Do not invade my world – The negative effects of advertising in social media

Alberto Gonzalez
Do not invade my world – The negative effects of advertising in social media

Many people nowadays live two lives, the one that belongs to our real, physical world, and the one lived in a digital reality in which social media networks have a predominant role. In this context, and as the adoption of Internet and social media continue to increase, digital marketing competes with more traditional communication channels. These relatively new digital channels are clearly attractive for companies but this opportunity did not come without risks. Customers have now the possibility to comment on companies’ behavior or products and easily reach their peers, and negative information about brands and companies is prevalent in the market place. It goes without saying that the opportunity is enormous – Facebook has nowadays 1.44 billion active users, Twitter 320 million and 400 million professionals connect in LinkedIn – but, are companies aware of the drawbacks of embarking in social media advertising?

A majority of users see Internet, and especially social media, as a place in which people develop and cultivate friendships, associations, and for some of them comes to supplant the lack of communities in the real world. In other words, Internet is a place where social exchange with peers takes place and social media “walls” and “newsfeeds” are seen as highly protected personal spaces. Many users are of the opinion that the Web 2.0 should be about user-generated content, sharing useful information and having control upon your own personal space, and it is difficult for them to comprehend why companies should be allowed to enter the game.

In this context, we see reactions from users who feel that brands are invading their digital home. To name a few examples: ads in social media are known to cause irritation, “couldn’t care less” attitude or might project an image that strikes consumers as being hypocritical. At the same time, some customers and social media users are becoming increasingly reluctant to share or retweet advertising material, causing a decrease on the possibilities of a campaign or message to become viral.

A study commissioned by Pitney Bowes in 2013 already highlighted that 83% of users of social media had had negative experiences with social media advertising. The same report also showed that 65% of people would stop using a brand that upsets or irritates them due to their social media behavior. All in all, there is evidence that individuals may be resentful of corporate intrusion into what is perceived to be their own community space and this intrusion might trigger a decision to stop using a brand or to engage in negative word-of-mouth or negative publicity.

It is well-known that negative word-of-mouth is affecting companies all over the world and many have heard stories such as the one in which singer and songwriter David Carrol was involved. In his case, after a baggage mishandling in a flight operated by United Airlines, David discovered his guitar was broken. He tried to complain but nobody seemed to be able to handle his discontent and, as a way to ease his frustration, David decided to compose a song called United Breaks Guitars and upload it to YouTube. The video got 150.000 views within one day, 5 million after one month and has 15 million views by December 2015. Once more, one individual used Internet to pose a complaint ignored by companies and managed to reach thousands of people at an ever furious pace.

Other examples relate to the already mentioned risk of users perceiving some ads or marketing campaigns as being hypocritical. When McDonalds decided to set up a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #McDStories, in which the firm encouraged customers to send messages to the farmers producing ingredients for the company, nobody could expect that users would use it to label stories about food poisoning, low labor standards, animal welfare and the like. A similar case also hit the New York Police Department when it decided to start a Twitter campaign encouraging citizens to tweet photos with police agents. This campaign was quickly sabotaged and rapidly got more than 70.000 tweets related to police brutality.

As this type of behavior increases, companies need to remember that, in general, people only have significant contact with people like themselves, a behavior known as homophily. In social media networks, this “birds of a feather flock together” behavior has also been observed, and the existence of contacts with a tendency to complain in the complainer network is likely to attract even more negative comments and to spread negative word-of-mouth even faster and further.

It is also important to remember that not everyone decides to vent negative word-of-mouth and, of a similar importance as those individuals who choose to complain, are those who still get irritated by the presence of companies in their digital space and decide not to do so. These customers who do not complain but feel irritated or dissatisfy are also of relevancy for the companies for a number of reasons: the company loses the opportunity to remedy the problem and retain the customer, the firm is deprived of valuable feedback, etc. Moreover, as we have already seen, a majority of consumers might consider to stop using a brand if they find their social media behavior irritating.
But, what else can/do customers do? A research conducted in 2015 by the University of Oxford in cooperation with Reuters shows some clear trends, such as the one indicating that 47% of consumers systematically use ad-blocking software in US and 39% do so in UK. Moreover, 30% or more (30% for US and 39% for UK) say they ignore ads or even avoid websites in which ads interfere the content (29% US / 31% UK). These statistics might be behind the drop in Facebook active usage in 2014 (of -9%), noted by the GWI Social Report, and the growth of other social medias such as Pinterest (+97%), Tumblr (+95%), Instragram (+47%) and LinkedIn (+38%). In this context, the revenue from display ads continued to fall and online advertising, and especially banner ads, are going through a certain existential crisis.

But, is the future of digital marketing as gloomy as these numbers might suggest? The answer is probably no and digital, and more specifically social media, advertising is here to stay. What becomes evident is that the challenge for marketers is to find a way to be welcomed into social media networks and to create advertisements that are not only attractive and interesting but that do not feel like digital home invasions.

Alberto Gonzalez

r - Innovation and Creativity
Turku Un
iversity of Applied Sciences

The research problem of the NEMO project is: how contradictory and negative emotions can ethically and sustainably be used as sources not merely for improving customer experience and working climate but also for growth, innovation and new business models?

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