Future of Social Advertising: Potential Pitfalls of Using Social Media

Social Media PitFalls
This article is the fourth in a series of articles exploring the future of social advertising.

Click on the ‘Social Advertising’ tag to read earlier posts/articles.

The last post presented the notion of branded content as “the next big thing in social media” and put forward the proposition that brands are better off looking at engaging directly with consumers over branded content on the major social networking sites than creating standalone social media sites if they are promoting new products or services.

In this post, I expand on the potential pitfalls involved with engaging directly with consumers online using social advertising.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say that this is an evolving series of articles and that we welcome reader input in all forms; through comments at the end of each article or via our online contact form. Get involved.

First, it is worth noting that whilst I have been referring to social advertising in previous posts/articles, I am actually referring to the growing trend of ‘advertising using social media’. Did I just say “the growing trend of ‘advertising using social media’”?


I can sense that sceptical eyebrow, arched to precision and delivered over the internets, right here in Manchester, UK.

Yes, I am referring to “the growing trend of ‘advertising using social media’”.

I am specifically referring to a growing realisation that marketers are indeed taking social media advertising seriously. Check out this fascinating conference being held in London in early 2008 and organised by a major UK conference organiser:

UPDATE: Details for the 2008 conference are no longer available.  Here’s info on the 2009 conference.

The blurb for some of the speaker panels:

Blogging: PR Dream Or PR Nightmare? Determine The Potentials And Pitfalls Of Blogs
“Can you involve your product in the consumer conversations that blogs enable while keeping track of your commentators as the blogosphere continues to grow in size?

Can you use blogs as an early warning mechanism and counter any negativity at its source, or will a loss of control leave you too open to criticism?

Can you increase transparency and foster trust through blogging or will a lack of factual accuracy coupled with journalists’ responsibilities lead to misinformation?”

Monologue Has Given Way To Dialogue: What Is Social Networking And How Can You Use It In Your PR Campaigns?
“Facebook, Second Life, Bebo: how can social networking bring you closer to your consumers?

Modernise your PR approach: integrate social networking into your overall strategy and place your brand at the forefront of new technology.

Clarify audience demographics: learn about your audience to ensure precision targeting and generate useful feedback.

Getting the mix right: reveal what works and what doesn’t to ensure that you are spending your PR budget in the right way to secure the highest return on your time and investment.”

Confirmed speakers: representatives from MySpace, Bebo, Dell, Walt Disney and more.

As you can see, it is scheduled for late January 2008, and no, I have not been paid a penny to promote or endorse it in any way.

I am not sure I will be attending either, we found out about it too late in the budgeting scheme of things.

I am highlighting it here just to make you aware that social media campaigns are definitely being considered by major and active brand advertisers in the UK.

Now, onto the potential pitfalls.

The thing with social media is that you are damned if you do (it) and damned if you don’t.

The power afforded the average consumer to promote or denigrate your brand online is undeniable and is only going to increase with the inevitable march towards ubiquitous, high speed broadband internet access around the world. Look out for wireless access via smartphones like Apple’s iPhone to significantly magnify this trend.

A cautionary word to Brand Advertisers:

Information about your brand and about your product or service is going to be passed around online using electronic ‘word-of-mouse’, fuelled by the average consumer’s growing obsession with connecting and communicating with others online.

Get used to it.”

The unfortunate thing is that news travel fast and bad news travel faster.

That enthusiastic customer advocating your brand to a handful of friends on his blog can just as easily trash it mercilessly in the un-moderated, anything goes, environment of Facebook (or MySpace or Bebo or any other social networking site).

The problem is illustrated with Canadian brewer Molson’s recent decision to pull a Facebook promotion after complaints that they promote binge drinking. They ran a photo contest targeting 19-24 year old college students on Facebook, if you haven’t heard by now. Molson Coors is the third-largest U.S. brewer behind Anheuser-Busch Cos. and SABMiller Plc. (Thanks to the Marketing Pilgrim blog for incredibly detailed insights on this).

Now, the campaign, based largely around encouraging students to post pictures of themselves out drinking with their friends on Facebook in order to win an all-expenses paid trip to Cancun, Mexico, is arguably ‘lame’ as our North American readers might put it. That’s what a commenter called ‘C C from Canada‘ thinks anyway.

And, you could argue that the decision to pull it now is a classic case of bad publicity being better than none and you would be agreeing with a ‘Jason Young from digital identityville, Canada’ but the fact remains:

The company pulled the campaign on Friday afternoon, a week earlier than planned, largely because of published criticism and complaints it received from university administrators and student groups.

Here’s the conundrum for social media marketers that lies at the core of the issue:

Molson’s target audience may have thought the campaign was ‘innovative’ to some degree but their opinion was secondary in importance to that of the larger web community who cried foul over ‘a brewer using social media to target consumers in an ‘unethical manner’’:

According to Joe MacDonald, dean of students at St. Francis Xavier University and one of the administrators who complained to Molson. “It’s cheap marketing,” he said. “I’m concerned about Molson’s lack of contrition.”

Molson have responded quite candidly, however, and pulled the promotion:

“We promote responsible choices and wanted to be pro-active in responding to concerns expressed from a number of different audiences,” the company says in a message on its Facebook page.”

The company also maintains its own blog detailing its corporate social responsibility initiatives, something that can only be applauded.

Much of the content above comes in the post and online responses to the post published in an article in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s #1 national newspaper. Its parent company, CTVglobemedia Inc., owns CTV, Canada’s #1 television network.

The article goes on to say that Molson is still intent on running social media campaigns:

Despite its setback, Molson will look to expand its social media marketing, and already has developed some blogs and other online initiatives, Mr. Devins [a vice-president at Molson Coors Brewing Co.] said.

“We need to be communicating with our consumers because that’s where our consumers are communicating among themselves. … We need to make sure we’re in that relevant channel.”

I couldn’t agree more.

So, I guess this recent ‘controversy surrounding Facebook’ places social media marketers in the position of having to design and develop social media campaigns implemented primarily within Facebook with a real understanding of their potential impact on the wider web community.

That goes without saying, surely.

Well… nothing ever does.

The point that follows is directed at social media marketers planning on promoting brands on the fastest growing social network on the planet:

check that your social media campaign can work trouble free on *any* social networking site, under the public gaze of the wider web community and stand up to the scrutiny of key campaign stakeholders (like the target audience) well *before* going ahead and deploying it on any social network.

This will come as a bit of a blow to the emergent social media consultancy community and is a bitter pill for any social media company to swallow and I fully empathise with Facebook at this point.

However, already online reactions to Molson’s pulled Facebook campaign show that social media marketers (and key stakeholders in the relevant social media campaign – like the target audience) are certainly active online and are using word-of-mouse tools much faster than anticipated.

The disruptive potential of social media is that it is about encouraging natural and largely positive word-of-mouth recommendations online.

The flip side is that this cannot be controlled and never will.

I will end on a word of advice.

Social media marketers (and agencies involved with advising on social media marketing campaigns) need to focus on crafting social media promotions based on the ethic of reciprocity: Do to others what you would have them do to you.

On a practical note, at the very basic level, ensure that your brands have a compelling story to tell consumers online. This story could be a fascinating facet of your history that you decide to share online or, admittedly more conveniently, some branded content that is designed to grab the attention of your target demographic and encourage them to interact with you.

Don’t just throw out a campaign asking consumers to give you sordid details of their night out last Friday.

This also means ensuring that social media campaigns designed to appeal to ‘the 16-24 demographic on a youth heavy, music focused social network’ can also be run anywhere online without fear of incurring any potentially scary side effects of nasty bad press. People are potentially more conservative when making decisions based on social marketing promotional campaigns online, despite what proponents of social networks and social media will tell you. ;o)

Here at Real Fresh TV we are focused on developing social media campaigns that place the consumer at the heart of the campaign’s proposition.

We have a background in customer service provision in a variety of industries and bring that to bear in developing ‘advanced online engagement and promotional campaigns’ using social media.

OK that may look like a shameless plug but this is as good a time as any to point out our stance in matters like this.

If someone points out that a social media campaign put together by Real Fresh TV contains something a consumer may register a complaint about, either in the present or in future, potentially because it affects the Data Protection rights or potential future employment prospects of the consumer, for instance, it will never be put forward to the sponsoring company.

Better to be safe than sorry. It’s our reputation on the line as well.

What are your thoughts?

Was it fair for Molson to pull their photo contest promotion from Facebook?

What do you think are the major pitfalls for brands looking to advertise on emerging social advertising platforms Facebook and on other social networks?

MySpace has recently announced plans to launch its own social advertising styled on Facebook’s controversial Beacon system within the next six months.

What do you think? Will it draw as much ire as Facebook Beacon?

Please share your opinions and thoughts in the comments below.

Image credit: MasterNewMedia.org

Related posts:

  1. Future of Social Advertising: Determining the Value Exchange
  2. The Future of Social Advertising: Social Media and Social Experiences
  3. Future of Social Advertising: Branded Content and Branded Social Media
  4. There are Only Two Kinds of Online Advertising: Relevant Advertising and Spam
  5. Future of Social Advertising: Music And Lots Of It

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  • http://komankhe82.consulting23.info/2007/11/26/future-of-social-advertising-potential-pitfalls-of-using-social-media/ komankhe82 » Future of Social Advertising: Potential Pitfalls of Using Social Media

    [...] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptClick on the ‘Social Advertising’ tag to read earlier posts/articles. In this post, I expand on the potential pitfalls involved with engaging directly with consumers online using social advertising. I’d like to take this opportunity to … [...]

  • http://www.realfresh.tv/get-involved/ Real Fresh TV |  Get involved

    [...] We feel we shouldn’t be held responsible (or made liable) for their actions. Perhaps you disagree? If so, let us know… leave a comment. [...]

  • http://www.realfresh.tv/future-of-social-advertising-music-and-lots-of-it/ Real Fresh TV |  Future of Social Advertising: Music and lots of it

    [...] The last post was about the potential pitfalls of using social media. [...]

  • http://www.getahugetank.com Jenifer Hudson

    Social Advertising is becoming more and more prominate as companies realize that marketing this way will bring you up in the search engines. What do we do?

  • http://www.realfresh.tv Chi-chi Ekweozor

    @Jenifer Hudson

    Thanks for your comment.

    I’m not sure I understand the question.

    Do you mean ‘What do we do as marketers?’

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