Threats of ‘social message schizophrenia’

Friends are not all created on an emotionally equal level. Similarly, ‘likes’ are not all created social.

Brands are currently engaged in the fight for attention from consumers across the social platforms. The so-called ‘engagement ads’ are using the likes of followers not just as an endorsement for their relevancy, but also as a distribution channel within social networks.

This distribution channel is based on followers who can act as a passive marketing medium. Considering individual consumers as a marketing medium for brands makes sense for those that are strongly associated with their brands. However, for brands that are ‘liked’ on a lower emotional level, consumer awareness of this process may de-stabilize the social networks’ ecosystem.

Today’s social networks are built upon the passive word-of-mouth of their members. Brands are posting stories on behalf of their followers to their friends’ lists to extend their reach. With this, saturation is starting to take place with the increasing rate of brand messaging. Members of these networks would be alarmed at the amount of brand messages the social network is broadcasting on their behalf if they were to become aware of it.

Social networks should set a limit on the number of messages broadcast by brands. The social network revenue generating ecosystem cannot survive saturation unless a threshold is set and brands’ social messages are restricted. Marketers and social networks accordingly need to understand the implications of the message-to-member ratio.

Nonetheless, it is unlikely that brands will decrease the broadcasting of their messages for the good of the networks’ members, instead focusing on their own benefit. With this, social saturation will still grow exponentially.

Brands are currently taking advantage of their followers to expand their reach, something that is comparable to the traditional paid media distribution system. As a social network member, I am used by brands as a positive marketing medium. This is based on the assumption that I have a positive relationship with the brand at all times – something that may not be true.

On this basis, ‘social message schizophrenia’ might develop whereby my passive sponsored broadcasts feature a brand that I may currently be having a negative relationship with and accordingly posting negative comments on.

Social media is still a growing field that brands haven’t yet mastered. Brands need to carefully choose their modes of engagement and be wary of the threat of saturation and social message schizophrenia.

Zahy Ramadan
MBS Doctoral student
April 2013