Ever since brands discovered the potential of social media marketing, the collective urge among marketing managers to develop a Facebook page has proven irresistible. The reasons plausibly cited range from savvy prognostication to desperate sales-mongering—but at this point, we’re well past the gee-whiz discovery phase and deep into an era of…well, let’s be generous and call it scientific inquiry.
In fact, given the exhaustive efforts of thousands over the last 5 years or so, I’m kind of non-plussed by the dark secret I discovered through random search—a maniacal Doppelgänger lurking in the shadows behind many a branded Web site: The Evil Facebook Twin. Spawned by sheer indolence and the folly of mechanical consistency, this monstrous construct sates its parasitical urges on thousands of unwitting brands each year.
Come on, pull on your hazmat suits; we’re going in for a closer look.
Doughy Boy or Pasty Demon?
At Pillsbury.com, the cheery, uncluttered design and the global headline “Let the Making Begin” allow users to investigate without undue promotional pressure. The site establishes a distinctive brand voice—a meaningful translation of its traditional advertising personality into digital terms: Warm, sensitive, welcoming.
With that in mind, a visit to the Pillsbury Facebook page is a shock to the system.
See for yourself: Boxy reprints of images from the Web site vie for attention with sponsored ads for unrelated brands. And as we scroll, scroll, scroll, the laundry list of offerings severely undercuts the main site’s carefully nurtured brand voice.
Now, to be clear, a major contributor to this disarray is Facebook’s functionalist nightmare of a user interface. But that’s a given. If you design for Facebook, you measure success on how well you can overcome the limitations imposed by its clumsy, additive structure.
Design headaches aside, Pillsbury’s Facebook page also violates the premise of social space. People enter social space to build community through participation. That’s what makes it social. Instead of opportunities for participation, however, Pillsbury delivers transparent product-hawking that confines users, for the most part, to passive “Like”-like commentary. What, after all, distinguishes the following…
Love holiday cookies as much as we do? Then try our new Holiday Cookie Card app: http://on.fb.me/VOVP6M. Make a virtual cookie, pick a festive background and share it with your friends!
…from stone-cold catalog copy?
By contrast, a truly social environment would allow users to upload their own variations on Pillsbury’s themes—as a matter of course. I mean, in a country brimming over with culinary talent, would it kill a major food brand to feature baking tips submitted by our “Top 10 Pastry Chefs“? That might give people a good reason to tune out last night’s drunk-dialed voicemails—and hang with the Dough Dawg.
Cuddly Bear or Unbearable Bore?
OK, I’m going to ask you to keep your visors down, long enough to explore the even more disturbing dichotomy between BearNaked.com and its changeling social look-alike. Here the mechanical transfer of “design assets” from the Web site come under the direct assault of consumer outrage.
Whereas the Web site maintains a freewheeling, loose-limbed look and feel, its Facebook twin is boxed in with a series of mismatched self-promotions, peppered further down with consumer complaints about the brand’s failure to endorse transparent labeling practices.
Astonishingly, the controversy swirls around the use of genetically modified ingredients, which is hardly compatible with the brand promise implied in the name “Bear Naked.” As a result, the positive equity Bear Naked has accrued in one sector of digital space is badly eroded by its presence in another.
Failure to recognize that “social” is the defining attribute of social media has led to serious damage. Whereas Pillsbury has merely made its Facebook presence irrelevant, Bear Naked’s evil Facebook twin is an actual liability—as it associates the company’s crisp, distinctive branded imagery with the wrong side of a populist political issue.
Grilled Chicken or Charred, Foul?
The more I explore this bizarre occult phenomenon, the more my knees tremble. For there, on the left, is the specter of Tyson.com and its three social offspring:
Together they represent an unnerving distortion of marketing principles evoking the fevered imagination of medieval Italian literature. Between the talking nuggets, impossibly perky branded personas and the amorphous tide of promotional palaver, you need industrial-strength schlock-absorbers to survive the assault.
What each of these examples illustrate for me is how much social space is a separate phenomenon with properties of its own. Far from arbitrarily jamming design elements into a Facebook timeline, brands need to create a true social environment—the cornerstone of which is providing opportunities for meaningful participation. Anything else is just evil.