Why Big Brands Don’t Answer Your Questions on Social

It’s worse than you think.

Facebook turns elections and fuels genocide.

Twitter continues to aggrandise hate speech.

Even Instagram is guilty of murder. Ok, so it’s killing sushi, but that’s still not cool.

The tide of public opinion has long since turned on social media. And yet the fluctuating needle of sentiment has only acted to suppress the truth — that it’s not the network to blame, it’s the people that develop, manage and inhabit it.

It’s dangerous to declare technology a ‘force for good’ in 2018. But it belies millennia of progression to suggest otherwise. Even compared to just 50 years ago — a momentary flicker in the lapse of human history — the world is a far safer place for most of the planet.

The global population is 7.6bn, almost double that of 1968. More than 85% of the world is now literate; again, close-to doubling the total of 50 years past. People live longer, fewer children die in infancy, famine affects a smaller percentage of us and, while wealth inequality may be on the rise, fewer people live under the poverty line than ever before.

This is not to say that everything is rosy, far from it. But technological advancement has helped us — on average — to live longer, healthier lives.

We’re all far more comfortable interpreting communication that comes in a consistent format, especially at speed, than we are at trying to figure out entirely new inputs every time we log onto a site. Social media companies — smartly and effectively — therefore homogenise their inventory; the people and posts that populate their platforms.

Theis shields participants behind a branded, regulated veil. Any and all activity become fungible spokes on a wheel, revolving at a pace so fast that they become essentially anonymous. And nothing good ever came from people distancing themselves from the raw humanity of other people (see Islamophobia, casual and stereotypes, racial).

Social suffers from being…not so social after all.

What’s more annoying: A shop employee cutting you off mid-inquiry to go and answer a telephone, or not having your phone call answered by that same team member in the comfort of your own home?

How about being ignored by your fellow diner while they attend to a text / Whatsapp / Slack / Tweet / DM? Yes, we do take it personally.

Technology has connected a large proportion of the aforementioned 7.6bn-odd folks that we share the planet with. But it’s also slapped an imposing, invisible divide between the closest of friends and family members. ‘Close’ — at least in communication terms — isn’t so much about distance anymore as it is about prioritisation.

All too often, the tech conversation is binary: Human or Robot. But tech, invented by people to (mainly) help other people, should be supplementing the work that people do. Social media is a communicative channel, enabling people — and in this case businesses — to communicate with a far broader range of individuals than they would be able to otherwise.

And if customers choose to use these channels to enquire about opening times, interrogate products and ask questions of the operation — or even (gasp) other customers — then shouldn’t every business be thrilled to be a part of the conversation?

Hi. We’re 48.1. We’re 5 middle-class white guys that started an agency. And every truly challenging moment we’ve experienced since we decided to name ourselves after the side that lost the referendum and design…stuff…has been centered on one thing: People.

As brands grow they need to develop systems and structures, pivot from one service to another, search for new business and lose their ego. But nothing — nada — is nearly as complex and challenging as trying to coach and co-exist with other people. Not. One. Thing.

And yet, with grave regularity, companies attempt to ‘streamline’ their operation by instituting processes that treat diverse individuals as a managed constant, for fear of actually having to manage another human being. All too readily we sacrifice the hard-earned leaps & bounds attained through conflict, in favour of the slow progress of the efficient and indolent alike.

Once upon a time, it wasn’t just Financial Directors that lamented the lack of clear ROI in social media marketing. Marketers were equally cautious, failing to appreciate the value of community and status as they leaned in to see a reflection of their brand in the digital pond. Of course, it didn’t take too long for everyone to appreciate the power of their potential reach. And how little resource they needed to allocate to achieve a semblance of it. Post a photo and a quip a couple of times each week and tick, done.

But, for all the adverts and ‘buy now’ CTAs, social is not just a sales channel.

Every business is trying to find ways to have a two-way interaction with their audience. This helps enterprises learn faster and iterate more effectively; to engage and maintain relationships; and yes, to sell more.

It’s strikingly bizarre then that brands don’t respond regularly to the people that take their time to leave feedback and ask questions on social media, or even reputation management channels.

A portion of these responses will be ridiculous, whether they be ill-informed or base trolling. But to confuse the needs of the many for the offenses of the few is not only bad maths but completely opposed to comparable instore activity. Simply put, if the words came from mouths and not keyboards, brands would behave very differently.

Why don’t brands answer questions on social?

It’s not because technology is evil, or because the channels are such unbridled, chaotic asylums; it’s because they struggle to associate posts with the people that write them, don’t prioritise resource for the places their customers are, and really, truly, just don’t give a shit about you.

This article first appeared at 48.1.

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