Ethic in Social Media – Is it coercion?

Finger pointing to a tiny personEthic in Social Media is hard to spot. Because in the social media world is hard to decide if what businesses do by engaging and adding value to customers’ “life” is as a genuine interest in trying to establish a relationship or a poor attempt to make your customers believe you’re a good person with the sole and primary objective of selling them stuff.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while mainly due to my father. He’s actually my best challenger, the one that always makes me reflect on what I know and believe. Some time ago when I was explaining him what social media can do for businesses, he told me something along the lines of: “I can’t believe that works, customers must know that what business do is always taking care of their own profit, they don’t care about anything else”. And it was shocking, because despite I consider my dad really smart, I also thought that maybe that’s how most common people were considering what business were doing in social media.

But, it was working. Social media strategies were working and were making brands engage with their customers. All that in an age when businesses were seen as monsters without feelings. So something was missing, customers really must know that companies are trying to sell them stuff. And still, those companies relying on social media for long time were the ones seeing their revenues increasing year after year.

Then I remembered one of my first classes, “ethic in the business world”. And I remember the teacher asking us a question: “If a yogurt’ company announces that for each yogurt you buy, they are going to give 5 cents to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund)… is that ethic? Is that a good thing?”

Some people didn’t think so. Their reasoning was that they should do that without telling anyone, just do it. Also that their announcement was just in order to increase their selling.

And I actually agree with the second part. But… I don’t see anything wrong with that. Company wins, customers wins due to them knowing they are actually helping children somewhere, and UNICEF wins because of increase on selling means more money donated to them. Win-win-win. Isn’t this better than that yogurt company not doing nothing at all? Or doing it secretly, therefore not increasing sells, therefore donating less money?

Now, I want to make reference to one of my favorite social media specialists out there. Gary Vaynerchuk recently gave an awesome interview to Will Cain in which they talk a bit about these kind of things (The interview is worth seeing to know who Gary is and for some useful insights. It’s a bit long but you won’t be disappointed). As Vaynerchuk says, social media and establishing relationship with customers is always under the context of business. And most important, give-give-give-ask attitude is much better than just asking all the time. Yes, ultimately businesses end up “asking” for sells no matter what method of those two you use, but… isn’t it better if in one of them the customer at least receive something? Plus there’s social media people who really do enjoy doing those things for the customer and love to see how the relationship grows even if it takes time. And you end up having a really happy customer that probably will come back for more if you add some value that not other company can give them. It’s really hard to find substitute to that.

With all this in mind, let’s get back to the first issue. Can social media be genuine or just an act for selling? I would say is probably genuine. Maybe I’m too romantic. But still it’s a business what we’re talking about so they surely need profit, we can’t deny that. But I don’t think that means the social media don’t enjoy the journey and they just “trick” people into buying things they don’t want (that would be coercion). I truly think in social media there’s a win-win situation, customers and businesses, and I think that’s why it works despite customers still knowing that companies are trying to sell them stuff. Should I say this to my father?

4 thoughts on “Ethic in Social Media – Is it coercion?

    • Hi Renee! I think you spot on in one of the reasons it works. For first time ever (since few years ago already), with internet/Social media, marketing has become a two-way conversation and not just one-way. That’s so valuable.
      Thanks for the comment, and I’ve got to say I love your blog. Will follow you on Twitter as well!

  1. Years ago I had a job where when It was quiet we had to phone lists of customers and tell them about sales, new arrivals. I would talk about everything under the sun besides. My manager loved it because apparently more people came in and bought when I phoned than anyone else. And really, I made NO effort to sell them anything. I just had fun.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Pat. I think your last sentence is so important. Having fun while engaging with customers is so good. It’s something so genuine that can’t really be “acted” and I guess people realize these things unconsciously.

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