• September 1, 2012

Stop Touching Me! The Overuse of Social Media

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People can be hypocrites when it comes to communication.

All animals communicate. We have a plethora of animal-based similes to describe people who won't shut up: chattering like a chimp or magpie, yapping like a dog, even squealing like a pig (though fans of Deliverance might think that refers to something else). But animals don't babble for no reason; they convey needed information—often through body language, as well—and that's it. It's humans who overuse the gift of language.

Social network technology has made us upright bipeds even worse about the whole blabbermouth thing. Among individuals, it's understandable—some folks are just wired that way. But there are business uses for social media, and in those cases, the inability to shut up is not just annoying, it's costly.

It has been said that it takes seven to eight "touches" with a customer to successfully close a sale. For some processes, the number can be upwards of 30. That's fine when you're dealing with somebody directly, or when the touches are subtle and not intrusive. But at some point, a marketer decided that putting all those touches together in a short space of time would shrink the sales cycle accordingly. If annoying your customers and driving them away counts as shortening the sales cycle, then mission accomplished.

A friend of mine—I won't say who, because he might read this—does a lot of social media marketing for his business, and he's successful. Maybe I don't understand how this Internet thing works, but the sheer volume of contacts he puts out makes me queasy. Multiple touches per day from multiple accounts on multiple services. I realize that it's intended for masses of people and businesses, but I am still an individual, so it all blurs together into spam for me. My messaging filters agree with me, and it's a struggle to keep him white listed.

TV and radio commercials have been around as long as TV and radio, so those segments of the industry have had time to learn what happens when you oversaturate your target market. Public video sites like Hulu are the new TV, and podcasting is the new radio, but the lesson doesn't seem to have carried over to the new media. To be fair, part of the problem is lack of advertisers, so a limited pool of ads gets replayed ad nauseam. If it's a Hulu night, I know which three or four ads will run during pretty much every show.

Individuals with media empires aren't immune either—director and fanboy Kevin Smith has more shows coming out of his Smodcast.com stable than I can easily count. The last one I heard had more than 10 minutes of self-promotion of upcoming shows, tour dates, and the like. I nearly bailed. And have you seen his Twitter feed? It looks like nobody explained the whole 140-character thing to the guy—he takes the micro out of microblog.

The danger, as always, is lowering the signal-to-noise ratio until nobody's paying attention anymore. Keep touching something and it will go numb, just like your parents warned you. Leave your audience some time to reflect, absorb, and compare, or they will tune you out.

Even worse than apathy, though, is hostility—backlash against your company because its messaging is so intrusive. I might not be able to tell you whose car I'll buy or what vodka I'll drink (not at the same time, of course), but I am sure that a groan and a sigh, leading to feelings of rage with repetition, is not the reaction those companies want from me. Keep touching the numb thing and it will get sore, and a sore consumer is a dangerous thing.

Marshall Lager is the founder of Third Idea Consulting, and is not the sort to beat a dead horse. If you have any horses that are still breathing, contact him at marshall@3rd-idea.com or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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