Giving Till It Hurts

Posted by

At what point do you stop giving and start taking? At what point are you no longer serving the community and looking out for yourself?

Those are fair questions and those are the same fair questions that brands ask all of the time once they start to embrace Social Media and the many new platforms offered to them in the Digital Marketing channels. It’s easy to get to the point where you lose focus on where the ROI is in all of your online actions and it’s even easier to forget about the initial strategy that led you down this road.

Have you ever been tested about your sincerity in these channels?

It’s important to remember that if you are engaging in Social Media for your business, there are many people out there who are not. Their values will be different from yours. Expect it, anticipate it and don’t be surprised when your reasons for being online and connected get questioned. Many people online have the expectation that everything is free (and should be), and that everything should be published, shared, and passed around all for the better good of the community.

It makes sense, but it doesn’t make great business sense.

In a perfect utopian world, it would be nice if everything could be free and shared. It would also be nice if we all didn’t have to suffer with issues like poverty or inequality, but we’re simply not there yet. Recently, someone commented to me that they hope Facebook is not just another marketplace. They were hopeful that it was still an open social network that brings human beings closer together. They also went on to say that Facebook doesn’t need a business model, and that all they need is to focus on creating meaningful value that could lead to a new sustainable model of our society.

It sounds pretty, but let’s face it: Facebook is a business. 

Facebook is/was set-up as a company to do business… almost from the day that Mark Zuckerberg pushed it beyond people with .edu email address and opened it up to the world. They incorporated a business, and did not create it as a foundation to serve society (like Wikipedia or how NPR sort of operates). They have a sales staff that hits the phones everyday just as hard as some of the telemarketers that call your house around dinnertime. It’s nice to think that Facebook is an online social network that brings human beings closer together, and that may be true so long as it generates a profit. Yes, they are doing good by helping us better connect, but yes it is a business and it will always be pushed to make more and more money. If they chose that utopian route, it would need to be supported by either people like you and I paying for it or by the Government (as a social cause that all citizens are/should be entitled to).

What we all need to understand… together…

Your online experience is what you make it to be. If you think PR people pushing press releases on Twitter is wrong, it’s pretty easy for you to not follow those people – and it’s pretty easy for the journalists who are interested in following them to get what they need. If you think that Social Media means that everything is free and open – that’s your opinion (not mine). I believe that this is simply a new channel and platform to communicate and share. I think that along with the "changing the world" bit, there are amazing opportunities for companies to grow their business through marketing in the channel and taking part – depending on their strategy. I also know that your "rules" are not my "rules" and that’s what makes this channel interesting. We can both spend our lives in these channels and never have a similar experience.

It’s great to give and add value, but it’s also important to remember and focus on your original goals – which were to give and add value… and grow your business.


  1. The FREE open Internet and the social media revolution in general is all about freedom of expression; free from controls. It’s disappointing to watch the tireless attempts of a determined few who are hellbent on controlling it!
    You’re right–if somebody wants to sell me something over the phone, I simply won’t take the call because I don’t have to–and if someone wants to sell themselves and/or their products and services shamelessly Online without adding a lick of value (even some of the time) I can simply stop following them, filter them out, remove them from my friends or ignore them altogether.
    For some, the need implement an affective social business strategy requires that they become pretty darn good at ‘appearing’ to care. Businesses don’t suddenly care because they’ve managed to establish a pretty cool Online presence or because they now spend some of their time educating and informing between sales. Isn’t that in fact what most of them are doing? As a filmmaker, I’m genuinely passionate and committed to everything I do Online while some are simply passionate and committed to making money; even if that means maintaining a blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts. Is social media for business nothing more than a sustained semi-subliminal advertising campaign?
    Miles Maker
    “Brown Baby” (2010)
    The totally FREE movie you can share, remix, re-use and rediscover!

  2. Interesting post. I have also noticed that so many brands/companies are diving into social media, but without a clear set of objectives. They just know they should be there.
    It seems the primary goal of participation in social media (from a business perspective) is to become a central authority figure. This requires expertise, and ubiquity (being in the center of the conversation). If brands decide what they want to be experts in, then they can effectively use social media to get there.
    Rick Smith

  3. Digital marketing channels are being targeted by brands today. This number is slowly increasing. These channels are easier mediums to reach out to the target market. But an important thing to note here is that the measurement of ROI’s from these channels is not very simple. When trying to measure the ROI from these channels, it is important to note that it is not always possible to measure the ROI from the digital marketing channels in a quantitative manner. The number of reactions to your profile or to your channel is also a topic of prime important while measuring the success of these channels.

    I thought in the spirit of trick or treating, I would add my 2 cents for free. I’m finding the “freebie monster” has a checkered past when attracting clients. In day to day business, a lot of people and businesses balk at the idea of getting something for free. Even when it’s an incredible free offer.
    We have become desensitized to the “free” concept…let’s face it…free has gotten us all in trouble in the past. free trial offers that don’t stop unless you remember to cancel 6 months from now, or a free drink with that over priced “value” meal.
    We have become skeptical when someone says “free.” When presented with a free offer, how many times have you found yourself saying…”come on, it can be free…seriously what’s the catch?”
    The fear of free applies to face-to-face conversations and I would say to a greater degree online. For companies genuinely trying to do business there is no catch. But let’s not forget the idea is to “do business.” It is a method or point of entry for building a business relationship with a potential client or customer as you stated Mitch.
    The problem…err challenge… is to tame the “freebie monster” into an attractive “gentle giant” that’s trying to help others. That task can be daunting. If only we could have a “trick or treating” day for businesses to present their free stuff…funny how you hardly ever hear a child say…”sir, is this candy really free?”

  5. As a freelancer, I agree with you that although we’re using social media to build our own community, we still need to remember we’re trying to run a business. However, this post reminds me of my experience at Barcamp last year (I missed this year). It was a huge turnout, but almost all of the people I talked to were interested in one thing: getting more work. It felt like everyone turned up hoping to “gain contacts” who would send them lots of work…it was a very one sided experience and was one of the things that made me decide not to go this year (along with the fact the topics seem to have been all about the same social media junk you hear everywhere)
    Long story short, I don’t want Twitter and facebook to end up like Barcamp and other geek conferences – everyone walking around asking for business and no one contributing anything of value. Did that make any sense at all? πŸ™‚

  6. Mitch – great though provoking post. I think you’ve done a great job of the sincerity issue on your podcast by highlighting (from time to time) that you are doing this to grow your business. Why should it matter if there are business motivations to do this? Your content is free for anybody who wants it, and just because you are generating business from this shouldn’t detract from your credibility.
    There isn’t a soul in the world who could work as hard as you at this and “appear” to be authentic – they would burn out in less than a month.
    Thanks for being a voice of reason on this issue!

  7. Dear Mitch, I am glad that the private conversation we had earlier this week inspired you this very interesting post. The problem is that you grabbed the part that serves your purpose and brought it here out of the context. Please let me bring it back.
    The somewhat unpleasant remarks I made at the facebook Garage was about a campaign “win 1$ per friend” or so that your company recently created for a national bank. If I understood it correctly I think that this kind of campaign basically encourages people to spam their own friends in order to bring attention to a commercial company and that it does not leverage much more than their greed. In my book this is “spam outsourcing” and it is much different (and more vicious) than fair marketing.
    Of course, I don’t blame facebook nor the bank for being businesses and having to make profits. But I do not approve this campaign — and even less the invasion of social medias by all kind of marketers and advertisers who play on conservative and meaningless values disguised in trendy apps and designs.
    In particular, although this campaign and the other one that was presented that night may have been great online success in your book, I hope that you can do better than “porting” the brain washing that traditional advertisers imposed to the mass media into the new ones. I hope that your creative folks can imagine better ways to stimulate our economy. I hope that they have enough talent to persuade their clients to envision their corporative interest in a broader, less primitive, and truly social way.
    Finally, I will never open an account in a bank that encourages me to spam my friends and to play with a virtual girl that does not make sense for me. #fail πŸ˜‰
    PS : my purpose here is not to be “aggressive” or whatever. I just feel I have a point to discuss here and I thank you for welcoming this conversation — even if you still disagree πŸ˜‰

  8. There are three things you can do – as a Marketer – in Social Media.:
    1) You can advertise in the channels (Facebook ads, contests, etc…).
    2) You can join an existing channel and create your content/build community(a YouTube Channel, Facebook Page, MySpace profile, etc…)
    3) You can create your own platform (a Blog, Podcast, etc…).
    I’m sorry you felt that a certain ad/campaign was not to your liking (in this instance, we were only doing #1 – advertising with a contest). Everybody creates their own online experience (clearly, many people really enjoyed this type of campaign). As with all Marketing, the results speak for themselves. If people are not receptive to it, the brand will know. If people are receptive to it, they’ll know as well.
    I don’t think Marketers are invading any of these channels. As I stated in the Blog post, it is the platforms and community owners who have asked the Marketers to join so that they can be profitable/make money.
    I’m sorry this campaign didn’t resonate with you, but that’s what makes these types of channels so interesting – everybody’s unique perspective.

  9. Reading your reply brings me back to the last sentence of your post: “It’s great to give and add value, but it’s also important to remember and focus on your original goals – which were to give and add value… and grow your business.” This may be true for one of the facebook app that TI designed for the bank, but not for the “spam your friends” contest. For that one, the only goal seems to be growing the banking business by giving money away (a paradox for a bank;~) to those who would draw the attention of their friends on the facebook page.
    I don’t want to stick to this story. The important point is : I don’t think that “growing your business” should be the main goal of any human organization in this century. Indefinite growth leads us to a nightmare of global warming, natural disasters, resource shortage and, probably, violence and death. Just keeping that “growing your business” in mind as a main goal means that the system “business” has overcome the human necessity and rules for its own sake.
    Advertisers and business managers have a great responsibility in the evolution of the society — as much, I think, as politicians, judges and journalists. In one of his acclaimed campaign speeches Barack Obama said : “The world has changed and we must change with it”. I agree with that, don’t you.
    There are many creative ways of using social medias for serving your corporate mission — which should be, for instance, “making a better living for my staff”, “creating wealth for more people to share”, “playing an active role in the development of a sustainable economy” — and they are still to explore.
    In the non-for-profit field, for instance, I really loved a recent French campaign for Fondation pour l’alphabétisation (The Literacy Foundation) which propose to “buy” a word and build a nice motto with it in order to “give words to people who don’t miss some” ( Many of my facebook friends spontaneously donated 5 or 10 $ and received back the virtual gratification of a poster displaying their unique word creation… thus spreading the word to other people on facebook, Twietter and their blog (like I did). This campaign generates money for a cause and people are enthusiasts because they give and receive. This is a really social, 2.0 ad campaign.
    Even in the field of profit companies social medias can help us to live in a better world. We can imagine better ways of leveraging them to (1) build strong communities of people sharing positive values (2) creating wealth for us and for those who desesparately need some (3) consolidating common values of responsibility, awareness, respect, and creative fun for our society. This is the way, I think, visionary companies and marketers should embrace social medias.

  10. Note to the editor: there’s a typo above — “give words to people who don’t miss some” should be replaced by “give words to people who miss some”. Hope you can manage with it. Thank you πŸ˜‰

  11. Hi Mitch,
    This was a timely post for me as I struggle to find the line between giving my time and getting benefit from the time I’m spending in social media activities. The problem, of course, is there’s no definitive way to gauge the return.
    Social media provides an excellent forum for those of us prone to procrastination and that adds to the quandry.
    I appreciate you tackling the issue of motive. It’s a sticky subject evidenced by the comments on this post. I also think it’s one of the marvelous things about social media. I define my experience. I’ve been taken to task by some very smart people for “rotting my brain with that Twitter rubbish”. True, there’s plenty of rubbish on Twitter. I find that true in any society. It’s a lot easier to narrow my focus on social media than it is at my local cafe where it’s impossible to “unfollow” the conversation of the loud nitwit sitting next to me.

  12. @Christian Aubry
    As the greatest business and political book in the world, Atlas Shrugged, stated, “I’m in business to make money.” Perhaps you run yours to “save the world” or to stop an unproven “global warming” but I’m sure 99% of other business owners would agree with me when I say I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t making money.
    As Mitch says, growing your community as a business is important and I’ve spent a long time doing just that; but at the end of the day I’m still in business to make a profit for myself and my family – not to feed the world.

  13. @Amber Weinberg
    Ah ah ah! An unproven “global warming” — good joke! ;~)
    I never said nor wrote that businesses (and business people) should not make money. But the point is not to “make money” anyway. Money is nothing but a mean do obtain things. So the real point is, as I stated above, to create wealth and walfare — either for you, your staff, your partners, your community, your country, or the world.
    And this is not even the problem that was raised in the part of this post that Mitch erased as a consequence (I guess) of my comments. The problem is that facebook is generally a social media, not a marketplace, and although there are marketplaces within it. I would not like to see social medias wasted as commercial TV channels and the email system by unrespectful marketers and advertisers.
    There are rules to be applied such as “a profile is for an individual and a page is for an organization” — a page admin does not have as much access to private data than a profile owner and this is good. And there is a big difference between (1) fairly creating buzz by creating value and (2) leveraging people’s greed and uncounsiousness to have them spam their friends or your corporate behalf.

Comments are closed.