ImageAside from the end of the world, nothing of note is going to happen for the rest of the year; so in the absence of current affairs, the world’s bloggers are drawing inspiration from the past 12 months.

I had to have quite a think about what my retrospective post for 2012 would be – largely because I can scarcely remember what I had for breakfast and January was even longer ago than that.  Ultimately I came to the decision that the event in 2012 that had the most significant effect on me as a community manager wasn’t a revelatory Mashable article, nor was it the huge role social media played during the Olympics.  It wasn’t even the EdgeRank debacle!  The single greatest influence on the way I’ve conducted my work this year is the fear of my content ending up on Condescending Corporate Brand Page.

Condescending Corporate Brand Page is a Facebook page set up to highlight and parody some of the less artful uses of social media by brands.  In particular, the page pours scorn on posts that beg followers to like and share “in a faintly embarrassing and awkward way” or ask open-ended questions “that even a chimp would find condescendingly offensive.”

Fortunately the anxiety the page has instilled in me in 2012 is equalled by its entertainment value.  Like You’ve Been Framed, America’s Funniest Home Videos, or Liverpool Football Club, it’s funny when it isn’t happening to you.

What are the posting pitfalls that Condescending Corporate Brand Page preys on?  How do you avoid them?  Can we objectively say that they are mistakes?

Like Bait

It’s not an elegant solution to increasing engagement but it’s hard to deny that it works.  It’s quite frustrating, frankly.

Like bait is the Black Eyed Peas of social media posting.  You can put heart, soul, and months of time into writing a song that achieves quiet critical success, or you can write “fill up my cup, mazel tov, look at her dancing, just take it off” and spend 14 consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Why slave over an editorial calendar full of interesting content for your community when you can just say “Like this post if you have a birthday this year” and eight thousand of them will do it!  I tried to give away a brand new guitar this morning and even threw in a pithy joke to raise a few smiles.  50 likes.  Are we close enough to Christmas to justify a stiff drink in the middle of the day?

Condescending Questions

Depending on whose maths you trust, comments could be as much as four times more valuable than likes in the EdgeRank algorithm.  As the fight for space on the news feed gets more bitter and bloody, the questions posted by brands are only getting dumber.

Over the years chat show quizzes have proved that people are quite willing to tell you what colour an orange is, and that they’ll even call a premium rate phone line for the privilege, but it’s sad that the trend has crossed over onto the social networks.  Aren’t we supposed to be smarter than that?  Would it be fascistic to suggest that people should have to pass some kind of test before they get to use the internet?  Has the internet made me a little bit fascist?

The harsh truth is that the brands we represent evaluate our performance based on metrics like the number of people commenting on our posts, and EdgeRank makes the number more important than the quality of the post.  As long as these numbers mean more to our brands, and to Facebook, than how interesting and relevant content is to our communities, then community and social media managers will be obliged to keep asking silly questions that we don’t need answers to.

Irrelevance

I find irrelevance harder to excuse than some of the other desperate grabs for likes and comments.  If your brand’s product is insurance or a savoury spread, then presumably your followers have liked your page because they’re interested in hearing about your product.  It’s not going to be easy to write engaging content about risk coverage and yeast extract every day, but surely if your followers wanted cat videos and idle small talk about the weather they’d have liked someone else.  My mum, for instance.

Rightly or wrongly, a post about snow will garner thousands of likes on any kind of page.  Perhaps with the exception of the Highways Agency.  Should we grasp those opportunities with both hands or do we have a responsibility to remain on the topic that our followers signed up for?

Capitalising On Tragedy

I’m British, so I’m no stranger to gallows humour and making the best of a bad situation.  Stiff upper lip.  Keep calm and carry on.  Even so, seeing a post asking for likes and retweets as a mark of respect for the deceased turns my stomach.  Seeing how well it works adds insult to injury.

Somehow I’m still surprised by how “successful” the posts are every time I’ve had to announce the death of someone relevant to my audiences.  People just fall over themselves to add their “RIP.”  I’m reminded of how Amy Winehouse’s Facebook page gained 650,000 new likes in the 48 hours following her death.  They all just realised they were fans?

Yes, if you ask your followers to “like” someone’s death they will do it in their droves.  They can’t help themselves.  But should you be encouraging it?  If the news is relevant to your community then there are surely more dignified ways to approach it.  Engagement stats should be secondary to being respectful.  Asking for 500 likes if you hate cancer benefits no-one but the brand.  At least tell them where they can donate.

Is it bad to be a condescending corporate brand page?

All of the posts pictured above were singled out by Condescending Corporate Brand Page as examples of brands getting social media wrong.  The posts here, and the many more on their page, have a few things in common.

  1. Desperation.  They want high engagement whatever the cost.
  2. Lack of originality. Some of these posts are pretty formulaic.
  3. Success.  The size of the brands varies, but engagement figures are typically very good.

I’ll try to keep the sport analogy as brief as possible, but a lot is made of “winning ugly” and in football (soccer) in particular the term “anti-football” often comes up.  This is the idea of accepting that you may not have the most technically gifted team but that you can get results by sticking to the absolute basics, and perhaps occasionally roughing up the opposition when you can get away with it.  It makes for some dreadful games for the spectators, but it often works.  Coaches complain that they’re not playing in the spirit of the game but it all sounds like sour grapes when you’re on the losing side.

CCBP and I are the moaning managers.  We feel that there is a right way to do things, and that it’s not always the easy way.  We even acknowledge that we might be more successful (at least in terms of numbers) if we indulged in a few more of the dark arts.  It’s perhaps worth noting that Condescending Corporate Brand Page itself only has just over 30,000 likes.  The Inquisitr’s cancer post broke 200,000 likes on its own!

I’m not trying to be high and mighty about it.  I don’t feel mighty at all when I compare my engagement figures with some of these nominally bad examples of social media use.  I do, however, take pride in having not yet been picked up by Condescending Corporate Brand Page despite managing some very visible pages.  Like any community or social media manager I’d love to get 200,000 likes on a single post, but if it takes being disrespectful or condescending to my audience then I’m happy to keep plugging away the honest way.