The deafening noise of social media

Crowded bazaar

Being a part of the world of social media is becoming very much like taking a walk through a chaotic bazaar. The prospect of soaking up the lively atmosphere and the promise of striking up a great deal entices many to come from far and wide to find out for themselves what it’s all about.

Wander through the bazaar and you’ll soon identify the different characters. Most of stallholders are shouting as loud as they can, letting you know what they sell and why you should buy it from them. They are not interested in hearing what you’re looking for, but will get in your way if that’s what it takes to make sure you know of their presence.

Then there are the ones who want to be your friend. “Where are you from?” they ask first. “How do you like our city?” They invite you for a cup of tea, sit you down and then bring out their goods, knowing that they have a captive audience for a short while at least.

Others still just want to appear helpful. “Where do you want to go?” they come out and ask you as you take a furtive glance at your map. They scribble a few places down that you shouldn’t miss, tell you about a great café or restaurant and let you know which places you should avoid. Even though they are selling the same things as everyone else, when it’s time to buy you are obviously going to remember your new friend who helped you out and didn’t give you any hassle.

And so it is online.  “Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our blog to hear our latest news” is the common tagline for companies and even individuals. For many businesses social media has presented an opportunity to have a bigger, more powerful megaphone in the increasingly crowded bazaar.

Some companies meanwhile have decided that they don’t just want us to be customers; they want a meaningful relationship. Staff are employed to encourage us make ‘friends’ with them and become their ‘brand ambassadors’ (ugh). We can then fill the online world with the positive vibes that previously would have taken up the majority of their PR and marketing budget.

On the surface it makes sense for companies to want to be able to reach me in a dozen different ways. They see their competitors shouting louder and feel the need to amplify their voice to drown them out. Yet as ever more businesses employ quick and cheap methods to shout their message far and wide, the experience in the market becomes less of a journey of discovery and more of an unpleasant ordeal. More of us start to cover our ears or avoid the bazaar altogether.

But look around in every market and there’s usually one stall, out of sight to all but those who know about it, where the owner is constantly busy and never needs to shout to draw new customers.  They’ve been there for longer than most can remember and their quality speaks for itself. Friends tell friends, parents tell their children and the customers keep coming. In a world where the noisiest often seem to get noticed, it’s nice to think that it is quality that usually wins out in the long run.



Author Information

Freelance travel writer

11 Responses to “The deafening noise of social media”

  1. GREAT piece : ) Thanks a lot for this, Andy.

    April 12, 2012 at 9:04 pm
  2. Hey Andy – Another great article. You have a great way of writing about the tough topics without ever becoming that which you are commenting on! Blog on, dude.

    April 13, 2012 at 9:40 am
  3. Andy, I get the points you’re making here, but I’d say that companies trying to ‘make friends’ with their customers and potential customers is actually a positive step, in fact I wish more organisations would make that amount of effort. I’m still frustrated by the monolithic unresponsive multi-nationals where it is virtually impossible to get a meaningful response to any enquiry or problem…

    April 13, 2012 at 9:41 am
    • Thanks Pete – I guess it’s about striking a balance and above all, communicating with people with honesty. Too often the ‘hey, be friends with us!’ approach is not about anything more than meeting some arbitrary targets of attracting followers for future marketing. Not much of a ‘friendship’ is those cases…

      April 17, 2012 at 8:33 pm
  4. What a great post! Brilliant analogy, Andy!

    April 18, 2012 at 6:12 am
  5. In a world where the noisiest often seem to get noticed, it’s nice to think that it’s quality that usually wins out in the long run.= love this one. In the end, business (and travel writing) is all about quality and giving something of value. Marketing is just part of the package

    April 18, 2012 at 7:25 am
  6. Abi #

    Loved this article. Am going to shout about it as loudly as I can! Look out social media world!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! with ! for luck!

    April 18, 2012 at 4:16 pm
  7. Andy, you have a keen eye and ear both when travelling and online. You also take the time to analyse what you see and draw meaningful conclusions.

    Not sure why you respond to becoming a brand ambassador with “ugh!”. Many of us are brand ambassadors if we are honest about it. When asked we will recommend countries, destinations, services, and other products without thinking about it. Think about it. It may not be because of the noisy seller or the false friend, but because we have been influenced by the quiet, helpful person with quality products and services.

    It reassuring to know that there are people like you who keep focused and don’t copy the behaviour of the masses.

    April 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm
    • Thanks John. I wondered who would pick up on my ‘ugh’ :-)
      I agree that we go about promoting destinations just by virtue of the fact that we’ve had a good experience there and want to share it with others. There is a clear distinction however between giving opinions based on our own experiences and using our voice to promote contests/promotions or press releases from a destination or hotel chain. It’s the latter that for me defines the ‘brand ambassador’ phrase and to which I referred.

      April 19, 2012 at 10:25 am
      • There seems to be many definitions of ‘brand ambassadors’ but apart from the likes of David Beckham and George Clooney, there is a move to get passionate, impartial and trusted consumers to fulfil the role. Some ‘brand ambassadors’ do fall into your latter definition. For example there are a few snowboarders I am friends with on Facebook who are sponsored by a well known energy drink. They then drop mentions of same drink into their updates with the subtlety of a thermonuclear explosion.

        The Holy Grail of ‘brand ambassadors’ appears to be a consumer who already promotes a product because they adore it. That consumer has clear ethics and is known for only raving about a product that they admire and fits with their ethics. I have seen many Apple consumers act as unofficial ‘brand ambassadors’ raving about the latest iPad seems to be part of an unwritten contract that you enter into when you buy one.

        Returning to the travel world there are some big name bloggers who monetise their blogging through sponsors. Often the bogger was using and reporting positively on the supplied products before they got the sponsorship deals. As part of my research for the post I did consult press releases from the various bodies involved.

        But on your last definition my last VisitBritain post would make me a ‘brand ambassador’ for the Wales Coast Path even though I have never exchanged a word either in text or speech with the creators of the path, the councils or the relevant tourist authorities. I wrote it because I have had some very enjoyable hikes on the Welsh Coast and think it is real cool that from May 5 there will be a linked up path going right around the coast of Wales.

        I could prefer to be George Clooney, but in fact he promotes a brand I have ethical problems with.

        April 19, 2012 at 11:30 pm
        • Good points as ever John. I figure this ‘brand ambassador’ debate is a whole new topic. My instinct would be to see a distinction between your promotion of the Wales Coast Path (you love the product and most importantly you’ve actually experienced it) and the activity of those who are promoting a product/service/destination in order to gain free travel/competition entry/traffic to their site. Perhaps it’s not the label that matters but the clarity of ethics that you mention…thanks again for your insights.

          April 20, 2012 at 9:07 am