Bad small business social media is why we can’t have nice things

Speaking UpworthyThis month’s Word Carnival is all about Jekyll and Hyde business decisions. That is: perfectly valid yet diametrically opposed views of how businesses should conduct their day to day activities.

My beef is with how most small businesses use social media. Experts say small businesses MUST be on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and on and on and on. Here’s what I think:

Most small businesses shouldn’t use social media. At all.

Ham-handed social media use causes most small businesses to do more damage than good. They mostly generate noise. Time-wasting, money-draining, attention-wasting noise.

Ceaselessly posting drivel, they turn up the volume on their self-promotional nonsense and crossing their fingers that something will go “viral” because each post follows a 20-step list post from a content marketing website.

Please, delete your Facebook page now. I’ll wait. While you’re at it:

  • Get your promotional pin pollution the hell off Pinterest.
  • Stop gang-banging Google+ with your giveaway gunk.
  • Take your thoughtless self-touting trivia off of Twitter.
  • Please refrain from terrorizing Tumblr.

If you aren’t providing value, you are polluting.

The crux of the problem is this: businesses are not people.

Contrary to popular belief among politicians, businesses are inanimate objects.

Inanimate objects by definition cannot be social.

Unless anthropomorphized by a mascot, like the Geico Gekko or Stack of Cash w/ Googly Eyes, businesses are innately as social as a rock. Or set of nail clippers.

People are inherently, wonderfully, catastrophically social. Demonstrated visually:

I'm a Fucking Rock Dude.

To recap, for any politicians reading this:

People = Social Creatures.
Businesses = Nail Clippers.

It takes people to be social. Businesses using social media as a logo instead of “the brand champion employee” aren’t being social. Why?

People don’t know how to interact with a logo.

To prove this empirically, follow this simple recipe:

  1. Set up a webcam in your kitchen
  2. Set out an ordinary can of Coke on the table
  3. Set up a one-way walkie-talkie next to the Coke
  4. Hide (take the other walkie-talkie and a laptop to watch the webcam feed)
  5. When someone enters the kitchen, use the walkie-talkie to speak as the Coke.
  6. Say something simple like, “Hello, would you mind scratching my tab?” or “Hello, you look nice today – does this font make me look fat?”

To avoid getting carted off to the looney bin, I suggest doing this with people who will not recognize your voice.

If you anthropomorphize the Coke by gluing on some googly eyes and a set of wax lips or something, you might get a slightly better response or some laughs.

Still, the absurdity of a Coke with the audacity to talk – that’s how people feel about interacting with a logo on a social medium like Twitter or Facebook.


Johnny Five you are not.

The problem is compounded by the actual users of social media.

There are four kinds of social users:

Social Media Managers/Social Media Experts

By far, the most populous user. Whether paid professionals (rare), the company’s receptionist, lowly unpaid intern, or somebody’s cousin with an iPad (exceedingly likely), these folks run Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and blogs.

The professionals can convince you to switch brands or religions, convince you of something you never thought you’d believe, or get you to love a product more than your kids.

The less professional among them make you reconsider your stance on gun ownership and arson.

Average Joe/Jane Connecter

Typical user, spends 1 hour a day or so on Social Media connecting with friends, liking cat videos, posting an update or a joke, or sharing something from George Takei.

Lovely folks, just trying to live their lives and maybe sneak in a game of FarmVille or two during their lunch break or mid-afternoon slump.

They go on social media to connect with friends and family, find out about events or get ideas, cyberstalk exes, or post pictures of them being generally awesome to make their friends jealous. Mostly, though, they use social media to screw around.

These, by and large, are the lump sum of social society who aren’t adventurous, young, or stupid enough to join other networks where they’d be out of their comfort zone. They still want an Ello invite, though.

Crazy Rabid Al/Alice Advocate

Not-so-typical user, spends 2-3 hours or more on Social Media, if not all day.

They spend their time posting Outrage Porn (not literal porn, usually – just the kind of articles that get you so fired up that YOU. MUST. COMMENT.) In some sort of adaptation on Münchausen syndrome, these individuals crave the attention of exposing “the truth about the world” one blood-boiling article at a time and debating non-believers to death.

Also included in this category: caustic YouTube commenters, trolls, and couponer moms who terrorize their connections by liking brand pages and installing brand apps for the sole purpose of getting a coupon. The smarter among these couponers then delete the app or un-like the page to rinse and repeat a few weeks later. In the process, she shares her proclivity for Bounty and Tide and Seventh Generation with all her friends and connections for the brief 2 minute window it takes to print the coupon and delete the shared-with-anyone-you-ever-sat-next-to post.

Bleeding Edge Ben/Bernice

Definitely not your average user. These are the people who bailed on Tumblr when Yahoo! bought it and Instagram when Facebook acquired it. These loners, outcasts by choice, constantly seek the edge-case social network for the features. They’ll be complaining about Ello selling out for months before anyone else knows what Ello is.

They’re the folks who swore by Multiply until the day it went defunct, rather than join up with the far-easier-to-use WordPress platform. They’re lurking right now on Yik Yak (Twitter/SnapChat is so passé). They’re dating on Tinder (OK Cupid is filled with yesterday’s geeks). They blog ironically and only share on the major platforms when their favorite indie artist has a Kickstarter they can’t afford to donate to.

They have social media obscurism down to a science and actively rally against brands on the networks they’ve chosen to inhabit.

Did you see anyone in that list who legitimately wanted to connect to a business for fun and profit?

There’s exactly one exemption to this: folks who love a brand so much, they integrate it into their social identity. Nike, Converse, Nalgene, Starbucks, Apple. Magnum condoms.

Brands allow us to self-associate with lifestyles. Brands we love say something about us. Every once in a while, we might even do something stupid and Like a brand on social media so others will know we like it.

What do we usually get in return for this mind-boggling show of brand love? Ads, promoted posts, and interruption marketing. Fuck.

Make The Promoted Posts Stop


The problem, of course, is that brands can’t distinguish between fans who aspire to purchase and fans who’re already in the club. So they just carpetbomb every fan’s feed with sponsored posts.

What’s the fix?

To fix the problem, businesses must stop pretending all fans are equally motivated and likely to purchase.

Retargeting (the practice of identifying folks who’ve searched for you or visited your website, and serving them up an ad elsewhere – like Facebook – for them to buy the thing they were looking at) is flawed. It includes people shopping for friends, browsing for things they might never buy, comparison shopping, graphic designers looking for inspiration, and the list goes on and on and on.

These folks aren’t even your real fans. They’re fans by proxy and the connection between your brand and them is much weaker.

To fix the problem, businesses must put a real person in charge of a social media account and identify that person.

Brands posting self-promotional drivel without substance, anonymously, soullessly, and on a regular schedule set by HootSuite need to stop using social media.

Instead, someone who really, truly cares about the customer needs to take charge of the Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and blog. They need to care. They have to care. And we have to know who they are so we know who to say hello to, who to thank, and who to complain to.

It’s easy to rant at a “brand” on social media. A brand isn’t a person.

Try ranting at Tom, 32, with 3 kids and a wife at home, who – among other things – manages the Twitter account for the brand you’re upset with.

To fix the problem, businesses providing customer service on social media must handle issues one-to-one and respond with humanity, understanding, and a willingness to say, “Yes”.

Customer service scales on social because the tools exist to handle it. But the power in social media customer service has always been that someone, somewhere, even if it’s a lowly unpaid intern, is listening.

Thanks to those same scaleability tools, autoresponders, and auto-categorizers, social media customer service will soon be just as violating as the most mind-bending automated phone tree.

If you’re not willing to put in the work, just turn it off.

Stop polluting social media with your promoted self-promotion.

Stop generating soulless noise.

Stop eliciting animosity because you don’t want to name the intern running your social show.

Seriously. Do it right or just turn it off.

Image credits:
  • “New” Coke Can by Ryan Fung used under Creative Commons BY-SA.
  • Googly Eyes by Caustic Armadillo in Public Domain.
  • Googly Eyed Coke, I'm a Fuckin' Rock, Dude, and Damn You Prius by Nick Armstrong shared under Creative Commons BY-SA.