In honor of the season, where some celebrate the ancient story of slaves' exodus from Egypt, it's time for a new telling of the ten plagues: the Ten Plagues of Social Media. All are paired with a counterpart from the ancient rendition.
Note that some debates remain as to the ancient plagues' literal meanings. When in doubt, I deferred to biblical scholar Robert Alter's translation of "The Five Books of Moses."
1) Blood: Lack of transparency
Whenever marketers aren't fully transparent as to who they are and what they're promoting when reaching out to consumers and online influencers, they cloud consumers' trust just like blood clouded the Nile. The demands of transparency also fall on the content producers whenever their contributions can be considered influenced by other parties.
2) Frogs: Oversharing
Imagine trying to get a good night's sleep with millions of frogs croaking up a storm. Now try staying on top of what's happening with your social graph when so many of their updates are dedicated to what errands they're running or how much they had to drink last night. Oversharing can wind up hurting relationships, and rightfully makes some question how much value social media adds to their lives.
3) Lice: Campaign-based thinking
It's hard to get lice out of your head, and there's no easy cure for shaking off campaign-based thinking, either. Campaign-to-campaign and quarter-to-quarter thinking prevents marketers from reaping the long-term benefits of social marketing.
4) Flies: Autoposting
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, and other sites are not all the same, but the way some marketers unleash hoards of content, you might think the sites were interchangeable. Posting the same content in the same way across every social site is efficient for the producer, but diminishes the experience for the recipients. Marketers need to think twice about nearly any kind of automated messaging. There's a place for it; headline and deal feeds are some that can work as syndicated feeds while managing consumer expectations. The first instinct should be to avoid this, though.
5) Pestilence / livestock disease: Lack of internal communication
I don't want to refer to your colleagues (or mine) as livestock, but you depend on your colleagues for your livelihood and putting food on the table, just as our ancient forbears relied on livestock. When marketers and their agency partners aren't in close communication, and when there isn't communication internally with any of those parties, it amounts to a plague on their livelihood.
6) Boils: Lack of Integration
In this case, the plague fits the crime. Social marketing campaigns should be planned just as tightly in conjunction with other marketing programs as boils are connected to victims' skin. Perhaps it's not the most pleasant analogy, but these are the ten plagues, not the ten happiest things to ever happen.
7) Hail: Talking at consumers
Sometimes, reading marketers' updates in social channels feels like walking through a hailstorm. You get pelted by a self-aggrandizing update here and a limited-time offer there, and you can't wait to run for cover. Conversing and asking questions can soften the blows and make it more like a day at the beach.
8) Locusts: Bright shiny object syndrome
If you've ever seen a swarm of locusts on National Geographic Channel or Discovery, you'll appreciate why this was the first plague association to come to mind. Look at all the locusts move from field to field -- blogs to MySpace to Second Life to widgets to Twitter to Facebook to augmented reality to Foursquare -- sucking the life out of them and then looking for their next meal. Marketers can shed their locust exoskeletons by figuring out what works and sticking with it, even while exploring new opportunities.
9) Darkness: Lack of vision
When you see marketers fumble royally in social media, you're usually witnessing a marketer that didn't plan ahead. These fumbles can often arise when a marketer is dealing with a crisis, but they can also come up when marketers are more successful than they anticipated, such as when too many consumers take them up on a deal. Plan for the best and the worst, and be prepared to act when either arises to prevent darkness from descending on your social programs.
10) Death of the firstborn: Death of marketing as we know it
The death of the firstborn plague is the most permanent. There has been a similar plague on marketing and media: rising consumer expectations of some form of two-way communication. For consumers like myself who grew up writing letters to brands that pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised me, this is deliciously empowering. This plague will kill off some marketers who can't adapt.
Egypt wasn't undone by the exodus, or any version of it that has been passed down to us. It remained a capital of the ancient world for over a thousand years more and has been a pivotal part of many great civilizations and cultures since. Plagues may afflict us and they may kill off the weak, but the springtime exodus saga tells the greater story of rebirth and renaissance. If there's not a promised land for marketers per se, may we at least heal from these plagues to uphold brands' promises to consumers.
Clever and insightful. 9 and 10 are particularly accurate.
Excellent and timely list. I think your final conclusion is a particularly appropriate one.
10 isn't a plague. It's the new way of things. You now have to deal with empowered consumers. Many companies, including the recent example of Nestle, don't get this, and don't know how to react.
You should make death of marketing as we know it the gefilte fish of social media. With a little bit of horseradish for those who want to still feel bitter about losing the old ways. I just made myself hungry.
Both funny and spot-on. Very good.
Great analogies...that compliment that excellent points.
Well put, David - Hope it won't take a thousand years for things to really change!
Nice job, David. Good read.
Great, timely post. #4 is a hot topic for me (recent post: http://www.rachel-levy.com/to-cross-post-or-not-to-cross-post/) but it's frustrating that it's still so common. It's mass marketing at its worst. It ignores the environment and audience.
Love this article! A perfect guide for what not to do.
The first mediapost article I ever read that caused me to go take a shower!
Well said. That's why marketers are marketers.. no 6&7.
I have seen the promised land. It's flowing with milk and honey. But no one seems to want to cross the river for fear of the unknown.
It won't be 40 years wandering in the desert for the chosen though. I'll have it ready for all of you in less than 40 weeks.
Read about promised land here...
And let us avoid the social media equivalent to matzoh that might clog us up and prevent us from moving...forward. What might that be? I'm thinking the endless loop of near-meaningless conversations about ROI & SEO.
Thanks so much for all the comments. Loving the further Passover puns, and Mark, that ranks high up among the best responses I've ever seen to any column.
Pleased to discover this via Berkowitz look back at 2010. What a great column! Kudos to you, David!