Why it’s time to kick your social sugar habit – don’t mislead with poor content marketing
“Make some noise!” is a phrase that’s close to many marketers’ hearts. Marketing teams might not shout it in the office, exactly, but they feel it deep in their blood while they’re parking their flat whites next to their longboards (mine’s a 44-inch G&S pintail if you think I’m being sarcastic) and limbering up their fingers for a hard day’s social chitchat. And that’s great.
But is making noise always a good thing?
If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that we’re ruled by memes, by those self-propelling behaviours and content-bites that someone has planted in the national consciousness. Someone like you, perhaps. The Brexit campaign and the rise of ‘The Donald’ are proof that memes are already installed in government, and it matters little whether truth is on their agenda, only that what they say is shared and retweeted.
Except it does matter, because what we share with each other should be much more than just clickbait and cats.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that our meme-based culture is starting to create real problems in the media landscape, with the biggest of them being that we’re abandoning depth and meaning and increasingly living on the surface of things. We now value information based on the speed at which it moves – how quickly it can be spread and digested – and not by whether it contains any truth.
Such a world is a cynic’s dream. Too highfalutin? Let me share an example.
In July, the website IFLscience, which is dedicated to exploring the lighter side of science, ran a brilliant Facebook campaign with a story about how marijuana contains alien DNA from outside our solar system. So far, so Daily Express, you might think. But bear with me.
The story created a storm, with thousands of people sharing it with their friends. The comments beneath each share were a mix of astonishment (those who believed the story) and outrage (those who thought that a genuine science portal had lost the plot). Just a handful of the many thousands of sharers posted the correct response: a smiley face or knowing wink.
That tiny handful is where both the problem and the solution lie: these were the only people who’d actually read the story. And they discovered the truth: that behind the cleverly designed clickbait headline was a serious scientific analysis about how most people click and share stories without reading them.
This journalistic sleight of hand proved its own point: that the majority of people who share stories on social media only read the headlines – all the evidence anyone needs that the socially connected world risks creating a billion channels of static and white noise. If we let it.
And the more we never look beyond page one of Google, and the more we expect information to be instantly available and digestible, the more we are looking at the vast landscape of human knowledge and endeavour through a pinhole.
“Social platforms are awash with noise and clickbait”
Social platforms are awash with noise and clickbait. Even LinkedIn, which was designed as a serious business-to-business networking tool, is now little more than a social drinks machine stuffed with high-sugar content. Read something in a split second, Like it, move on.
On LinkedIn, serious analyses, investigations, and in-depth reports go unread, or are Liked by one or two people, while (for example) a clickbait story about how Simon Cowell started his business empire after spending his last £5.26 on a taxi are Liked by (at the last count) 48,000 people.
The story? A confection. Yet more social sugar digested by people who seem to believe that business is a game show with instant winners and losers – which is why, perhaps, 84 per cent of startups in the city where I live, Brighton, fail before the end of year one.
We’ve all seen the same memes: images of an Empty House of Commons during an important debate, quotes attributed to people in the news, and so on, many of which can be debunked with a check on Snopes.com or just two minutes of first-hand research. Such memes are no more than spun sugar, designed to hit people’s social sweet spot.
We’re becoming addicted to social sugar: meaningless crap designed for people who are feeding an addiction without realising it. There is so much low-grade information out there now, on so many channels, with so many portals all chasing the same eyeballs, that no one has time to read any facts. Surface, not depth; noise, not signal; sugar, not real sustenance.
In such a world – as IFLscience proved – headlines can claim anything; it doesn’t matter if it’s true. But marketers should beware of thinking that all this is a good thing.
This ‘post truth’ world, as some have dubbed it, can’t be healthy, because it creates serious knock-on effects: anyone who doesn’t do their research becomes a victim; we begin to distrust every source of information; and we’re each complicit in spreading that distrust through our own lack of diligence.
“…contempt for facts equals contempt for your customers: something that no marketer can afford anymore.”
And I’d argue something more: contempt for facts equals contempt for your customers: something that no marketer can afford anymore. Why? Because those same social platforms will be used in the one way that people do still trust: talking to their friends. And some of those conversations may be about your organisation, company, products, or service levels.
Any mismatch between what you say and what you do will be picked over and discussed. Today, reputations can be won and lost overnight – the one thing that really is instant in our socially connected world. Just ask Byron Burger.
In the post-truth world, the clever organisation should do something imaginative: build something that will last for longer than a split second. Start giving your customers real sustenance, real information. Start making their lives better. Stand for something and stop believing that your customers will fall for anything.
Help them kick their social sugar habit.