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Dear Brands on Twitter: Stop Trying to Be My Friend

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Social Media | November 7, 2018 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Social Media | November 7, 2018 |


I used to work as a social media co-ordinator for a small company and I still do this work from time to time for a couple of places. Mostly, what I do is schedule posts and tweets for people, particularly those who are promoting something. If you’re a brand with products to sell, you want the world to know what you have on offer. This is nothing new. While the world of marketing has gotten more varied in its tools, the basic structures remain the same. People are buying and you are selling.

It’s also a deceptively difficult job. I used to tell people what I did for a living and I could practically hear the rattling noises made by the rolling of their eyes. Everyone was quick to tell me either that my job wasn’t a ‘real job’ or that they could do what I did in my sleep. It’s just tweeting, right? Everyone does it and they don’t get the national living wage for doing so. But as we’ve seen from many a social media slip-up, it’s easier said than done. Nobody wants the same robotic message clogging up their timeline day after day, so you try to get more casual and approachable, to remind your potential customers that there is indeed a human being on the other end of that conversation. Not that a genuine online presence has ever stopped people from harassing or sending abusive messages into your DMs, of course.

But over the past couple of years, the strategy has changed. Now, brands are your pals. They’re funny, they tweet out gifs, they keep up to date with the memes of the minute, and they’re not above a casual online beef with their competitors. What’s the harm in it if it helps you go viral and thus sustains your brand awareness?

I have immense sympathy for the social media co-ordinators behind brands like Netflix, Denny’s and Wendy’s, to name but three. They’re honestly far better at my job than I ever was, and I have to admit that I’ve laughed at more than a few of their tweets. But damn, I’m tired of them pretending we’re friends. I desperately need corporate Twitter accounts to stop trying to be cool.

There is nothing more painful than watching a brand go full ‘How do you do fellow kids’ online. They try to chase trends, they use meme language incorrectly or spout internet slang that’s out-of-date, and sometimes they just have no idea how to read the room. I’ve lost count of the number of times a brand Twitter account has tried to use the most popular hashtag of the day to plug something, only for them to suddenly realize that they’re hitching their wagon to something hopelessly inappropriate. You’ll see it every single time a major act of violence happens, and some poor sap doesn’t check the trending topics first so they assume it must be something innocent enough to use to promote shoes. The fleeting sensation of internet popularity is impossible to replicate well, much less turn into a marketing opportunity.

Twitter themselves recommend that brands differentiate themselves on the site, using mattress brand Casper as an example because of their ‘often sassy attitude’. They praise Blaze Pizza for ‘zeroing in on their target millennial customer and cultivating the voice of their hip BFF who keeps it real.’ The sheer cynicism of it aside, the guide does highlight how desperate Twitter are to cultivate not only profitable brands - remember, this is a site that is ridiculously inept at making its own money - but in the abstract tone they wish to establish. Twitter don’t care all that much about their users, as evidenced by their constant screwing around with the platform in ways nobody asked for, not to mention their refusal to deal with all the fucking Nazis. Encouraging brands to develop an atmosphere they refuse to work on themselves creates a veil of community and respectability. Look at everyone being friends together. Check out the democratization of business, as customers can talk directly to the source and see results immediately. Hey, wasn’t it cool when Wendy’s was nice to that kid who wanted the nuggets? Just look at how well we support the richest brands on the planet and ignore how marginalized users are driven off the site by hate-groups and our own refusal to enforce our site’s rules.

This is cynical, I know, but it’s also a system that benefits brands that don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Wendy’s can craft a ‘sassy’ online persona that ‘keeps is real’, and for most people, that will be their first association with the brand and not the way they treat their workers, their refusal to join the Fair Food Program, and their continued use of underpaid and exploited farm workers abroad where sexual harassment and abuse runs rampant. But of course, this is the job of any good marketing. Smile and wave and make everyone ignore the stuff that may encourage them to get their burger elsewhere. It’s a similar tactic to whenever anti-union businesses try to talk of their staff as being their ‘family’.

I live under capitalism, so by now I should be used to being marketed to 24/7. I can deal with the occasionally intrusive pop-up ad or banners on websites that offer suspicious promises of money-making enterprises near me. I also get that a lot of this Twitter BFF brand synergy isn’t necessarily aimed at me. Younger generations - and boy do I feel ancient even typing that phrase out - are more enticed by such things and have a greater familiarity with this approach than even those only a few years older. Yet I remain sceptical of a marketing blitz that cloaks profit in community. I don’t need brands to neg me online or pretend they’re hip to the fads of the second. It’s healthier for us all to maintain a clear-eyed distance from multi-billion dollar corporations that want to cloak profit in a meme.

Header Image Source: Twitter