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Hugh MacLeod once cartooned “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.”

Nowhere is this more apparent than in social media, particularly as brands migrate their commercial messages from ads on the side to sponsored posts in the center. I had a chance to go to Facebook’s headquarters recently and was struck by something I heard — when your brand message sits in someone’s news feed between a friend’s birth announcement and another friend’s wedding pictures, your brand message had better be worth it.

Yet not enough brand messaging in social media is really worth it. Their content feels re-purposed from traditional advertising. Too frequently, brands come across as party crashers rather than welcome guests.

I’ve also noticed brands take a one-size-fits-all approach across every social media channel. Marketers don’t give enough thought to the platform their content is posted on. Facebook is different than Instagram is different than Twitter is different than LinkedIn is different than Pinterest. To thrive in distinct channels, marketers have to adapt their story to each one.

I liked this quote from Gary Vaynerchuk’s recent book on this topic:

“Today, getting people to hear your story on social media, and then act on it, requires using a platform’s native language, paying attention to context, understanding the nuances and subtle differences that make each platform unique, and adapting your content to match.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to create brand messaging that’s truly native to distinct social networks.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

  1. Tessa Stuart says

    Great post, Tom. It’s not only Facebook where marketing messages are becoming intrusive and irritating, it is Twitter. And LinkedIn. We can all accept these “free” services need to make money, but destroying the user experience to bludgeon everyone with random marketing alerts in their newsfeeds is the fastest way to make users leave these sites. My two daughters spend all their time on WhatsApp and SnapChat now. how long before they too are interrupted by ads?

    Marketers need to think hard about how these activities erode customer good will towards them. Which, by the way, intrusive “cookie” use also does.

    Consumers are smart these days. We can all avoid marketing messages, and increasingly we do.

    Word of mouth from trusted friends scores higher now than brand advertising. Influencing the influencers is a whole other topic.

  2. Meera Sapra says

    Love the comic! And you make a good point. The important thing is for brands to understand how each social platform works and focus on creating content rather than ads. A good social ad is a great piece of content that’s been created keeping the audience and platform in mind. Targeted ads on social media are an opportunity to present your content to an audience whose likes and dislikes you may already be familiar with, since you can observe their behavior on these platforms. Many brands seem unable to understand the difference and fail to transition from the role of “advertisers” to “content publishers”.

  3. Lee says

    Hey Tom, love this cartoon, and couldn’t agree more.

    Native advertising on social is hard to do well for most companies bc they either dont have a content mktg approach (which they really need to fix) or their products & services dont easily lend themselves to telling interesting stories – or at least stories that are similar to those shared by your friends & families. This is especially true on Facebook where the network is designed to bring you content from people you care about. Twitter is a bit easier bc of the slightly more impersonal, “open to public news & knowlwdge” based expectations there.

    From the platform side, the networks really do need to evolve to help advertisers deliver more effective ads through better targeting options so as not to bother some folks with wasted ads (where both user & advertiser lose), and better access to content that advertisers can use in those ads (so that they dont have to create ad content from traditional creative / production means).

    As a marketer and believer in social media as the most effective way to advertise and consume content personally, I admit that its easy to do when you sell adventure cameras! This cartoon hits on a subject that is really close to home, so thanks for sharing your work!

  4. Jared Degnan says

    Tessa makes a great point about trust in conversations but we’re also talking about client speak vs. consumer speak. Particularly in issue-focused campaigns (advocacy vs. products) clients have a tendency to want to steer towards talking points.

    This is understandable given their success through traditional medium was to give journalists as little wiggle room to interpret as possible. Today, we know that’s pretty much the death knoll for trust with consumers.

    I think it’s important to point out it’s not just what you say but where you say it. Sponsored Posts are, for a lack of a better term, easy. If you’ve got the money there’s nothing stopping you. However, the challenge is that your message might be better off in a more appropriate forum.

    Taking an example from your cartoon, does subway need to be engaging not on facebook but on forums like weight watchers where the conversation is exactly about the issues they are better known for?

    Of course, forum engagement is difficult, at best and not very wise but what about sponsoring the forum as a whole or producing custom content supporting your message? Both viable, trust-building tactics but they are much much harder for marketers because it requires us to THINK!

    With the noise getting greater and greater, we need to be talking about going that extra step and spending that extra time to really think through what and where your content has context. We can’t continue to go about thinking we can just throw money at the problem and solve it.

  5. Bill Carlson says

    Forgive the sarcasm, but the thought that jumped to mind immediately here was “golly, sounds like marketing”.

    Understanding each audience, the number of which grows each day while the size of each shrinks as we enjoy (or feel obligated to leverage?) the ability to connect with increasingly more specific consumer “portraits” (note that “demographics” in the classic sense are no longer sufficient). And “…paying attention to context, understanding the nuances and subtle differences that make each platform unique, and adapting your content to match.”

    Some (too much?) of the advertising noise today is bandwagonning — doing something because it’s the buzz or a competitor is doing it (reactionary) rather than taking the needed two steps back in the marketing strategy to figure out how all the pieces fit together.

    And then truly committing to the personalization required to really make the connection with each of those more specific audiences.

    That said, it’s also the case that not all products need social media — while looking at this point recently, I came across some content on a Facebook page for a toilet paper brand. Really?

  6. Mike says

    I am going to share this with my co-workers! I manage social media for several state health and human service social media accounts. The tweets (especially) that staff send me sound like they are cut and pasted straight from a governmental brochure! Heck, they don’t even engage me and I am interested in the topics! I understand I am the “spurt” (expert?) who has the wherewithal to translate the messages into something more engaging, but I hope to nourish that capacity in my coworkers, too!

    Another thought: we often present “just the facts,” or stats–such as the Subway in your cartoon. I think that comes from an outmoded understanding of how people make decisions. That it is a rational, fact-based process. I have become very interested in neuro-marketing. That research indicates that we make decisions based on feelings and associations and context, which means that we communicators and marketers need to approach our messaging quite differently!

    Thanks for the opportunity to ramble. Love your cartoons!

  7. Jeremy says

    Love this – thank you for all your insightful cartoons.

    This is a classic example of someone trying to care but missing the point.

    If we are to trust someone, we’ve got to feel that they are treating us as a “legitimate other” with a deep respect for who and what we are. In the marketing context this can include whether we have given them permission to spam us with ads. (And by “permission”, I don’t mean a checking a box on a multiple-page user agreement which nobody reads.)

    Notwithstanding that, an important component of trust is “involvement”. This is when we judge that someone is fully tuned in to what really matters to us at a deep level. We might believe someone is sincere, that they are genuinely thinking what they are saying. But we can also judge that they are not “fully there” with what matters to us and unlikely to be giving things the priority we require.

    Involvement is a deeply visceral sense that someone has your best interests at heart now and over a period of time. This is not usually the primary driver of what matters to purveyors of mass-market products. And we can feel it!

  8. Louis says

    As an old gaffer in the good ol’ days you did not write the same trxt for an ad for a newspaper, magazine, radio or television. Each one was different. Newspapers lacked color photos. You could not use color as a primary feature. You could change offers and information daily. Magazines could use color in magazines but offers had to be weekly or monthly and had to be geared to the readership. You would have a different focus for TIME than for WOMEN’S WEAR WEEKLY. Radio was all audio and TV had pictures so ads written for TV were too vague for radio and ads written for radio were too talky for TV. TV had pictures but not everyone had color so saying “doesn’t our sandwich look sumptuous?” worked. “Look at our sumptuous sandwich! Isn’t it red and juicy?” only worked for those with color sets. Why shouldn’t it be the same for social media? Know your medium’s limitations and your target audience. It is as true now as it was in 1950, 1960, and 1970.

  9. Sean says

    As a facebook user and sidebar-ad-tolerator (sponsored posts still generally get nix’d), I would say the one feature that ~should~ be the gold standard is the brand/ad’s “Like” button. There was a time when I noticed that fb would advertise “your friend likes …”, and the one or two friends I pointed this out to actually did like the brand so much that they didn’t mind being used to recommend it without their explicit knowledge. There are even one or two brands I’d be willing to let advertise through me to save me the bother of manually word-of-mouthing. However, a combination of bad advertisers and bad app developers has turned opting-in to anything on fb into a sucker bet resulting primarily in more repetitive spam to you and all your friends, and any/all info on your account being tossed to the four winds.

    How a brand behaves in a feed may well be able to serve as a differentiator for how much a brand is trusted and thether they’re like/follow-worthy. If a brand looks like a friend and acts like a friend, then I’ll be more willing to go to them when I want something, like I would a friend. And I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t un-friend someone whose posts consisted entirely of “I need you to need me! I need you to give me something because of how much you need me!”. What can a brand contribute other than ads? That may be the biggest challenge for modern marketing.

  10. Scott Monty says

    Woefully late to the game in commenting on this post Tom, but I believe it’s still relevant.

    Long before Gary Vaynerchuk there was another great influencer who summed it up thusly:
    “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words.”

    That’s from Cicero, circa 60 B.C.

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