Social media marketing should be…social.

Picture this:

You’re walking through the mall, enjoying a delicious Auntie Anne’s cinnamon pretzel hand-in-hand with your significant other, when you’re accosted by a woman at a kiosk. She insists that she rub your hands down with her Dead Sea lotion. This isn’t a polite conversation, she’s in your face and calling you out. Your brain is demanding you walk away quickly. You do the awkward shuffle-away from this crazy woman, all while waving your hands in disinterest. Inside you are thinking, “I am just trying to enjoy my day off lady, please.” You walk away feeing violated, unsettled, and you’re definitely not enjoying this part of your day.


What made that situation feel so wrong, and what does it have to do with Social Media?

Scientific studies show that we are biologically hard-wired to protect our social connections. It is a primal instinct that links to survival and is rooted in all of us. Think about it – If we couldn’t find food, water or shelter, we would form connections in our community to find provisions. We sought to build a community, have safety, and live longer.

Our thirst for social connection starts in infancy, crying for someone to give us food, and extends to when we are in the grocery store check-out line, thumbing through our profile for any new followers. In the same way that we thirst for social connection, we also seek to protect it. We take others’ actions, feelings, thoughts or agendas into account to determine if they are willing to take part in the social exchange. Or, sometimes we find people (or businesses) are in the exchange only for profit, and this is when it become anti-advertising. People are repelled by your image and advertising.

Back to our example at the mall: When we are in a social setting and are interrupted by sales or marketing, we react instinctively and strongly in defense of our social bubble. The dissonance we experienced in the mall also occurs when one encounters marketing on social media. When an individual is on Facebook, their intentions are to connect with peers or share a life-update with others. When they sense a sales agenda, their instinct is to protect their “social bubble” and scroll right past it.

Social media has undoubtedly dominated online communication for several years, and the marketing community responded, eager to utilize the platforms for perceived advertising gains. But, what if those marketing efforts have been in vain? Maybe we need to stop thinking of social media as another advertising channel and start structuring marketing strategies to be more social while engaging our brand community in lifestyle and experience discussions.

As marketers, we have adapted our strategies to go about marketing in a passive and more tolerable way. Through “permission marketing” – i.e.: sign up for an email subscription – people tolerate this strategy more than direct marketing tactics because they feel that they are responsible for the arrangement; a way of consenting to marketing if you will. But, we don’t want to settle for merely tolerable outcomes in our social media marketing, because tolerance does not yield significant and sustainable results.


What are some successful ways businesses used social media?

Some marketers have had immense success on social media by positioning their strategies around communication and engagement. Xbox CMO Mckenzie Eakin built a record- and ground-breaking customer service team called the “Elite Tweet Fleet”: a thousand-plus-member Ambassador Chat program composed of Xbox users who provided peer-to-peer support via Twitter. Xbox users across Twitter were able to directly communicate with others to resolve issues and were ultimately a part of a community – with the Elite Tweet Fleet leading the pack. Eakin said in an interview, “Anyone can use social media. When comprising my team, I looked for the ones who were fluent in customer care and communication skills.” 

Another more recent example was Burger King’s viral campaign on Tiktok, #TheWhopperChallenge. BK created a custom sound and partnered with three top Tiktok influencers who choreographed a dance to go with the sound. Influencers recorded themselves dancing with “#TheWhopperChallenge” in the caption, encouraging others to participate with the incentive that Burger King would send them a personal code to get a $1 Whopper. Burger King used voices that were already in the TikTok community to start a viral trend, all while engaging with participants on their own account. This resulted in a viral campaign across the app and a massive increase in in-store sales.


Think about why we use social media: To post in hopes that others will like, to comment or share it, to start a conversation, or to form a community of people with common interests. 


So is social media marketing dead?

People are not typically shopping when they are on social media, and may react negatively to being “sold” a product or service while using the platforms (they want to comment on their friend’s new engagement announcement, come on). Social settings, online or otherwise, are formed around mutually agreed-upon values. When you market to someone in that setting, you are asking them to mentally introduce something new – to “disharmonize” with their current mindset. So, maybe it’s time to completely rethink how we use social media as a marketing tool. Marketers now have the opportunity to start engaging with their brand’s community in a way that integrates the brand into their community’s social circle. 

So…dead sea lotion, anyone?