Social Media Marketers Face an Inconvenient Reality

under Social Media Marketing.

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This is what interruption marketing looks like on Facebook:

facebook feed ads suck 2

Worse still, this is what the response looks like:

facebook feed ads suck

When I first heard the news that this would be happening, I thought it was probably positive news for marketers, but quite possibly bad news for Facebook:

"I do question, however, whether it's a positive move for Facebook. Google Panda was released, in part, to remove ads disguised as content from the search landscape. They did so to satisfy their end users. Can Facebook alienate its users badly enough to hurt their bottom line? Certainly not in the short term. Maybe not in the long term. Only time will tell."

Well, let's just say that time has been telling.

At the end of last year, I was already warning that teenagers were spending 42 percent less time on the site compared to the previous year, that nearly nobody uses Facebook to seek out information, and that people are more inclined to use the Yellow Pages than Facebook to find local businesses.

But that was then, and this is now. And now, Facebook lost 6 million US visitors in just one month.

That's right. In the developed world, Facebook has already peaked. From here on out, declining interest is all we can expect.

Are interruption ads in the middle of the feed the reason? They almost certainly play a part, but Facebook has been steadily losing its audience for nearly two years now, and there are much more mundane reasons why.

Forget political privacy, what about personal privacy? Facebook isn't the cool place for kids to go hang out. Their parents are there. Your boss is there. That's just not the way most people like to communicate.

Publishing to the web used to feel empowering. Now it's lost its novelty. Most people don't want a megaphone. They'll take their instant messengers, text messages, phone calls, and face to face meetings, thank you very much. Studies have verified that people don't use Facebook to "connect." They use it to entertain themselves. Nothing more.

And this is creating a negative feedback loop. Because it takes somebody willing to use the megaphone to be the entertainer. But being entertaining also means risking offending people. Facebook is populated with mediocre posts because nobody wants to let loose when they know their boss is watching.

Social media marketers face an inconvenient reality. Social networks were never about "building relationships" and "being part of the conversation."

I've never seen a conversation on Facebook.

Social networks are built for bragging. It's built right into the design. The original post takes center stage. The comment section is tiny and hidden behind clickthroughs. Then came "likes" and their kin. They killed any chance of conversation happening on social media. It's just so much easier to click a button.

The word "relationship" has been bastardized and commoditized, then interpreted overzealously by those who are new to internet marketing, and those who stand to gain by clouding their vision.

This is the reality. Your customers don't want to be in a "relationship" with you. They might want to "follow" you because they find your content entertaining or useful. They might "share" your content because doing so will make them look good. You can certainly expand your reach and build trust with a growing audience, and you can certainly use social media to maximize customer retention.

These are all positive things, but they are not "relationships."

Do relationships mean nothing to modern marketers? Far from it. But only the influential relationships matter. "It's not what you know, it's who you know." It's that old idiom that's still relevant here.

Could you build a business by becoming best buddies with every single one of your customers? Gary Vaynerchuk certainly seems to think so, and it's worked for him. But the idea that the only way to grow a solid business is to scale personal relationships with your customers? It's bunk. The idea that it's the most efficient way? It's a load of crap.

And consumers know that better than anybody.

They're only interested in web properties because they interest or entertain them, and they're increasingly discovering that niche does a much better job of that for them. Google+ has seen growth by embracing niche with communities. Up and coming social networks and social tools like Wanelo, Vine, Snapchat, and Kik have embraced niche. Reddit owes its success to the fact that users can create their own subreddits for each and every niche.

I'm not advocating a return to micro niche sites. I argued against them last year and I stand behind that assertion. Instead, I'm advocating that you target users and subcultures. It makes sense, because in the long term, this is the only reason for people to communicate online.

When it's hard to find people who share the same interests, you turn to the Internet. That's been true since its inception, and I believe it will remain that way. The culture of the Internet is built around common interests, not common geography.

Facebook owes its success to the fact that it helped people reconnect with old friends. It's continued success comes from the fact that some people use it as a megaphone, and the rest of us find what they say entertaining at times.

We don't go there to become best friends with brands, and we never will.

Brands that play the chatting game will mostly lose. Anybody can have a casual conversation. Few people can create entertaining experiences or empower their audiences.

Brands that understand Internet culture will win the Internet. They will do that by appealing to cultures built around common interests, by helping and entertaining their audiences, and by producing content that people feel compelled to share.