Social Technology’s Limitations

Marketing is not an easy job if it is done right. To do it well you have to connect with your audience using research, instinct, or a combination of the two. While many marketers look to technology as the silver bullet to best convert you and I into loyal customers and eventually brand ambassadors, there are professionals, like myself, preaching the need to use a slow burn, long-term approach to building solid relationships; however we have to be careful not to limit our customers’, or in the non-profit world our supporters’, options and sense of discovery when doing so.

Social platforms  A video of Facebook’s Paul Adams, Global Head of Brand Design, is proving to be a hit with marketers looking to use technology to create loyal customers and evangelists. As more non- and for-profits look to social media and the web to connect with potential and existing customers, Adams provides a succinct overview of making that sale. The video is embedded at the end of this post and be warned, if you do not have the nearly 20 minutes to watch it then you will not be able to follow Adams’s advice.

In the video, Adams builds his presentation around investing in long-term cultivation of your customer base. Adams firmly believes, and with good cause, that the speed of technological advancements does not allow businesses to fully appreciate their potential and true use in the short term. In a wonderful example, Adams points to the telephone and how it was originally introduced as a broadcaster of events rather than its current transmitting and receiving capabilities. Instead Adams promotes long-term engagement beginning with many “lightweight” interactions on the way to creating a full-fledged product missionary.

Short Cuts

Adams makes many points that are worth noting however the assumptions that several of his hypotheses are based upon do not jive with human advancement. Throughout his presentation, Adams highlights the social aspect of technology and the brain’s inability to preserve the entirety of web based information. On this point, I do not disagree, however he takes it further to suggest that we will turn to our friends to help weed out the extraneous information to arrive at an appropriate amount to keep as our own. He says this is in our DNA and has helped us advise each other throughout our history as a matter of survival.

An example of shared preferences in the modern world would be a near perfect television viewing experience suggested by Adams. The level of programming in his example would reduce the hundreds of available channels to options based on the preferences of the viewer and his or her friends.

The control of information based on exhibited preferences is the enemy of other human traits – voyeurism and exploration. It is the reason I channel surf, scan every section of the newspaper, and fiddle with the car stereo rather than play CDs. I want to explore, to be amazed by something I do not know. I choose to dig through the noise of sites such as Twitter to uncover a nugget and feel that rush when I learn something new. Unfortunately, much of today’s tailored technology does not allow for the nuances of life. Let me give you an example.

Too many times my life has been dictated by small events throughout the day that cannot be measured by my specific interactions with technology. A stranger I see with a book on the bus adds to my reading list while the food I see someone enjoying at a restaurant dictates my next meal. On one occasion it led to years living overseas, a post graduate degree, and meeting many of my current friends.

When I went into the overseas exchange office at my university, I had no idea where I wanted to attend; I just knew I needed to see more of the world. Many students I later met through the program told me how they polled fellow students, researched the schools, the specific classes and professors, and the history of the land; my approach was less scientific. My limitations at time with foreign languages culled my options to a handful. It took me less than ten seconds to look at the map of Europe on the table in front of me, recognize a city that I had heard of in my literature classes, place my finger on it, and tell my advisor, “I’ll be going there.” My decision was made without an algorithm and within a year I made many lifelong friends and met my wife, a resident of a city twelve hours on the other side of the world.


The premise proposed by Adams will work for marketing departments since it is safe and predictable. In fact many marketers, myself included, have used online customer cultivation peppered with thought provoking news updates for years, watching as heavy-handed approaches failed. His theory is based on studied, historical fact and will work wonders for sales teams that have the time to build solid relationships with their customers. It will probably also work for many users who need quick answers to minor issues such as television purchases or what to watch on Netflix.

For me, I worry that this approach, if followed too closely, will not allow for the adventurous spirit that drives many of us. We want to go off the beaten path and bring back the news of a discovery, not ask for directions, map it on our phones, and track our progress. After all, we would not have gotten far on this planet or beyond if we kept to the consensus.

Do prefer to find things on your own or seek out the advice of friends and experts? Life’s full of grey areas and many of us use both methods depending on a given situation, so when do you use one and not the other?


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