The Dark Side of Social Media Marketing

Social networks have become integral components of daily life, at least to those that have access to the Internet. From sharing pictures of vacations and chatting with friends to engaging in professional networking, the uses of websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are constantly evolving and expanding. In 2013 Facebook had approximately 1,230 million monthly users, which represents roughly 11% of the world’s population. As people have herded to social media sites, corporations have followed. Recognizing the multiple possibilities of social media to directly approach consumers, businesses have developed the concept of “social media marketing,” which refers to the “utilization of social media technologies, channels, and social software to create, communicate, deliver, and exchange offerings that have value for organizational stakeholders.” (Tuten, Angermeier, 69)  This marketing technique has proven to be very efficient and this is a statement that is backed up by the thousands of articles and research available to praising this practice. However, a subject that is not as frequently discussed are the negative consequences associated with social media marketing. A recent observational research performed by scholars Tracy Tuten and William Angermeier from East Carolina University “postulates the negative utilities associated with social media and social media marketing for the two primary stakeholders involved: individuals and brands” (70).  The following paper will explore Tuten and Angermeier’s research while also providing additional real-life examples to support their postulations.

In the paper entitled “Before and Beyond the Social Moment of Engagement: Perspectives on the Negative Utilities of Social Media Marketing,” scholars Tracy Tuten and William Angermeier present their claims regarding the negative utilities of social media marketing for both individuals as well as businesses. The authors’ postulations are the results of their own research, which was carried out by observing the interactions of several personal and business accounts on different social media platforms. That being said, this research was exclusively observational, yet the findings are still quite valid and worth considering.

Among the many negative consequences that social media marketing can bring to consumers, Tuten and Angermeier listed “security breaches and loss of privacy” (71) as their number one concern. The authors emphasized that the usual social network user is not aware of how much of their personal information they willingly publicize by engaging with these websites and how corporations may use this information “for behavioral targeting to serve advertising as users surf the Internet.” (71) Many people may not recognize the harm in behavioral targeting; however, this technique is often a subject of controversy as many people see it as an invasion of privacy. One incident that perfectly exemplifies how damaging this practice can be is the one illustrated by the New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg in his famous article “How Companies Learn Your Secrets.” Duhigg wrote that through a “pregnancy prediction model” developed by the store Target, which utilized all sorts of personal information (drawn anywhere from consumers’ credit cards to their social media profiles after they had engaged in anyway with the store) to target soon to be moms with coupons and advertisements earlier than any other stores. As a consequence, the father of a teenage consumer found out through Target coupons that his daughter had been secretly pregnant.

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One of the highlights of Tuten and Angermeier’s study is the focus on the brand or company’s implications upon using social media as a marketing tool, which individuals seldom think of.  These negative consequences brought up by social media marketing are usually uncontrolled by the companies themselves, meaning if the companies receive negative or poor reviews online (via Yelp, Google Reviews etc.) it could be a definite hindrance in terms of revenue.  Tuten and Angermeier postulate these cause and effect narratives that come to target the brand and individual directly.  Since companies have no legal control over the personal information posted on behalf of the sharing public via social media (which may include employees) it is a murky area over what is acceptable behavior online.  Another problem that could arise according to the authors is the fear of losing stored data via social media sites.  Given the circumstances, individuals may or may not be aware they give up many of their legal rights to personal content posted via social media.

“In 2012, several social media sites, including LinkedIn, Last.fm, and e-Harmony, all experienced security breaches.” (Tuten, Angermeier, 74)  The fine line between something intangible (social media) becomes very tangible as one’s personal data is at the hands of third party.  Recently, Target also experienced a similar hacking issue last fall pertaining to credit card usage.  In order to gain back customer loyalty Target took to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to announce 10% off entire purchases the weeks following the breach.  This situation might be viewed as both a positive and negative aspect of social media marketing.  The authors also references alternative company fail social media campaigns, McDonald’s being at the crux of the more recent backlash.  In an effort to promote a new addition to the menu, McDonald’s asked the Twitterverse to share their beloved McDonald memory using #McDstories.  The campaign failed as users were posting their negative experiences with the company, McDonald’s soon backed out of promoting this option.  Recently, there has been a steady rise in the use of this tagging or hashtag culture directly involving social media.  Some might equate the hashtag as “free” advertising on behalf of the individual every time they use their social media handles.  On the other hand, following the McDonald’s trajectory #mydunkinstory pertaining to Dunkin’ Donuts has also received some backlash in terms of causing a tension between its rival coffee house – Starbucks, producing this DD vs. Starbucks tug of war.

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Granted, companies have indeed caught on in the importance of advertising via social media sites, there is a high risk when promoting a marketing strategy that is uncertain.  When consumers’ reviews become well “liked”, shared, or retweeted it could be for the benefit or hindrance of the product or brand itself.  Tuten and Angermeier aim to highlight some of these negative aspects when social marketing campaigns go south, and the negative effects of solely relying on consumer reviews.  According to the authors, “The negative consequences of social media and social media marketing are largely associated with the post-consumption period” (75).  Whether in agreement or not, there will always be manufacturers, providers, and consumers companies are putting their own image at risk when relying on social media to advertise for them.

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In general social media marketing has brought many benefits to both individuals as well as businesses. However, it is important to keep in mind that these benefits also come along with many not so positive consequences. Tuten and Angermeier’s research is both timely and socially significant for it touches upon an issue to which most of us as media consumers are vulnerable to.

Works Cited:

Tuten, Tracy, and William Angermeier. “Before and Beyond the Social Moment of Engagement: Perspectives on the Negative Utilities of Social Media Marketing.” Gestion 2000 30.3 (2013).

 

-LMS & GC

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