Marketing Bootcamp

Hey, Social-Media Marketers, Shut Up Already

This past Halloween, I hosted a costume party at my home for 120 of my closest friends. We all had a blast -- we laughed, we drank a lot, some got sick, etc. You know how the story goes.

But in the middle of my party, a friend of mine came over and started telling me about his new startup business. Was it a good business idea? I don’t know, I wasn’t listening. Would I buy whatever it was he was selling? Again, I wasn’t listening and don’t care.

So why do I sound like such a jerk? Because I was at a party, that’s why. Let me drink, crack a few jokes and be obnoxious without you bothering me about your new business. Is that OK, buddy?

Related: Rule Breakers: 5 Social Brands That Defy Best Practices

Which brings me to the point of this column.

When social-media marketing became a “thing” a few years back, companies got all excited. I know because I was one of them. It was a new way of reaching out to the customer. No longer did I have to wait to send my monthly email to my customers. No longer would I fear that reaching my customers would be costly and time consuming.

I was now able to reach my audience daily -- daily! -- for free. That’s right, I did not have to pay a nickel to post a new Facebook status about our recent GQ placement, tweet out a new sale or post a picture of our new products on Instagram. I could now do it every single day and it was free. Marketing had never been easier or less expensive.

Fast forward to 2015.

Because it’s (mostly) free, social-media marketing is now everywhere. It’s in your Facebook feed. It’s on the side of your Facebook feed. It’s in your Twitter feed. It’s promoted in your Twitter feed. It's in your Instagram feed and now promoted Instagram photos.

Sheesh, I’m exhausted just listing them all. Now, imagine how the customers feel.

Here we are, at least five years into social-media marketing, and the results are still inconclusive as to whether companies make any money off this stuff. With advertisers so heavily invested in social-media marketing now -- through hiring, promoted posts, endless time -- they continue to try to break the code on maximizing their return on investment for their social-media efforts. To date, these efforts still aren’t working.

Why? Let’s go back to my Halloween party.

I’m hanging out with my friends. A little buzzed. Having fun. And then someone came over to me and wanted to talk business with me. He didn’t give me a hard sell. It wasn’t even a lengthy conversation. But still, I wasn’t in the mood to be sold to. I was talking to friends.

Related: Brands Waste Resources on Facebook and Twitter

And that’s how I feel when I am on Facebook or Instagram, and to a lesser extent, Twitter.

I am hanging out online. Talking. Socializing. Not looking to be interrupted. Not looking to be sold to. And yet, that’s all these brands want to do. Interrupt my time with my friends. I’m tired of it.

Most brands, because of its low (or no) cost, market on social media daily. Which means we are not only bothered when we want to be left alone, but we are bothered multiple times a day.

That’s why I conclude that we are about to face a social-media burnout unless some industry-wide change is made.

Social media, at its best, is a brand enhancer. It is a new “two-way” communication tool between brand and customer. “Two-way” meaning the customer can initiate dialogue with the company (traditional customer service/engagement) or the company can initiate dialogue with the customer.

But that’s all it is. Social media is not a new sales channel, and it is time for companies to stop treating it like one.

I may not be a millennial, but I sense a change in the air. The constant noise of advertising (yes, social-media marketing is advertising despite its "marketing" name) is causing people to tune out the marketing messages. Some do it is consciously (unfollowing a company) and some do it subconsciously (scrolling quickly past the message). Social-media marketing, in my uncalculated/speculative opinion, is becoming like print advertising in newspapers -- we all just look right past it.

No, I am not calling for the death of social-media marketing. It will be around for the near future, for sure. But I do think we are nearing an era of customer apathy and it’s time for some kind of a reinvention by the industry.

Related: The 5 Big Reasons People Aren't Following Your Social-Media Accounts