Stop treating Facebook users like morons

Who likes kittens? Inane Facebook updates like these, posted by brand owners, are spreading like a rash reckons Douglas Nicol.

Nine weeks ago the Ad Standards Board ruled Facebook pages managed by brands to be a form of advertising. This echoes the previous ACCC ruling to the same effect. As a result a terminal pox is developing in social media.

It’s evident on an increasing number of Facebook brand pages. I call it the brand ‘Kindy conversation’. Like a dodgy rash the problem is spreading and could be terminal for brands attempting to have a meaningful social engagement with the consumer.

Take some recent Facebook posts from well-known brands:

Who agrees that hot soup is nice on a really cold day?

Hey guys who’s having fun this weekend?

Who likes canned tuna?

Who likes this picture?

Who likes kittens?

Do you like a red coloured car or a black coloured car?

It’s not even the lowest common denominator – it’s just social media suicide.

A whole industry has grown up of people creating idiotic and pointless Kindy interactions with consumers. They earnestly create six-month content plans full of shallow, turgid interactions that never veer off course from their pre-determined and vacuous outcomes. Never will the content plan get thrown in the bin at the behest of the conversation flow of your customers. Spontaneity is at the heart of social media but many brands are dead to the world of communication and try to put content into a predetermined linear plan.

The sad thing is these posts usually get some response, from equally facile consumers – some marketers get excited when 137 very bored consumers post back comments. Treat the consumer like an idiot has never been a greatstrategy – if you wouldn’t say it to a mate in the real world you shouldn’t say it on Facebook.

We have moved from juvenile conversations before the ASB/ACCC rulings to the sanctuary of the Kindergarten. Why does this happen? Well, the Kindy is a safe place for most brands because it is a false world where everything is great, everything is super positive and nothing ever bad happens. You can avoid the real world where God forbid you might have a meaningful interaction with a real adult. The legal department are pretty happy with this approach too.

Dumbing down social media is driven by fear of a difficult conversation, and having to deal with the real fears and hopes of consumers. That’s why most brand pages will remain sterile and die from lack of purpose. It’s time for Australian marketers to grow up and have an adult to adult conversation with their customers. The ASB ruling is no excuse.

Douglas Nicol is creative partner and director at The Works


  1. GreatStrategy
    16 Oct 12
    5:10 pm

  2. thank you finally for someone stating the obvious.

  3. It Depends
    16 Oct 12
    5:45 pm

  4. Sometimes the simple things work all the same. If a Facebook page predominantly engages with photo’s, well they tell a 1000 words, so a brief and simple sentence is all that is needed isn’t it?

    Depends on what your message is and what you are trying to achieve, who you are trying to target I guess?

    I like the Visit Queensland page as an example:

    I do hear where you are coming from nevertheless and have seen many pages, which do not engage with their target market on say Facebook. (Can all target markets be engaged on Facey…?)

  5. Curious
    17 Oct 12
    7:27 am

  6. Perhaps the dumbest article I’ve ever read.

    The (stupid) brand is having a conversation with the )stupid) consumer about something (stupidly) inane. And you have a problem with that???

    How many times do you comment on the weather a week?

    Life is inane. Inane is safe. Safe is good.

    Not everything has to be ‘advertising clever’.

  7. Brent W
    17 Oct 12
    9:22 am

  8. What he’s saying is that a connection between a brand’s goal and their customers does not have to be based on obtaining ‘likes’. Rather, it should be through a dialogue that hinges on their interests specific to the brand. Everyone loves kittens and hugs, that’s easy. What is hard is getting people to give a shit about what you’re saying beyond the easy, puffy stuff.

  9. Hank
    17 Oct 12
    9:51 am

  10. I think this is an example of what Doulas is talking about.

    A genuinely entertaining response that engaged their audience and enhanced their brand.

  11. Encyclic!
    17 Oct 12
    10:31 am

  12. I think what we all need to do here is have a look at “Condescending Corporate Brand Page”;fref=ts

  13. Good moron
    17 Oct 12
    1:54 pm

  14. Good call @Encyclic

    Tis a shame to write this article without referencing the Condescending Corporate Brand Page:

    “Like this page if you don’t like elderly relatives dying” amongst other too-familar posts.

  15. Mike
    17 Oct 12
    2:17 pm

  16. Also agree with Encyclic, the Condescending Corporate Brand Page was the first thing I thought of when I read this article.

    Community Managers are often based on the amount of “Likes” they get and this is a cheap and easy way to boost those figures. Sadly it does nothing for real engagement which isn’t so easy to measure or boast about in a weekly WIP.

    You’re Facebook fans really are friends of your brand and that’s exactly how you should treat them.

  17. Greg
    17 Oct 12
    2:26 pm

  18. Has anyone thought to consider Edgerank or is this just going to be one of those “everyone else is dumb and I’m so clever” posts?

  19. Chris
    17 Oct 12
    2:35 pm

  20. I’m with you Douglas. Last Friday I had 3 brands asking me “What are you doing this weekend?”. Probably unliking some brands?

  21. Encyclic!
    17 Oct 12
    3:08 pm

  22. When it’s a game developer/publisher asking me what game I’ll be playing this weekend, it’s fine, hell, I’ve won free stuff from PC hardware companies for responding to social media fluff.

    If it was Mazda (or similar) asking me what I was doing on the weekend, I’d be replying “unliking your page”, screenshotting it, and submitting it to after it had gotten a few likes.

  23. Bill Posters
    18 Oct 12
    7:27 am

  24. Apparently being responsible for your actions = “a terminal pox”. Boo hoo, marketing sooks.

  25. willemrt
    18 Oct 12
    10:06 am

  26. also.. kitteh’s work way better than something serious.

    Don Quixote much…

  27. Nicky
    18 Oct 12
    11:18 am

  28. Lol Greg… of course you’re absolutely correct. Edgerank now emphasises engagement over “likes”. If you’re still thinking that “likes” = pat on the back from bosses/brands then you need to do some more research. Any post made on Facebook needs to generate a response – like, comment and/or share if it’s to improve the pages overall performance. This is the reason so many Community Managers are clutching at straws by posting random and sometimes moronic questions to followers.

    The second challenge facing CM’s is the approval process. If a company outsource their social media activities to an agency it can take an incredibly long time to get post approval. If a company/brand don’t trust their agency to control the “voice” then followers get a restricted experience. This stunted approval process can also occur when social media departments have been created in-house and trust is in short supply.

    Brands are scared of spontaneity. If they trusted themselves and the people they work for to get it right then we’d be seeing something more than “Who likes Kittens”?

  29. Nicky
    18 Oct 12
    11:23 am

  30. …and the people who work for them rather.

  31. Tbone
    18 Oct 12
    11:46 am

  32. Wait. This isn’t driven by a fear of difficult conversation!
    It is driven by Facebook’s updated Edgerank algorithm which has been tweaked so that promoted posts are becoming more necessary to be seen.

    To engage everybody in your (hopefully) diverse community, you need to have a variety of content – including what the supercilious among us might consider “inane”.

    If it gets likes, and you don’t like it , it’s still valid as an engagement tactic.
    Any real Social Media Manager understands that balance.

  33. Greg
    18 Oct 12
    12:26 pm

  34. ^^T-Bone: +1
    Also, thanks for the condescension, Nicky – that came across real nice with your link to your website. I’m sorry, you obviously really “get” social, what with the link to your corporate Facebook page on your website being broken and all.


    You’ll forgive me as I never said that Teh Kittehs are the way to go. The way I see it, different brands need different strategies, and some consumer brands do well with keeping up with pop culture. Obviously a “Which is cuter, kittens or puppies” might fall flat for a bank, but might do well for a local pet store. Similarly, “like this post if you want to head to Destination X” helps tourism bodies stay top of mind with good content. What Tbone is saying re. book-ending brand-specific content with so-called “supercilious” conversation makes sense, because Facebook allows brands a more human interface with users. Not to mention Edgerank.

  35. Nicky
    18 Oct 12
    12:42 pm

  36. @Greg I was actually giving you a compliment…. although now I’m just thinking that you’re just a douche. You were the only one to mention Edgerank in this discussion and I thought you were pointing to engagement as an important factor.

    Thank you for the heads up re: Facebook. I missed my footer link.

    And yes, I do “get” social just ask the handful of companies I’ve worked with.

  37. sit on my facebook
    18 Oct 12
    1:05 pm

  38. more importantly, let’s consider the moronity of facebook marketers. instead of arguing about the most comfortable deckchair on the titanic (likes vs engagement vs some other bs), read this:

  39. Band Wagon
    18 Oct 12
    3:54 pm

  40. Posted on the Coca Cola Facebook page 15 hrs ago and so far has received:
    46,635 likes and 1309 comments

    “Dear Coca Cola

    Irn Bru is better

    Yours Sincerely,

    Kudos to the Irn Bru lover who might not realise that this is a very big marketing victory for the Scottish drink!

    Free branding for Irn Bru…

    New age advertising.

  41. Wendy Nicol
    19 Oct 12
    5:06 pm

  42. I am always surprised when people actually comment on questions like that. Then again, there are some pretty dumb people out there.

  43. Craig
    20 Oct 12
    12:24 pm

  44. People who say kindy comments at parties are lonely people seeking some form of attention and human contact, no matter how trivial or shallow.

    Brands behaving this way online are branding themselves the same way. They have plenty of interesting things to discuss with people, be interesting, not boring, shallow and vapid!

  45. Tom
    25 Oct 12
    5:34 pm

  46. @sit on my facebook… totally agree Weigels piece is the best thing that I have read on the topic by far!!