that though the bar might have been raised for a while there, we’re now looking once again at a level playing field. How do you stand out now?

But are we all fooling ourselves in the first place? Do customers actually want our friendship or is this a self-perpetuating myth? Sure, a funny tweet from Tesco Mobile might make a good Buzzfeed article to show your boss, but is it really having any long term effect on the way customers see and buy your brand?

I suspect that like me, lots of people would prefer brands to keep their distance: be the faceless, corporate, selling machines they have been striving against for so long.

It first happened with adverts in the early ‘00s. Brands stopped talking about their products and specifications and started using twee music played over images of friendly 20-somethings having a good time to try and kick start a friendship with their customers.

Don’t get me wrong – I fully admit that, again, there is merit in this approach, but many brands have simply pushed it too far. I find it annoying. I want the best phone deal, not the phone that saves the CMO’s phone number into my phone book when I buy it. I don’t want to #bemoredog. I just want a phone, without ceremony, without bonding.

All brands are now doing ‘the friendly thing’ on social media. Isn’t it time one of them takes it up a notch and sophisticates the mix a bit more? This is an invitation to brands: how can you innovate and differentiate from other brands now that every brand and its #bemoredog is on Twitter having a laugh?

I’m interested to see what the next generation of Paddy Power, Tesco Mobile and Waterstones Oxford Street – all known for their irreverent Twitter accounts – is going to be, but I’ve had enough of brands larking about on Twitter trying to get on Buzzfeed and talking about their ‘award-winning social media strategy’ at marketing events.

Joel Windels is marketing manager EMEA at Brandwatch


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