I Hate… Facebook?

Should we all just ditch traditional media and jump on the social media bandwagon? Not so fast.

There’s no doubt social media is continuing it’s meteoric rise. Stuart Elliot in the New York Times recently profiled social media campaigns among players in the processed meats category, taking these campaigns as evidence that social media has grown up. “[A]s familiarity with the social media becomes more mainstream,” he writes, “companies like Clorox, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble are arriving there — not to mention purveyors of bologna, ham and turkey.” It’s not just familiarity with social media that’s gone mainstream, but usage. Research by Nielsen shows that global consumer usage of social media sites rose by 82% this past year, while in the US average time per person spent on Facebook and Twitter in December 2009 rose by 143% year over year.

Yet the picture is not quite so simple. As USA Today recently reported, some consumers are giving up social media even as overall usage expands. Reasons include concerns about privacy, lack of time, and unsatisfactory relationships with online “friends.” A counter-culture of aversion to social media also seems to be taking hold. Websites such as seppukoo have helped tens of thousands of people get off Facebook. And a video called “5 Things I Hate about Facebook” has been played 1.3 million times on YouTube.

There’s much more. Typing in “I hate facebook” on March 29, 2010 yielded 92,900,000 hits, including blogs like, a self-proclaimed “anti facebook blog.” Subjects such as “Facebook Addiction Disorder” are gaining traction on this blog and elsewhere, even making the local news. Frustrations with online relationships have surfaced with special force: An article on the subject appearing in the Chronicle of Higher Education offered a high-brow historical perspective, while another in reported that over half of 18- to 24-year-olds agreed in one survey that “social-networking sites like Facebook are diluting the quality of relationships.”

This last data point suggests that even among youth the picture is complex and uneven. A recent Pew Center report showed that seventy three percent of 12- to 17-year olds use social networking sites, up from fifty-five percent in 2005. Yet surprisingly, only eight percent of online teens use Twitter. The reason, experts think, is that teens want to socialize online with friends, not broadcast messages to the wider world. Blogging is down among teens; they are apparently finding it too cumbersome to pen longer-form online postings.

We’re not by any means suggesting that PR firms and their clients should retreat from social media. Sites like Facebook and Twitter comprise both a powerful platform for engagement and a key part of the zeitgeist; they’re not going anywhere. Yet it’s important not to lose sight of the phenomenon’s complexity. Agencies should champion well-rounded outreach plans for clients that communicate with an audience with diverse opinions and habits regarding social media. Go for the right mix; don’t just allow yourselves to become dazzled by the new and shiny. At a recent industry event co-hosted by the Council, one client reminded us that the “Rolodex” is critical; and getting placement in the Wall Street Journal is still the sure way to the client’s CEO’s heart.

To remain relevant, marketers need to remain sensitive to the needs of online social network audiences, members of which have less and less bandwidth for learning and handling multiple websites and the communications devices that support them. Marketers should also appreciate the unique usage patterns and desires of sub-segments of consumers when creating social media campaigns. PR provides leadership in helping marketers both understand consumers’ changing needs and deliver on them.

13 thoughts on “I Hate… Facebook?

  1. I don’t hate Facebook. I agree it is JUST the next shiny object, but it boils down to the fact that it is the newest (along with Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp and Yammer, ad nauseum) tool to understand and use appropriately. I get frustrated by some of the garbage I have to wade through, but some of it is fun. Regardless of the pipeline content is still king whether it is formatted for YouTube, a long form editorial in the Times or distilled to 144 characters on Twitter.

  2. I agree, it’s about coming up with the right mix of strategies and tactics to help your clients achieve their objectives. Our job is to understand and master new tools but not to discard proven tools when the next new thing comes along.

  3. When was the last time you heard someone talk about “The Information Superhighway?” When was the last time you had a “Two Martini Lunch?”

    All products have life cycles. All trends come to an end.

    Building relationships – regardless of the form – remains the lifeblood of industry. The tactic for HOW we do that, for ourselves and our clients, is less relevant than the fundamental need to establish credibility, trust and respect.

  4. I’m going to tweet this :) Thanks for putting these pieces together in a short, well-written piece. In preparing for a panel on social media, I came across a statistic that indicated there are 50 million people/businesses with twitter accounts that are not “active.” I suspect most will stay that way too.

    1. Thanks for tweeting, Scott! I came across that same stat, and many more like it. It appears that what seemed like a good idea at the time became less so when faced with the reality of actually using it; or, more likely, figuring out how to use it effectively. They become the dust-covered treadmills in the basement – a reminder of what almost was.

  5. I’m sick of billboards, too, but eliminating outdoor advertising from a communications strategy might be a bit over the top. Facebook may go the way of MySpace … or it could be the new Google. The issue is connectivity … we are a connected society more than ever before and that isn’t likely to do anything but take giant steps forward. The key is to understand how people connect … the same way we learned how to track their traditional media habits.

  6. Great post, Matt. I agree with some of the other comments. The most crititcal aspect of communications nowadays is listening first in order to determine how your target audiences would like to be engaged. They should be the ones to tell us whether it should be social media, traditional communications, a combination thereof, or none of the above. Once we understand how best to engage, we can then create content that will be spread to others.

  7. There’s another aspect this post didn’t address, and that’s actual “hard core” social media usage. People may follow hundreds on Twitter or have scores of Facebook “friends”, but the fact is most of them don’t regularly check tweets and updates from all of them — perhaps just a core group at most. Attempting to do more just burns people out. But this means that my own tweets and comments are probably being seen by far fewer people and have far less chance of going viral than a piece in more traditional media outlets. As a PR practitioner — especially in the B2B space — I feel my time is best focused on leveraging those broader outlets in the traditional way: as the “filter” to a wider audience (which may include propagation in social media). The risk today is that the amount of time and energy communications pros are spending trying to directly engage their audiences via social media will prove disproportionate to actual impact.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Paul. You make a great point. The time and devotion the beast that is social media requires is not insignificant, while the payoff very well might be at times. Proportion is a good word. Be smart out there.

  8. Thanks so much for your thought provoking post, Matt. You inspired a nice little discussion among some of my colleagues. A few thoughts…

    I’d be curious to hear about actual brands that have completely ditched traditional media for social. I suspect that such a seemingly bold leap might be driven by demonstrated results rather than reckless abandon. While “getting placement in the Wall Street Journal is still the sure way to the client’s CEO’s heart,” if it doesn’t reach and engage the target audience or help the bottom line, are we as PR practitioners really doing our job?

    I have yet to read the USA Today article reporting that some consumers are “giving up social media.” While that seems interesting on the surface, it also seems like a completely futile exercise. As basic everyday habits like search become increasingly social, will anyone really be able to escape it? I don’t foresee many people reverting back to the printed Yellow Pages. I do, however, foresee individuals learning how to use social media in ways that makes the most sense for them.

    A bigger concern is PR practitioners viewing social media as simply Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, and not recognizing its complete pervasiveness into our everyday lives (or at least its potential). For me, from both a PR and a personal perspective, that day can’t get here soon enough. :) And my excitement is in no way deterred by the social surveys of teens, or at least the way they are reported by media.

    Take for example: “Over half of 18- to 24-year-olds agreed in one survey that “social-networking sites like Facebook are diluting the quality of relationships.” Since when are adults taking relationship advice from 18-24 year olds?

    I’d love to see those same folks surveyed five years later, after many will have moved to a new city far from friends and family, be working long hours and maybe traveling regularly for business. I suspect online relationships would be viewed differently at that stage of the game. There must be a reason online dating is now bigger business than online porn (see :)

    All that said, I agree that agencies should develop well-rounded plans that address the realities of traditional and social media consumption. Thanks again for inspiring a friendly debate here in my office and for providing a forum to exchange ideas.

  9. Thank you, Paula: We always welcome your thoughts on these issues. This is an internal discussion that is happening everywhere, everyday; I’m glad we could play a small role. (and, I apologize for the lag in getting your comment posted. there was a technical error.)

  10. Great conversation. The 18-24 demo being early adopters, not surprising to see them reacting accordingly. However, just as they are moving on, in comes the older demos (boomers and older) that are growing more comfortable in the space. And while I don’t have the stat handy, personally I share alot of news ocntent from online news organizations. Agree with the conversation though that the strategy should be well-rounded, and to be successful, should reflect what one knows about one’s audience, where they connect, and what they discuss. Influence is the goal, insight is key.


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