How mutuality can pacify facebook’s brand-bullies

Brand-bullying is alive and kicking in the world of facebook advertising.   If you’ve ever read any of the comments that people leave on brands’ ‘suggested posts’ then you’ll know that they tend to be at best subversive and mostly abusive.  There are even websites like this one, dedicated to the sport of  bashing patronising social marketing.


In my opinion the brand bullies can be pacified by adopting mutualistic strategy.  This means investing more carefully into the creation of reciprocal value.  In so doing, brands are more likely to encourage compliance and attract constructive comments rather than getting lynched and lampooned by hyper-critical crowds.


Many people object to the mere presence of brands on their facebook newsfeed. I think this because most people see it as their own private space.  So a brand’s efforts to engage them often feels like an uninvited gate-crasher being obtrusively interruptive.  When brands’ efforts to engage are judged as ill-thought through and therefore insulting to the intelligence, they’re going to attract abuse.

7 ways to be insufferable on facebook

7 ways to be insufferable on facebook

A similar dynamic is at play in personal networks (although the abuse is more likely to be muttered than typed). This post by @waitbutwhy beautifully illustrates how the author should serve the reader as well as themselves in order to avoid annoying people.

If brands spent more time thinking about how to create  shared value then they would be less likely to fall victim to the brand-bullies….

I don’t know the actual performance analytics on the examples below, but I’m using them anecdotally to illustrate my point.  In reverse Sergio Leone style here’s ‘The Ugly, the Bad and the Good’. . .

“The Ugly”…

Everything Everywhere was accused of being more like ‘nothing nowhere’ after an attempt to engage people by asking them to share their super-fast stories in order to celebrate their super-fast connection speeds.  By failing to add any real value and using what was deemed to be a cheap piece of design, they got abuse rather than compliance.

Brand bullies in facebook

Brand bullies in facebook

Although this may seem participatory at first glance it is certainly not mutualistic. The emphasis is on EE’s agenda to communicate its service rather than on people’s agenda to have an entertaining facebook experience. A more mutualistic approach would have been to earn the right to draw people’s attention to its speedy service by linking to funny or inspiring examples of high speed, or at the very least doing some kind of clever piece of photo-shopping…

“The Bad”…

Barclays attempt to jump on the Andy Murray Wimbledon bandwagon last summer back-fired as they not only failed to invest in decent photo-shopping but also managed to insult the memory of a great British female former Wimbledon champion in the process.

Brand Bullies on facebook

Brand Bullies on facebook

A more mutualistic approach would have been to actually give something back to tennis rather than simply stating an association with it.  For example, they could have supplied equipment to inspire amateurs to pick up a racket and get playing.  Brands need to earn the right to get people’s attention. . .

“The good”…

Now onto a positive mutualistic example.  In both cases the brands managed to demonstrate a genuine passion to the cultural products they were associating themselves with.  This genuine passion translated into more compliant responses as they inspired people to suspend their cynicism and actually play nicely. . .

American Express demonstrated a real commitment to film by sponsoring the BFI London Film Festival.  This gave them the permission to invite people to discuss film with them.  The British focus of their engagement no doubt helps release any baggage associated with being an explicitly American brand in the UK. By finding common ground (as coined by Tempero’s Pete McGarr) brands are more likely to inspire positive engagement.

Stella Artois carefully selected an inspiring piece of stimulus that was sufficiently niche and romantically visualised to attract car enthusiasts in full force.   Taking the time to stimulate conversation and understanding where your brand has a right to operate is part of being mutualistic. People will repay brands efforts with compliance and participation.

What’s the ROI of your mum? 

I appreciate it’s all to easy for me to critique brands’ social media marketing efforts without knowing the time or cost pressures the teams were under.  Without proper investment, it is very hard to create proper ideas.   So I want to frame this argument in the broader context of Social Media marketing budgets being too small for their own good.  As many an e-Consultancy industry survey tells us, Social Media Marketing Investment is on an upwards trajectory.  However, I don’t think it’s moving fast enough judging by the quality of most brands attempts to use it.  Until we can demonstrate the ROI of social media investment to the financial powers that be, it will continue to be hard to get the investment necessary….

‘But what’s that got to do with my mum?’  I hear you say.   This 3 minute video by Gary Vaynerchuk explains how futile obsessions with ROI calculation can be  by challenging you to calculate the ROI of your mum.  It’s too complex to ever do her justice!  Just because the industry hasn’t properly worked out ROI modelling for Social Media investment (and budgets rarely allow it to be done properly), doesn’t mean that it’s not worth proper investment.   The brands who take a leap in faith and trust in the value of social media marketing by investing in it mutualistically will be able to keep the brand-bullies at bay….