The Social Media Backlash is Here
Well, it finally happened.
Almost a decade of hubris by a new wave of marketers telling that social media was the be-all and end-all, and declaring advertising “dead” has finally turned.
First, we have Bob Hoffman’s Advertising Week Europe speech, “The Golden Age of Bullshit” in which he defends the still-quite-alive-thank-you-very-much advertising industry from the slings and nerf-tipped arrows of “engagement” and “brand relationships” crowd.
Calling advertising dead was always over the top, and poking the bear inevitably results in a mauling. Hoffman followed up, unrepentantly, with a thoughtful blog post that yet continues his mockery of the self-appointed social media elite.
From within the comfortable confines of Social Media Marketing, I have always cast a cynical eye to what many of us referred to the “snake oil” of social: the over-reliance of engagement over results; the emphasis of soft results over hard numbers; the circling of the wagons-of-peers over the service of business goals.
But here’s the thing: that’s not the entirety of social media marketing. While he acknowledges that not all social media marketers are full of it, I do have the distinct feeling that Hoffman has found a fun new axe to swing; he is going to use the fact that he is largely right as an excuse to beat social media into the ground in favor of King Ad, with a resulting swing of the pendulum all the way back until Madge is soaking in it up to her neck.
In the meantime, social media marketers have found religion; we are seeing multiple blog posts decrying the social media imperatives that brands need to engage as humans, that people want to be Facebook pals with corporations, all as if this were a new idea.
The latest I noticed is Jason Falls’ post, “An Apology to Brands on Behalf of Social Media Experts Everywhere.” In it, Jason (who I know and like from the Social Media blogging and conference circuit), lays out the crime that social media marketers have been committing against brands since the beginning: that our insistence that brands be “human” and engage” was a lie.
Speak for yourself, Jason. I won’t claim never to have fallen in with the “engage” crowd, but I’m not a big fan of one “guru” trying to speak for the entire industry. And since I had a cuss-word to start, I’ll keep this R-rated; we didn’t all fuck this up. In fact, most of us still think we haven’t fucked it up.
The smart people in the industry haven’t called for the end of advertising (as if we could); we valued engagement but not at the expense of sales and attainable metrics; we were aware of the scale of social media versus the rest of our clients’ and employers’ business goals.
The idea of brands being able to publish and speak for themselves online is still pretty new and still forming and changing–
— in fact, stop —
The whole reason this painful self-examination and these attempted assassinations by the never-threatened ad industry is clear: it’s Facebook ceasing to pretend that brand exposure is free, isn’t it? Just ask Jeff Esposito. This set off the hysteria in the guise of a salvo of smoke bombs to distract the world while social media scrambles to understand “paid media.” Pardon our appearance while we re-brand our industry.
–ok, where was I? Oh yes —
— Social media is still pretty new. We are going through painful transitions in some quarters. But you know what? The false social “gurus” will still be full of crap, and the people who are honestly helping companies- the majority of us – will still be helping companies succeed in their communications and marketing programs.
So, when Bob Hoffman speaks of the “roiling cesspool of arrogant, insufferable charlatans,” well, we know what small part of the social media crowd they are. So what? Clean up your own cesspool and stop making crappy ads (while you’re at it, tell Geico to pick a campaign and stick with it – what a waste of money. I vote for the lizard).
On each side of the coin, the people who are good at their jobs know the real impact of what they do, the real reach of what they try, and the pitfalls of doing the wrong thing. I don’t care if social media marketers want to figuratively light themselves on fire, and if ad people want stand by and roast marshmallows; I’ll just continue to do work that interests me – and that I hope is good and has an impact within the wider world of marketing and communications.