Your Social Media Sucks…..and That Just Might Be Good Enough

Recently, Mitch Joel (@mitchjoel) & Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) talked about their disappointment and frustration on the state of social media marketing. In The Depressing State of Social Media Marketing”, Mitch said companies were missing the opportunity to create real relationships with their audiences in favor of adding to the noise that exists on social channels. In “The Bare Truth About Social Media Marketing”, a shirtless and rakishly handsome Chris Brogan, lamented that brands are just being too mechanical and “chirping out blather to elicit responses or likes, but with no follow-up, no next steps, no actual business intent. Just… faux interaction.”

The truth is that they are both right.

Corporate Friction

With that, I guess I’m surprised that Mitch and Chris are surprised at the state of social media marketing. While it’s easy to look from the outside and say “Why are they doing this?”, “How come they are not doing that?”, “They should be doing a better job about this”. “They don’t get it”. The fact is you’re dealing with organizations, and organization have “friction“, lots and lots of friction. Friction is the thing that prevents companies from achieving the idealistic nirvana that from the outside seems simple, obvious, and necessary.

Some examples of corporate friction?

  • How about Legal Departments that impose draconian limits on what you can say to customers and who can say it. These limitations are borne by real and potential lawsuits that can destroy a company. So processes are put in place to minimize that threat.
  • How about Corporate politics which dictate which silo in the organization “owns” the process. Mitch can say that ‘social media is the horizontal that runs across the organization’ but Corporations are vertical and vertical is how corporation keep track of stuff.
  • How about ingrained processes that limit new approaches because they rub up against the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset.
  • How about Wall Street, that in reality dictates much of how a public company operates. Miss your quarterly projections by a penny and forget about all those great opportunities to forge deep relationships on social networks….because the social media team just got laid off because they can’t prove an ROI.
  • How about the human element of a work force who doesn’t have the motivation/incentive/drive to promote or take on new initiatives. After all, that would be hard work and by the way, “it’s not my job” and “I got other responsibilities to worry about that can get me fired if I don’t tend to them”.
  • How about the fact that rather than trying to build stronger & more personal relationships with customers, companies are still tending to offshore those conversations to call centers in countries most of us can’t find on a map – and building in complicated phone trees to make even those conversations difficult to find. Alternatively, these responsibilities are handed over to agencies who know the mechanics of social interaction but are more interested in contract renewal than understanding the true DNA and culture of a company.
  • If staffed internally, social media marketing is generally being relegated to younger, less seasoned employees who don’t necessarily have the experience to understand where the value in social lies and how to foster AND measure it (NOTE: I know I’m making a broad generalization but there’s some truth in there somewhere).
  • Let’s also consider, that from a corporate perspective, social as a business tool has only really emerged in the past 5 years. By comparison, the commercial Internet has been around for ~15 years and the typical website experience still generally sucks. Hell, Ford has been making cars for 100 years and still can’t figure out how to make a water pump that doesn’t fail when you’re on a desolate road at 2 in the morning 😉 Things don’t work optimally out the gate. They do get better over time however and 5 years is not that much time – even in a digital sense.
  • Should I go on?


    OK, now let me tell you the dirty little secret here. First, let’s agree that the State of Social Media is not great. The reality is that you don’t have to be great to succeed – you just have to be better than the other guy. And the best part is that the other guy is as messed up as you are. See, we are all protected by our vast mediocrity. Is that awesome or what?

    Friction. It exists. It’s real. And it’s never going away. We’ll always suck at social, we’ll always suck at website experience, and we’ll always suck building water pumps for cars I suppose. As long as you suck less than your competitor you’ll be just fine.

    Having said all that, let’s be more optimistic. Let’s strive for a level of excellence that would make Mitch giddy and convince Chris to put his shirt back on. Let’s strive to be “frictionless” for a second!

    I think the salient point in Mitch’s post is “What brands are missing, when it comes to social media is the true connection. The trust that is built out of real interactions between real human beings.” I would argue that building trust is not a “social media” thing, it’s a “corporate culture” thing. Building trust was not invented by social media, nor is it isolated to social media. Building trust is the experience I get when I’m in your store. It’s how you present yourself when I’m checking on for a flight. It’s how I am treated when I am communicating with you via social, email, phone, fax, letter, carrier pigeon, smoke signals. It’s what you do when my kid leaves his stuffed giraffe at your hotel. It’s how your products and services make me feel. It’s less about being perfect and more about how you treat me when things inevitably go imperfect.

    Good corporate culture that focuses on customer service dictates that good connections are built through a consistent experience that is channel agnostic, and the fact is very few companies have mastered that – in fact, some bristle at the very thought of it (I’m looking at you Time Warner Cable). Social media is just another arrow in the ‘Building Trust’ quiver. Nothing more, nothing less. Social didn’t create the ability to build trust, it just added another channel in which to do it, or not do it.

    About DeanShaw

    Cutting Through the Bullshit So You Don't Have To

    Posted on July 12, 2013, in Communications, Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

    1. Good read and great points Dean. One of my ongoing concerns with assertions from folks like Brogan is that they don’t have first hand experience making marketing programs happen from within a firm. They just don’t get the friction. And without that context, I find that kind of commentary somewhat uninformed. Keep it up.

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