In this week’s podcast we discuss the ethics of marketing on social media. This comes on the back of a recent documentary “The Social Dilemma” where ex social media execs from the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook talk about the way that social media company business models are impacting on the way we think and live our lives. In essence the model is that they sell our attention, as users of their platforms, to the highest bidder.
On the face of it this is a great model! It allows them to give away their services to the general public and then to make their money from advertisers. But as users we have to remember that as the saying goes “If you are not paying for the product, then you ARE the product!”
The suggestion made by the documentary was that this model was creating a situation where algorithms driving social media platforms were focused on keeping people’s attention, subtly and gradually changing the way they perceive the world. Creating systems where advertisers could use this process to shift users towards their point of view and make them more likely to buy their products or support their activities. One end game of this is that as users we become simply drones plugged into “The Matrix” with the sole purpose of creating value for the social media platform.
On that basis as advertisers, by buying advertising we are encouraging this business model, and we become part of the problem. But as with most things, it’s never that simple!
Things themselves are neither good nor bad
The way I look at it is that the platforms themselves are not good or bad, they are simply tools that do a job! In principal the idea that you have a tool that allows you to shift peoples perception, drawing them in to your point of view is not an issue and as a marketing tool it is powerful. The idea that you can target people very accurately, allowing you to focus your efforts in directions that are most likely to deliver results, means your marketing will be more effective, and you are less likely to irritate people by pushing your message at people where there is little or no relevance.
These algorithms were set out to do a job and they do it very well. As always with these things, the issue lies with what we do with the tools we are given.
It’s all about motivation
Look at any invention or discovery trough history, drugs, splitting the atom, genetic engineering… the list goes on, and there is a debate as to whether its invention was good or bad for humanity. The reality is that in all cases these inventions have brought both good and harm. But once invented, you can not put the genie back in the bottle. As individuals our responsibility is to make sure that we personally use them for good. We can not control what other so with them. That is the job of regulators and governments.
In the case of social media, as marketers we need to explore our motivations. Our role is to promote our point of view/service/product, and convince others that it is in their interest to buy into what we are offering. The question we must ask is – On Balance:
"Are we doing this for their benefit or our own"
I say “On Balance” as in reality it will be a mixture of the two. In most cases, you go into business because you see a benefit to yourself for doing so. But good business should be Win:Win, with both you and your customers gaining benefit. In some cases it’s clear cut, but in others is it not. Especially where you are aiming to convince people that your way is better than the status quo. Here you have to be sure that your way is truly better. And not just “better for you”!
Only you can decide
The bottom line is that as a business owner, only you can decide. The important thing is that you actually recognise the potential issues, and take them into consideration when making your marketing decisions. The social media genie is out of the bottle. As a society, the challenge now is how we use it for good!