Hiking The Social Media Trail

Posted on January 6, 2012

As I write this, I’m nursing my heels and toes from a solid 5.5-6 mile hike in the hills of Birmingham, a beautiful city that boasts one of the highest ratios of public green space per resident in the country. Several park development projects have been completed and with a few more in the works, this place is quickly sneaking up the list of best places to hike. It’s so nice to be able to get away from the screens and ads, sometimes you need that disconnect to keep you sane. No surprise this is coming from someone who plasters ads and status messages and seeks new and creative marketing tactics for a living.

So as I’m sitting on my couch not able to move my feet, I have the opportunity to reflect about how perfect and serene our hike was. Then I started thinking about what it would be like if companies began bombarding us with ads and interactive kiosks in the middle of the woods just because the National Park Service needed funding. Interesting concept, right? After all, the NPS is in dire need of funding for general infrastructure, jobs, and maintenance. Just throw some billboards up in the trees or on mountain peaks, and maybe place some sweet color-changing signs behind waterfalls. An outdoor ad-paradise!

Does anyone else feel like this is what Facebook and Twitter are beginning to do to us? With the latest release of ad placements hitting our News Feed and intermixing with our friends’ posts, I’m beginning to feel like Facebook is becoming less of a social platform and more of a marketing platform.

Don’t get me wrong, I make my living playing with digital media; I get it, ads are essential components to the social industry to keep it free for hundreds of millions of daily users. Facebook will be adding exactly one promoted story per day to a user’s News Feed in an effort to boost revenues and create more brand-to-consumer bridges.

But at exactly what point will we break? Will there be a point when, as users, our thresholds will be overloaded with ads and we will simply find other means of communicating with friends? In the future will there even be such a thing as an ad-free environment?

Not but a few months ago, everything was about the “brand experience” and delivering quality messages to your followers that convey some sort of meaning or value. In fact, Facebook was a huge advocate of this, and as a marketing division, probably among the forefront of those actually understanding how the space is best utilized. They did create it, after all.

I’m beginning to lose hope in Facebook as a leader in digital communications with this new ad release. I don’t see how strategically placing ads where people have no option but to notice, can’t opt-out, and can’t quickly identify messages as advertising is a continuation of their “brand experience” push.

Digital marketing is a fairly new field and we’re still figuring out what type of messages consumers consider valuable. But can’t we find something a little more attractive than glorified classifieds? The internet and its users are still young, and I think we need to develop new ways of reaching consumers in a targeted way without fooling them into clicking on stuff. What doesn’t seem innovative to me is bringing an old form of marketing to a new form of communication platform. What catches my attention is when companies spend time and money on creative and UX that makes me remember and gives me a sense of value.

I began drawing a parallel between social media and hiking. Facebook used to be that awesome trail we’d hit to learn what friends were thinking and doing. Now, everywhere we look, there’s a marketing message that defeats the purpose of why I went there in the first place. This is not a trail that I’m going to continue to hike if the paths and views are blocked by ads. Plastering ads isn’t natural, it isn’t sustainable, so why put them in the middle of my hike?

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