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Im not anti-social, but…

Social & Digital

Im not anti-social, but…


I derive a certain sense of amusement from seeing the social media space abuzz with marketing people talking about the buzz in the social media space.

You’ve probably already read much debate about it, but we seem collectively convinced that it is of such importance that we’re all hurriedly setting up Twitter accounts, Facebook pages or groups, and updating our LinkedIn profiles to ensure we’re leading by example. After all we’re marketing people, we dont just want to be part of ‘The Next Big Thing’ – we want to create it.

I see social media participation for brands as becoming more and more like the mating ritual of echidnas: necessary for survival, and yet something to be approached very carefully. Get it right and it’ll be an enjoyable experience – get it wrong and it could be rather uncomfortable if not downright painful.

But so much has been said about social media strategy recently that Im going to narrow it down to focus on just one particular tactic. It so happens that it’s a tactic that social media specialists seem to be increasingly pushing upon their clients. Recently a senior manager of a non-for-profit organisation told me that in order to raise awareness about a particular issue, they were looking at using a service that would conduct ‘blog seeding’.

The idea that those so employed would trawl the blogosphere and drop in lines about the current issue and try to get people to run with it – a fine idea if it works well, tragic idea if it backfires on them (particularly as a trusted NFP).

When I vocalised this, he was quick to assure me that, “It’s ok, these guys are professionals at this”. It did make me wonder exactly how one becomes an appropriately qualified/professional blog-seeder, when I suspect their operation is likely a combination of hit-in-miss, trial-and-error and hoping and praying.

(Don’t be shaking your heads at me social media agency readers, you’re more art than science and you know it.)

I mean, really – are we all so excited about the possibilities of this new social media phenomenon that we’ve forgotten the sins of our recent past? Are we suddenly willing to apply failed offline tactics to the online world and expect a different result? I may be on the right side of 30 (I’ll leave you to guess which side that is), but the whole notion of ‘blog-seeding’ to me instantly conjures up memories of that subversive development of the late ’90s known as ‘roaching’.

When consumers cottoned on to what was happening, the marketing and advertising communities were crucified for it. The name roaching seems to adequately illustrate the esteem in which consumers held it as a tactic, and yet lo and behold, the concept has now been resurrected for the social media space. Oh, it’s got fancy new names, but let’s call it for what it is: e-roaching. It’s simply an electronic version of the same old thing (which, according to protocol, means you just have to put an ‘e’ in front of it apparently. Stay tuned for i-roaching, coming to an Apple phone near you soon).

Where I’m going with this is, like its predecessor roaching, e-roaching is fine (tactically, not morally) so long as you’re not found out. If you are, best scurry away quickly in search of some place to hide, as the blogging community will come after you like a madwoman, with giant shoe in hand. Can you imagine the fallout in the social media world if you’ve suckered people in, only for them to learn that they’ve been had? My brand hurts just thinking about it.

A relatively early example of this is chicken brand Lennard’s YouTube video response to the Sam Kekovich lamb ads (which, importantly, were quite well-liked). Conceptually Lennard’s idea was ok, but it struggled with the execution – by the time it got to the fake users posting ridiculously pro-Lenny comments – Lenny being their chicken mascot – it had fallen apart completely.

Cluey viewers decided to check the date that the suspect commenters’ accounts were established, subsequently finding that they were recent sign-ups that had little or no other activity on the site to imply authenticity. What did the cluey viewers do in response? Pointed it out to everyone else, of course, and not exactly in terms that were flattering to Lennard’s. Thankfully for them, I don’t believe the whole exercise had made enough waves to begin with for it to have any major impact on the brand, which makes me think the campaign debrief probably went something like, “Oh well, we gave it a shot and at least the damage wasn’t that bad” – Pioneering work indeed fellas.

Another one from a very high-profile Aussie brand: while reading an article for a new car online, I got to the comments thread at the bottom and was astonished by the unreserved praise it was receiving – so much so that I almost couldn’t see beyond the deliberate spelling mistakes, cool usernames, and excessive punctuation to deduce that the company’s agency was actually behind it. So what did I do next? Pointed it out to three of my colleagues, of course, who incidentally all joined me in shaking their heads and tsk-tsking in disgust. Now granted, I may notice these things more because of what I do, but I reckon ‘average Joe consumer’ would have spotted it a mile off too.

I would name the brand involved in this case because it was so awful that they deserve it, but I wouldn’t want to hurt Holden’s feelings just in case I was wrong and the whole world really does love the Cruze that much.

I could go on with more examples, but I won’t – instead, I’d rather give you one more thing to consider before you give the go-ahead for your overly enthusiastic social media agency to make a guinea pig of you in the social media space: it’s a little piece of legislation familiar to most marketers called the Trade Practices Act.

Specifically, you may recall that s52 forbids organisations to engage in ‘misleading and deceptive conduct’. So to whom will go the dubious honour of being the test case for engaging in blog-seeding or e-roaching? Given that both tick the ‘misleading’ and ‘deceptive’ boxes, I reckon it’s only a matter of time – I’d recommend ensuring that it’s not your brand making those headlines.

While the debate continues to rage about how to leverage social media platforms, whether or not you need an actual social media strategy, and what the whole space means for brands, just remember that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There will always be agencies coming at you claiming that they hold the key to ‘The Next Big Thing’, and there will always be tactics like roaching and blog-seeding put on the table.

But online or offline, some things remain constant, one of which is that consumers essentially transact with brands they like and trust. Go down the wrong road with subversive tactics in the very intimate space of social media, and you may lose those two most foundational things.

Who was it that said, “Reputation takes a lifetime to build and only a moment to destroy”? Wise words indeed, and a truth us marketers should never forget.


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