Pitfalls of instant, ‘always on’​ social media and marketing: who’s got the time to reflect?

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In real life, if you met someone who chose to give unsolicited comments on everything that’s going on in the world, that too in every available forum, chances are you’d get annoyed. But brands which claim to have a personality and tone of voice, somehow think always on’​ social media is good – they have to offer a comment on every occasion and major item of the news cycle. So whether it is a cargo ship stuck in the Suez, COVID-19 or the Holi festival, brand managers have to come to believe that silence is not an option. I guess they will have a raving fit if the digital agency is unable to create a social media post linking their brand to some big news of the day – be it the Apophis asteroid, non-fungible-tokens or some local festival.

It’s not just brands. We’ve all been conditioned for instant reaction – which is often the ‘unthinking’ one. We wake up in the morning and immediately check our phones even when we know full well that there’s nothing that cannot wait for later. Every notification or alert on the phone must be checked (even if it is something inane or useless). The super-convenient and lightning fast ‘like’ or an appropriate emoji (thumbs up, Namaste or smiley) is a substitute for any thoughtful comment. An angry tweet, even with typos (or a regret later) as an immediate response to something we don’t like is common. Social media brands understand this urge for instant gratification and encourage such behaviour. Even email clients such as Gmail auto-suggest responses which are templates. We have all been conditioned for ‘I want it now’ or ‘I must react now’ mode.

In advertising, ‘wanted yesterday’ has stopped being a joke about deadlines long ago. Buzz phrases like ‘moment’ marketing‘ and publicity for that Oreo’s tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl have glorified (more than necessary, in my view) communication which is tactical and related to a news event or occasion.

‘Being agile’ and other such buzz phrases are brought in to leaving an impression that ‘always on’ is the only way to be marketer and that ‘no response’ is not an option and cues lethargy.

I am not denying that topical ads or social media creatives linked to news of the day can sometimes be fun. I am not sure if they have a direct link to the business but can aid in creating buzz and some sort of affinity towards the brand by bringing a smile. Amul is a marker leader – its ‘topicals’ help in keeping it top of mind and building affinity.

A majority of such work is just adding to the white noise and doing nothing for the brand. But the same can be said of traditional advertising too, you ask? Yes, a majority of the ads go unnoticed or get noticed only because of huge media spends. But they are at least about the brand. The mindset that marketers seem to operate in suggest that they genuinely see their brand as ‘part of the conversation’ (whatever that means) and feel left out if they don’t create a communication around the news of the day – as if the consumer cares.

All this breathless activity of one Zoom meeting after another, a social media post that needs to be released the next day (as the news might become stale after that or worse still, the competing brand may release an ad sooner), a deck that needs to be prepared in half a day – leaves no time for a ‘pause that reflects’. And some sound planning. Back in the 90s, the lead time for a print ad was about a week (and that was considered quick). The business challenges & media environment maybe different then and may be seen as an unaffordable luxury b=today. But the output was definitely better – at least craft-wise.

Pundits speak of the need for both strategy (long term) and tactics (short term). When you look at mega brands which have been built over decades, I’d wager that the investments (in terms of time, monies & effort) would’ve been more on the former than the latter involving a lot of forward thinking & planning. Is that a luxury nowadays for brands as they see the need for ‘always on’ communication and memes on the ship blocking the Suez Canal?

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