Social Media Fatigue: Why Communications Professionals Should Pay Attention to the Overwhelmed

Rusty SpeidelToday’s post is from Rusty Speidel, vice president of marketing at Encell Technologies. Rusty is a 20-year veteran of the internet/online marketing space, specializing in alternative energy marketing and user experiences.

I’m a one-man Marketing department for an alternative energy startup. As such, I rely on a lot of consulting assistance to set and execute against my company’s marketing objectives. We use services from all types of vendors; IT consultants, software developers, web design firms, PR firms, even procurement and manufacturing firms. It’s part of being a startup and I actually relish the freedom it gives us to act quickly on ideas. I come from a user-experience background, so I like staying connected to the latest trends in marketing from the customer’s point of view, including social media tools, customer-controlled communication and transparency. In a former life I actually built an entire social network about auto racing, so I appreciate the philosophies and processes of connection and sharing.

But lately, I’ve been feeling a little fatigued. OK, a LOT fatigued. Suddenly everywhere I go there are “opportunities to connect.” Whether it’s loyalty programs like the CVS Card, Cardagin, and Groupon, location –based social tools like Foursquare or Places, any one of thousands of social media “experts” that claim to have all the answers for this new marketing paradigm (like Google+), or the hair-trigger salesmen that react to any request for online information with four phone calls and seven emails within 30 minutes, it’s all just getting exhausting. It feels like if I don’t react to all these “opportunities” it’s me that’s missing out, not plugged in, not up to speed. I can’t even order lunch or buy a quart of oil without being asked if I’ve joined this or that rewards program, or if I’ll go online to take a survey. I’m actually starting to get angry with these poor cashiers.

At work, it’s not a lot better. We make batteries. Large batteries. We are not a consumer brand, we are a large-scale energy wholesaler. While I agree that using the social platforms to create thought leadership in the alternative energy space online is appropriate, I am not particularly worried about reaching fans on Facebook. I don’t need a Twitter-based customer service department yet. And yet every PR and marketing assistance proposal I receive suggests I need just that. Everyone’s climbing on the social media bandwagon so aggressively that I just shut down.

Everyone just STOP. Stop now.

I don’t WANT to find my service station on Facebook. I don’t NEED a rewards program for toothpaste. I don’t feel particularly stressed over the fact that our company is not completely plugged in to every social network available RIGHT NOW. I do not need to share every little detail of my personal or professional life on YouTube. I DEFINITELY don’t need another lecture on “how to create a social presence online.” What I NEED is expertise in mapping my company’s needs to strategies that reach my customers where they are, not where the expertise is headed. None of our competitors rely much on social platforms and 70% of our customers still make buying decisions at trade shows. Why doesn’t that matter?

It feels like the old snake oil days, when gypsies roamed the west on covered wagons hawking the latest solution to whatever ailed folks back then. Today’s sarsparilla is SEO, social media monitoring, blogging advice, video production services, reputation management, letting the customer tell you what he wants, etc. It’s totally, completely overwhelming. Sometimes I think the industry likes to keep it that way so they can make a living explaining it.

I am sure I am not alone. Communications professionals take note: there are other disciplines out there besides communications. They don’t all see the world the same way you do, and the overload is starting to hurt the head. Soon it will start to hurt your bottom line.


  • mosaiccatherine says:

    Boy, am I with you on this one @rustyspeidel! We handle multi-media campaigns for clients. Social Media is a PART of the plan. All these “opportunities to connect” are no doubt a result from businesses striving to find track-ability! I’ve been in the advertising business for over 15 years and the one aspect that frustrates advertisers…not being able to track! All those key cards, loyalty clubs and yes, even SM accounts provide ways to track where business may be coming from. Or is it? Example; I have 3 key cards to the local grocery chains, only one of which I have actually registered my information! Yet I continue to use my cards for their benefits but the stores are getting no traceable information on me as a client.

    Social Media has become one of the mediums used for advertising. As some experts would have you believe, it isn’t the ONLY means! But if I don’t know your name, how will I know what to look for in order to find you on Facebook or Twitter? Yes…there are categories, keywords, tags, searches and more that allow you to find a particular business or business category. For me to desire having a conversation with you, you need to tell me who you are and what you do. If you aren’t using other elements of media out there to introduce me to your business you are missing out! Our agency, Mosaic, have instituted a blog about many aspects of media. It isn’t visited nearly as frequently as all the social media blogs. The social media force runs strong! Understanding a media mix for a business is imperative!! TV, print, radio, outdoor and others are not going away. Yes, they are experiencing evolution but as a business owner you need to have a handle (or consult with those who know 🙂 on how the mediums work and can assist in your business goals. It makes me wonder if an entity such as Klout is setting up expectations that have a bit of smoke and mirrors involved.

  • rustyspeidel says:

    For me, it’s not that I think agencies are missing the mark, but that so many companies are all trying to hit the same mark, all the time–my loyalty, opinion, or social capital. When every single interaction I have with a company results in their asking me to share something…well, it adds up to a big fat negative. I want to control this. I don’t want Best Buy or Harris Teeter controlling it.

  • KenMueller says:

    Read this first thing this morning, chewed on it a bit, and have reread it twice, as I think you are on to something,but I wanted to respond properly. Actually, I think you’re on to several things, which is part of the problem. having said that, I think in some ways you might be comparing apples to orange, which is why I had to mull over this a bit. Perhaps my response(s) will be easier if I number them.

    1) Social media does NOT exist in a vacuum. Whether you are selling big ol’ batteries to other businesses, or whether you are the corner market. No matter who you are (B2B, B2C, etc), social media is a component of your overall marketing…no….business plan. Anyone who tries to sell you just social most likely doesn’t know what they are doing, and they are doing you a disservice. When I work with clients, it’s to fit social and other communications media into the overall brand packaging which includes marketing and customer service. This is one of the reasons that @Marijean and I get along so well, because we agree on this core principle.

    2) Having said that, I’m sometimes amazed at how well some B2Bs that are similar to you ARE using social. I have some friends that do marketing for a company like yours. They sell cranes. And safety equipment for manufacturers. Their products aren’t sexy, and their clients are other businesses, manufacturers, airports, etc. They sell them one at a time. Clients don’t say “oh look, a special on cranes, I’ll buy ten!” Like you, @rustyspeidel , their biggest market/sales tool is the trade show. The beauty of it is…they are using social as a key element in their marketing, and have integrated it well into their trade show presence. Twitter and blogging are a big part of that, and they even use some geolocation marketing. And it works! Social CAN be an integral part of how you market to your customers, if you do it properly.

    3) I think where the apples and oranges comes in is when you go from being Rusty the marketer to Rusty the consumer. The fact is, loyalty card programs, like CVS etc, are a whole different animal from Social. yes there is a social component to them, but while you may be tired of them, many of us aren’t. CVS is huge for me, as are my grocery store loyalty cards. I DO want my gas station and grocery store on Facebook. When they do it well, I love connecting with them. And others love connecting with them.

    4) I really think what you’re talking about here is not social media fatigue, or perhaps clutter. It’s “crap fatigue.” What you’re complaining about is an overload of crap. People who don’t know what they are doing. People for whom nagging is a sales tactic. So it’s really not about social media, but about our approach and style and how we handle our business transactions. And a lot of that comes from each individual corporate culture. And this is where I love social media, because it DOES put the customer in the driver seat. We now have the ability to “unlike” and “unfollow” and post negative comments when we don’t like the way a company is behaving or marketing to us. This is why I tell my clients that SM is not about selling. It’s about communicating your corporate culture and customer experience philosophy, and building relationships via a dialogue, not just pushing out messages. In your case, it could be about creating a 24/7/365 trade show booth that exists online, perhaps Facebook and/or Twitter.

    I think when I started I had a lot more to say. But I hear and feel your pain. I wouldn’t write social off because your customers aren’t there. They may not be there as companies, but they are there as individuals who happen to work at those companies. And it is possible to reach them that way.

  • KenMueller says:

    @rustyspeidel The fact of the matter is, you ARE controlling it. They are merely giving you the option to share, which I think is smart. You have the ability to say no. Me? I’m a big sharer. I think we need more consumers who are willing to share about their good experiences, at least as much as we are willing to complain. If we have a horrible experience at a restaurant, you better believe we tell people. But how often do we tell others about the good experiences? We need to do more of this, and encourage this among consumers (including ourselves!) and we’ll see big changes.

  • Marijean says:

    “Sometimes I think the industry likes to keep it that way so they can make a living explaining it.”

    The introduction and integration of social platforms has certainly created more business for PR firms. But the core of what we do is help businesses reach their goals using communications. There seems to be no shortage of companies that have trouble articulating who they are and who they want to reach. Much of the work I’ve done in my career has been in internal communications, as well; teaching companies how to interact and sing from the same songbook. When technology is introduced to make these activities easier and more successful, yes, it’s common for our industry to jump on that bandwagon, but in the case of social media, it has often been client demand that has pushed PR agencies into offering counsel in digital communications. Aside from that what’s cropped up — and what I think you’re largely seeing — is the result of counsel from firms or individuals without a strong background in communications or public relations. Social, in these cases, is applied like spackle, leaving many of us pasted over and as you are, totally over it.

    Thanks @rustyspeidel — this is such a great post and good reminder for all communicators.

  • KenMueller says:

    @Marijean @rustyspeidel This is something you and I have discussed a lot over the past week or so. And it speaks to why sometimes agencies can’t handle it. And I hesitate to brush with a broad stroke, because i’m sure there are plenty of agencies (PR or advertising or web) that do it well. But it’s not their first calling, and in some cases is counter-intuitive to what they do.

  • Marijean says:

    @KenMueller @rustyspeidel Ken, you and I have been talking about it; Rusty and I have been talking about it . . . to say it’s been on my mind is an understatement.

  • kit_b says:

    This may come as a surprise to many of my colleagues, but I agree entirely with @rustyspeidel . Wholeheartedly, in fact. I don’t believe that all businesses need a social media plan. What’s the point? Bragging rights? Having a presence just to say you have a presence? No thanks – I’d rather help my clients focus on making money, not wasting hours on a blog/Twitter/Facebook feed that nobody will read.

    Sadly, social media has become the go to response for lazy communications professionals or charlatans trying to get their feet wet as “social media experts.”

    I feel that many businesses can thrive with a well applied, appropriately planned social media strategy that is part of their larger communications/marketing/advertising strategy. But only a part. Relying too heavily on social media is a disaster waiting to happen for any type of business.

  • rustyspeidel says:

    @KenMueller @Marijean It’s clutter. I find the request/need to share is an increasing impediment to my basic consumption of content, purchasing of goods and services, and understanding value. I am not controlling the process if in the middle of an article a javascript popup interrupts me to ask if I’ll retweet the content I’m reading. I’m not in control when I’m asked for my CVS card every single visit. I agree those are poor implementations of a potentially powerful concept, but they add up.

    That said, I’m very interested in the crane company’s approach. I’m easily convinced to look at this differently.

  • mosaiccatherine says:

    @rustyspeidel I do agree with @KenMueller point of sharing positive experiences. Not enough people take the time to sing someone’s praises! The elements are in place to make that easier!

    From our conversations with businesses they feel pressure to become experts at using all elements of media (including social) and a lot of them are focused on weathering the economic waves to achieve such a standard. Some bring in social media experts to create and maintain. But it has to be an integrated effort and business owners struggle with creating the time necessary. The voice and persona has to be one of that business or it isn’t authentic. As @Marijean pointed out, it is a fantastic element for PR relations! I don’t know of a business that wouldn’t take advantage of that!

    I also get worn being asked to fill out a survey with every receipt I’m given. I do however relish the idea that my voice can be heard in an instantaneous format…when I’m ready to make my voice heard. The social sites have definitely provided a way to sculpt the new customer service element. That’s why I believe you should have some social presence no matter what your biz category may be.

    I’m also a user of good old fashion “thank you notes”. I’ve had more than one business owner thank me for taking the time to actually write a note with the return address NOT containing an @ sign. I worry that communication is losing its human touch.

    Although the truth remains as Ken stated unfriend or unfollow?

  • KenMueller says:

    @rustyspeidel @Marijean agreed about clutter. And that’s where we are with all forms of media and marketing. Goodness knows trade shows are a serious source of sensory overload. what matters, from a consumer standpoint, is how the business chooses to cut thru that clutter. Do you merely scream louder? are you the booth at the trade show with the scantily clad women? what sets you apart? And THAT is why I think a proper social presence can help, because if done well, it is NOT yelling and screaming. It’s providing real value for your customers in the form of customer experience, not marketing. What MJ and I do is labeled marketing, and we grasp on to that because that is what people want. But that’s not really what we do. We are teaching businesses how to use social and other communications strategies to become better businesses across the board and across disciplines and departments. It’s when we get stuck in the Social = Marketing mindset that we fail, both from a business standpoint and a consultant standpoint.

    And the things you bring up, are valid. I hate popups. But, I also have the choice not to submit to their request, or to go elsewhere. If we go elsewhere, they see that in their analytics and say “Hmm, what did we do wrong?” If they DON’T see that or act on it, they will suffer. And I love getting asked for my CVS card. Do you know how much free stuff I’ve gotten from them? Sure they are gettinginfo about me, but I can choose not to show it to them. But i’ll trade what little info they have on me for serious discounts and rebates.

  • rustyspeidel says:

    @KenMueller @Marijean i actually avoid CVS now. Because of that tactic.

  • ginidietrich says:

    Well, they keep saying this is the wild, wild west of the digital era so I’d guess it’ll calm down in a couple more years. The problem is that everyone feels like they need to have a piece of the social pie so they’re building, and protecting, turf. One of my favorite questions to ask when a client or prospect tells us they want to get on Twitter or Facebook is, “WHY?!” And typically the answer is, “Well, my competitor is there.”

    I spoke on Thursday to a CEO group in Denver and, at the end of the three hour workshop, one of the attendees raised his hand and said, “You haven’t mentioned anything about Twitter or Facebook. Why?” You see, I’d done my homework and I knew they were all B2B companies with really niche products (one guy makes torpedoes for the Army). Neither one of those tools makes sense.

    So I guess that’s my long answer to say…it’ll get better.

  • KenMueller says:

    @rustyspeidel @Marijean haha, and that’s why I shop there more than Riteaid or Walgreens. I see nothing wrong with that tactic. To me it’s a plus, not a minus. CVS then has to monitor the pluses or minuses and determine the ROI for the program. I’m guessing they do, and it works for them, knowing they will gain more customers than they lose.

  • rustyspeidel says:

    @kit_b All I’m trying to say with all this is that it’s getting a little out of hand and noisy, and that’s a turn off both personally and professionally. I think turf building is part of the problem, so is keeping up with the Joneses, not wanting to appear out of it. If you’re pitching me at work, show me you get my business, not just yours. If you’re pitching me at home, try a softer, quieter touch. I am NOT an oversharer.

  • rustyspeidel says:

    @KenMueller @Marijean Well, Ken, I think I know where you stand on all this!

  • KenMueller says:

    @rustyspeidel @Marijean I’m actually with you on a lot of it. I think it comes down to our own personal threshold for things. I recently wrote a post answering the questions “how often should I post on my Facebook business page?”. the fact is, there is no formulaic answer. It is contingent upon a lot of things, not the least of which is your customers. Different types of consumers have different levels of tolerance. for some, one update a day is too much and they see it as spam. for others, they can handle more.

  • EricaAllison says:

    AMEN. Wow. I am going to have to come back to this one…but for now, thanks!

  • terek55 says:

    I am so fatigued right now, too. Not from the loyalty programs, but from the general social media programs. And the fact that I wear about 20 hats at work and each one has a handle on so many of these social media programs. I can’t keep up and I’m drowning in them some days.

  • KDillabough says:

    I love, love love this post! I just did a post entitled “If you don’t know they ‘why’ the ‘how” doesn’t matter.

    All of this overload is exactly that: tooooo much! If we don’t apply a good old-fashioned, seat-of-the-pants sensibility to the decisions we make, we’re really just running around chasing shiny objects. We complicate things when we add tool upon tool to an already overflowing toolbox, when all we really wanted was a hammer to pound in a nail.

    Amen to hearkening back to common sense and sensibility. “Why” are you doing/want to do something? What significant, beneficial, measurable difference will it make?

    Customer buying decisions are all about needs and wants: I might need a refrigerator and bbq, but what I really want is cold beer and warm hot dogs. I’m so with you: there are so many things we don’t NEED. If we WANT them, then businesses should find the most appropriate tools/ channels/ mechanisms/ conduits to sell to that want. Amen to turning down the volume. Cheers! Kaarina