Social Media – I’ll Tell You What They Want

So. There I was, sprawled on the couch (the grey one that used to be cream in a time Before Children) in what passes for a living room (which is, incidentally, supposed to be a Child-Free Zone, but has recently, I’ve noticed, been threatened by a slow-moving but inexorable tsunami of plastic cars, aircraft and soldiery) pondering life, t’universe and everything and waiting for the second episode of Flash Forward. 

(For those who haven’t been exposed to this meisterwerk of the television producer’s art, Flash Forward, and its cast of thousands, deals with the premise that everyone on earth suffered a two minute and 17 second blackout – at exactly the same time – during which they all experienced some sort of glimpse of their individual futures. The rest of the series, I’m presuming, will be spent finding out why, who, how and – most importantly – how to stop the future happening.)

Now, Flash Forward isn’t a bad programme, but I’m getting the feeling that Channel Five are absolutely desperate for it to achieve cult status. It’s the irritating voiceover you see. Just when you think it’s safe to sit on your sofa and watch your programme of choice, you get some voiceover lovely (on behalf of the station) telling you just how marvellous the programme is going to be. And, by implication, what a wonderful human being, a paragon of taste and style, you are for watching it. Indeed for discovering it in the first place. You are well and truly sat in one of the very frontest seats in the tip of the pointy end of the vanguard. And then Irritating Voiceover Woman starts asking rhetorical questions! As if you hadn’t noticed the f***ing kangaroo hopping down the street and the strange person in black who should have blacked out but didn’t!

Thing is, this is a blatant sales technique. It’s not adding anything to my enjoyment. It’s simply hyping something that I’ve already bought into. It is uneccesary puffery – preaching to the converted – a waste of resources. It does not bring the consumer in – in fact, speaking personally, it alienates them (me). Worst of all, it’s pitched at a very low level – I recognise it for what it is and find it mildly insulting. And if I do, then, speaking as no Einstein here, so do thousands of others. (And finally, in this instance, unforgiveably, Flash Forward ain’t no Twin Peaks – don’t even think about drawing a parallel. )

Briefly – very briefly, because I didn’t want to miss any programme (I’m terribly respectful of my audience, but I’m afraid, dear blog snorkellers, you’re not as important as Flash Forward) – I was minded of stuff I’ve read and conversations I’ve had about the nature of content. Specifically, obviously, content posted to social media by brands (companies or organisations) as part of a social media strategy.

It’s one of the main tenets of the big US argument for letting employees post to social media, without going through the PR department. As I understand it, the (US) feeling is that anything coming out of the PR department is like the Irritating Voiceover – full of needless promotional puffery, recognised for what it is, and – truth be told – slightly insulting  to the consumer. This, obviously, is not what the social media consumer wants.

Unfortunately, in their mad rush to get away from what the social media consumer doesn’t want, the social media gurus seem to have lost track of what it is that the consumer ALWAYS wants – always has done and always will do.

There’s this belief that the consumer wants a say, wants a conversation, wants to be asked questions. Well some of them probably do – and they’re the ones who are tweeting Starbucks or Facebooking Domino’s Pizza. (Is it just me or is there something rather sad and depressing about Facebooking a global pizza company?) But I’d be willing to bet that most of them don’t. From my experience, there’s one thing that consumers want from a brand (once they’re vaguely satisfied that the brand doesn’t kill babies or manufacture its products from toxic waste).

Consumers want Free Stuff. They don’t want an Irritating Voiceover – although they’ll put up with it, if there’s some Free Stuff at the end of it. They want Free Stuff, given to them in a non-threatening, non-patronising, non-strings-attached manner. They don’t want to be told they’re brilliant, they (mostly) don’t want to be asked their opinions, they don’t really want to have a say.

They want Free Stuff. And if it’s good Free Stuff, they’ll probably come back and buy it next time. The moral of the story, therefore, is:

  • PR people – stop doing irritating voiceover – be genuine, be honest and, occasionally, tell people how to get Free Stuff.
  • Social Media Gurus – stop asking for opinions, stop trying to start conversations and keep them going – acknowledge those who want to say something and tell people how to get Free Stuff.

Tell me I’m wrong.

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Filed under Communications Strategy, External Communications, Social Media

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