The Groundswell of Social Media Backlash

The Groundswell of Social Media Backlash

Summary: There appears to be a fully fledged backlash against 'social media' marketing emerging, with commentary in both areas you'd expect and in places you might not.This is tough on the people who have solid foundations for what marketing messaging is all about, and who are doing good things with modern technologies around the age old concepts of marketing 'conversations' or word of mouth.


There appears to be a fully fledged backlash against 'social media' marketing emerging, with commentary in both areas you'd expect and in places you might not.

This is tough on the people who have solid foundations for what marketing messaging is all about, and who are doing good things with modern technologies around the age old concepts of marketing 'conversations' or word of mouth.

10 years ago the ClueTrain Manifesto put forward ninety five theses essentially expanding on the following proposal:

"A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies."

The ClueTrain Manifesto was written in the era of email and mailing lists, news groups, chat/instant messaging and of course Web Pages (it was conceived during the height of the dot com boom).

Ten years later Burger King launched a clever though rather cynical application on Facebook called 'Whopper Sacrifice'.

As Word of Mouth Marketing Association member and brand communications agency president Michael Diccicco described it:

What it promised was a free 'Whopper' hamburger to anyone in the USA on Facebook who would “sacrifice” (ditch, dump, de-friend) 10 Facebook friends.

All you had to do, via the (Facebook) application, was tell Burger King which ten friends you were dumping, and you received a coupon for a free Whopper. Your ten former friends then received notices that they were dumped (unlike normal Facebook “de-friending” which occurs without notification to the dumpee).

The idea itself caused a minor uproar, with some taking real offense to the less than amicable Burger King concept. Apparently, unloading 10 friends (whom you could quickly “re-friend” the next day) for a free burger is not just anti-social, it’s un-American and perhaps immoral as well.

There you have the perfect ark, from visionary manifesto to ironic of-the-moment commercial lampooning of Social Media, with all its sociological pretensions,

Fools Rush In

There's a parallel here with 'the desktop publishing revolution' which empowered amateurs with professional design tools and spawned some of the worst typographic design disasters of the last century. Wikipedia:

<>Desktop publishing began in 1985 with the introduction of MacPublisher, the first WYSIWYG layout program, which ran on the original 128K Macintosh computer. (Desktop typesetting, with only limited page makeup facilities, had arrived in 1978-9 with the introduction of TeX, and was extended in the early 1980s by LaTeX.) The DTP market exploded in 1985 with the introduction in January of the Apple LaserWriter printer, and later in July with the introduction of PageMaker software from Aldus which rapidly became the DTP industry standard software. The ability to create WYSIWYG page layouts on screen and then print pages at crisp 300 dpi resolution was revolutionary for both the typesetting industry and the personal computer industry. Newspapers and other print publications made the move to DTP-based programs from older layout systems like Atex and other such programs in the early 1980s.<>

What desktop publishing enabled was the decimation of the typesetting business and huge price pressure on the design profession. For those not able to differentiate between good design and multi typeface monstrosities these were good times, client and practitioner alike, and of course plenty of talented graphic designers were able to adapt to the then relatively crude new tools.


Over time it became possible to apply the design excellence of centuries of print design best practice thanks to increasingly sophisticated electronic tool design, but of course a toolkit doesn't make a craftsman. Just purchasing a set of tools doesn't imbue you with design skills any more than buying wrenches enables you to fix an engine...

Back to Social Media: the evangelizing book Groundswell's co author Josh Bernoff says 'Let's talk about tampons' this week, specifically citing the success of a website called P&G started way back in 2000, which was created to communicate with pubescent girls about the value of P&G feminine hygiene products.

From Advertising Age back in July 2000:

P&G's BeingGirl mixes sex chat and product pitch; New site's policy requires users to be 13 or older.

P&G last week launched, a site that mixes online sampling and product pitches for its Always and Tampax brands with interactive features such as health advice, whimsical dancing tampons and a Ms. Period Face feature that lets girls create images of how they feel during menstruation.

Potentially more controversial is a Sex & Relationships section with bulletin boards.

Josh's employer Forrester sells a report by Lisa Bradner for US $749 on how this approach 'Builds Lasting Brand Loyalty', presumably over the whole nine years the site has existed.

Burger King and its agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, knew what they were doing from a marketing strategy perspective with their 'whopper sacrifice' campaign, just as Procter & Gamble's marketing experts were well ahead of the game with their tampon sponsored online girls magazine.

The video montage at the top of this post and this early '50's Ronald Reagan cigarette magazine advertisement illustrates an earlier era's perception of conversation with their audience.

When television was a new medium programming was announced, often by a celebrity, as being 'brought to you by' a sponsor. This approach lasted until the mid seventies when branding became a lot more sophisticated.

If 'social media' really is a new medium, a new way of selling people stuff through joining conversations about shared consumer knowledge, the sheer number of amateur practitioners offering training in these skills is starting to get discredited and questioned a lot.

This isn't good for anyone, whether the P&G tampon marketers, the Burger King creatives or any other above the line branding or below the line promotions people. It's particularly bad for internal collaboration efforts, as I've written previously, because the sheer noise around these social media marketing efforts slops over and can negatively color perceptions of what internal collaboration networks are.

The awkward 'brought to you by' conversational tone of past generations of TV is increasingly being mirrored by 'trying too hard' social media mavens butting into conversations within social media technologies. I'm not even going to address the nonsense being peddled under the rubric 'branding' recently.

I wonder how hokey some of this stuff is going to look a few years from now...and to many people it's becoming increasingly annoying now....

Topics: Software, Social Enterprise


Oliver Marks & Associates provides seasoned, technology agnostic independent consulting guidance to companies on effective Digital Enterprise Transformation business strategy, tactics, infrastructure & technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models and management.

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  • Reagan Redux

    I wrote a goodly chunk of The Cluetrain Manifesto and I hate
    seeing it invoked to hawk the same old crap the same old way.
    But the reason I'm commenting is that cigarette ad featuring
    Ronald Reagan. I used it myself recently -- with a very
    different aim in mind...

    chris locke
  • RE: The Groundswell of Social Media Backlash

    You raise interesting points. I agree that simple exploitation of social networks (as Burger King did) isn't likely to work effectively -- in fact it's more likely to anger the people you want to influence.

    But P&G's, regardless of how it started, is now a site that offers actual value and connections to young girls. There's not much selling going on there, although girls can order a sample -- and that's why it's so effective.

    While I'm not an evangelist for these technologies (as you would have it), I do believe that marketers can use them most effectively by PARTICIPATING, rather than EXPLOITING them. And our consumer research says that a majority of consumers online would like to engage with their favorite brands there. Now the brands have to respond -- hopefully with a little respect for the way people normally use thee spaces, which is as a way to connect.
  • RE: The Groundswell of Social Media Backlash

    Great post, Ollie. I loved the analogy to "desktop
    publishing". It always surprised me, and still continues to,
    that people with no design experience, training or aptitude
    thought a cheap WYSIWYG page layout program would
    make them a designer. As if a copy of Microsoft Word
    would make you Shakespeare.

    On another rant, the social mediasphere has been
    saturated by commercialism. I can hardly hear my friends
    over the noise. I'm feeling invaded the way I did when I
    entered a public restroom and saw that the stall doors
    were all sporting ads. Is no place safe from advertising?
    Lisa Paul
    • degraded social conscience

      The best relationships, or friendships are created by actually meeting,
      talking and interacting with people, person to person. The rush to replace
      conversation, will, and is proving to be a failure, and new and so called
      exciting social sites will popup, leaving behind, hard drives of stupid
      chatter. I am a member of a couple of these sites, and they are fun for
      about a month, then you just forget about them. I'll take meeting people
      in a club, store, through friends, and really have quality friends and
      relationships. Cute today, gone tomorrow.
  • Computers/automation raises the low bar, Art raises the high bar

    Colin Wheildon's 'Type & Layout or Are You Communicating' sets the record straight on what to do so your layout doesn't sabotage your message.

    So now all we need is someone to do the same for social network marketing.
  • RE: The Groundswell of Social Media Backlash

    Just this past week, we have deleted our facebook presence after only being on it for 3 months due to the increasing ads that keep flashing at us, the fine print that says we have to give permission to third party intrusion into our whole facebook experience and lastly, due to the addicting nature of doing facebook that keeps us away from our family's priorities.
    Nice to keep in touch with family and friends, but would rather go back to phone calls, regular mail, and email.
  • RE: The Groundswell of Social Media Backlash

    Good article. The time of the great social media (SM) backlash is well overdue. Sadly the age of gossip media will be even worse and trash any cool, class or true community we may once have possessed. Might as well just bring on Rollerball (a la the movie) because gaming is even more where it's at than SM and with better graphics : _ ).
  • RE: The Groundswell of Social Media Backlash

    now, if social networking communications were all coded in Linux we wouldn't have any issues.
  • How does it benefit BK to have people dump facebook friends

    Their food is deadly poison like all fast food. I
    wouldn't put it in *your* body. What does anybody care if
    someone defriended and refriended him in order to obtain
    a Whopper?

    Perhaps it gives me some inside information in to what
    somebody is willing to do to themselves, a heads up I
    could use to defriend him myself.
  • RE: The Groundswell of Social Media Backlash


    I've been working on a white paper on the future of social media, and discuss this phenomenon in great detail. All SM goes through this stage, from email and bulletin boards to twitter. I call it the Marketer Chase - people who are "marketing experts" in the media in question (usually having encountered it only a few weeks before) who provide remarkably little value but see $$$$ in them thar hills. They usually chase the newbie market (veterans see little use for them and see them as the first signs of massive encroachment). Usually they also act like pack animals - once a social medium has been exhausted, they're off to catch the next big trend.

    Sadly, marketers will always be with us, because marketing is one of those fields, like being a preacher or a journalist, that has a low barrier to entry, requires few formal qualifications and is highly subjective.There are some truly gifted marketers, but they are also an awful lot that are a lot of awful.
  • good idea about facebook

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