Is Facebook Making Us Stupid and Lazy?
Posted by Corey Smith on Apr 4, 2016 9:00:00 AM
I've noticed an interesting trend in Facebook... more so in the last few months, but I think it's been growing for a number of years. Facebook has always been intended to bring like-minded people together; to bring friends together. It's been intended to allow people to continue to build relationships when they aren't in the same physical location.
Sometimes it feels as though the purpose of Facebook has become a place to tell everyone else they are wrong. It seems it's become a place that does a very good job of sowing the seeds of discontent. Because of this, I think it completely changes how we market.
I'll add a little disclaimer here. I don't think that Facebook is doing anything malicious. I think this is a symptom of society right now and Facebook, along with other social media channels, has simply made it easy enough to engage with others that they facilitate this behavior.
24-Hour News Cycle
CNN was the first to provide a 24-hour news cycle 36 years ago (before Millennials were born). Over those 36 years, more and more cable outlets have appeared to fill this need of a 24-hour hunger (maybe) of news. Fox News, MSNBC, business news networks, etc., compete for viewers.
This competition for viewership has a tendency to cause the stories to be extraordinary. Stories that would otherwise be non-stories become thrust into the limelight with a crazy title and a fantastical attitude. We look for the outrageous. If the story isn't extreme, we tend to overlook it.
And so in this 24-hour news cycle, overblown stories reign supreme. The world of overblown news is a scary one, indeed. Every day the sky is falling, and then, miraculously, we wake up to find that it has not yet fallen -- but that today will surely be the day! - How Stuff Works.
Social Media - The Immediate News Cycle
I believe that for all the good that comes from social media, there are some terrible impacts on how we consume news. The fact that we have to have a site like Snopes is a demonstration of the inherent problem with how we consume news and share that very news.
As a people, we have a propensity to be gullible. Or, more to the point, we have a propensity to believe that which seems to line up with what fits our narrative of our world-view. When we see a story that lines up with our view on how the world should be, we are more inclined to share that story before even checking to see if there is any truth in that story.
This gullibility is what causes stories from The Onion News Network to be treated as true.
If we hate a politician, and we see a story that slams that politician, we share it and are convinced it's real. When we love all-natural and organic foods and already have a pre-determined view point on the value of non-GMO, we'll share that story regardless of its validity.
I'll let you in on a little secret — we are all biased. We are most inclined to believe that which matches our biases. It's not wrong. It's not right. It's just how it is. We want to dismiss outright anything that feels or seems wrong because of those biases.
Of Memes and Bullies
In addition to being biased, we all have a tendency to be want to be right; some more so than others. In fact, one of the key reasons, I believe, we get into any argument is because of an innate desire to be right. Sometimes we might start by debating our position out of a goal to find common ground but the moment our emotions get involved (which seems more quickly these days), we cease trying to solve a problem and begin fighting for our right to be right — no matter how stupid our position is.
Memes have been around long before the internet. In fact, the old graphic of "Kilroy was here" was a meme. A meme is simply an idea, behavior or style that moves from person to person in a culture. The fact is, because of the internet, these ideas will spread more like wildfire than a candle lighting another candle (great metaphor, huh?).
Sharing an idea is all good and well, but it has become a venue to bully others. It seems as though more people trust the meme regardless of the source, context or accuracy rather than the facts that counter that meme. It is as though, if it's a meme it must be true.
Something innocuous and funny isn't an issue. The problem comes when the focus of the meme (or anything else said in social media) is meant to bully another by use of hyperbole or factually misleading statements.
As an example (hold on to your butts, I'm waxing political here), this meme with Bernie Sanders aims to point out a flaw in what Bernie believes based on attacking his followers. I don't suppose I need to point out the inherent flaw in that statement but let's think about it from the victim of a bully's perspective. How can we ever hope to come to common ground if we are doing our best to "one-up" the next guy? How can we ever hope to convince someone we are right if we attack the very essence of what someone else might see as a value?
When we level personal attacks, we do more to push people away than we ever do to bring people closer... isn't that what bullies do?
Lest you think I'm not an equal opportunity caller-outer (don't judge me... that's a thing, cuz I say so), here's a meme with Ted Cruz that is the same blatant bullying tactic full of hyperbole and zero facts to make the author feel better by slamming those who might trust Ted Cruz.
Laziness In Advertising
As I was doing a little research for this long post, I ran across plenty of articles. Article titles such as, "40 Years Later: You Will Never Believe How ‘The Brady Bunch’ Look Now?" and "Unnerving Historical Photos That Will Leave You Speechless" demonstrate how marketers have one goal... to trick you into clicking through. Click-baiting is the term in the marketing world we use. We trick you to click through with an outrageous title and an image that probably isn't in the post at all.
This is another article that demonstrates this behavior. You've seen 100s per day like it that say things like, "So and so destroys this other so and so with just one word!"
For the record, I don't think that article "destroys" Bernie but does challenges Bernie's assertion (not by name or intention) that college is the most important thing in education. If you know Mike Rowe at all, he doesn't take political sides. He is more concerned about promoting the trades than caring what you think about taxes and war and abortion and what your email server is doing.
But, it's not just politics that we see this sensationalism. We see it as an effort to "shout" our message to our potential audience. We get louder and louder and stupider and stupider. We use stupid advertising talking about how some group hates another group for coming up with that one weird trick (that doesn't really exist, btw).
We know that these methods work at some level, or they wouldn't continue to use these ridiculous tactics. What is the cost of that approach? What are we willing to give up in our brand and ethics to shout like this? Are these the types of clients we really want?
I believe it demonstrates a lack of respect for the consumer and an overall laziness in advertising and marketing.
The Challenge for Ethical Marketers
This poses quite a challenge for ethical marketers. We have to contend with people on social media that feel that everything we do and say is meant to make someone else look bad or have to be shocking to see success. We have to watch that the words we use aren't misconstrued to mean something that it never did. (Hint, just because a word sounds like a bad word it doesn't mean it is a bad word.) For example, at Tribute Media, we mentioned Donald Trump memes in a post and got a hate filled email that said how bad we are for invoking the name the "devil incarnate." The person sending the email didn't care to understand the context and simply assumed that we must be evil for talking about Trump.
We want to create a buzz. We want to be relevant. But, we also don't want to offend (unnecessarily). Social media has provided a platform for bullies, zealots and, dare I say, idiots, to shout their messages. Whether they are people or companies, their messages are ever present.
What's the Answer?
So, I've talked a lot about the problem. What's the answer?
I think that, as marketers, one goal we should have is to elevate the conversation. We should work hard to increase the ability for people to be attracted to us without denigrating those around us. We can be kind in our criticisms and simply agree to disagree.
We have to truly believe that it's our job to be better than those around us (when it comes to this behavior). But, we have to be humble to recognize there are other approaches that might be better than ours.
When someone attacks us, we have to stay above it and truly seek to reach common ground. We have to work hard, sometimes, to validate that other person's point of view and share, kindly, our point of view.
At Tribute Media, our approach is Inbound Marketing. We believe that your marketing should attract people to you and not trick people into coming to your way of thinking. We don't believe that you have to trick people to get them buy from you. In fact, we believe that if you have to trick them to read your content or buy something from you, then you are a lousy, lazy marketer.
We won't always come to common ground. We might have to part with the attitude that we have to "agree to disagree." That's hard.
What if someone still insists on attacking us? What if nothing we say changes that onslaught of foul behavior that prevents us from coming to common ground?
It's simple. Ignore them. Don't engage. Block them if you have to. You don't have to be friends with everyone. If you are doing your best to elevate the conversation and people still want to call you names and bully you, just ignore them. A bully that has no one to bully is no longer a bully.
Let's not let the Facebook mentality of marketing rule how we market. Let's not let Facebook ruin our society just because the platform facilitates that. Let's be better.
Written by Corey Smith
Corey Smith is the founder of Tribute Media and serves as the Digital Marketing Strategist. He is also the author of "Do It Right: A CEO's Guide to Web Strategy" and "Tweet It Right: A CEO's Guide to Twitter."