May issue 2011

By | Opinion | Speaker's Corner | Published 13 years ago

areej-qamar-2011Don’t you miss the good old days when we could use YouTube and Facebook to simply have fun with our friends, near and far? Don’t you miss the days when we had immeasurable power to communicate, share and advise on any and every subject without big brother watching? If you think those days are still here, you’re dead wrong. Not only are governments tracking your local sites, but also corporate eyes are following your cyber footsteps, making note of your interests. They leverage this knowledge to sell you one thing or the other. It’s their relentless objective.

This is a part of business today. I’ve accepted it. But what I don’t appreciate are ads popping up right before the best YouTube videos or my favourite Facebook pages. Sure make money, but please don’t downgrade the online experience for me. A few professionals keep these little things in mind, but as a whole, brands and agencies seem to forget the very reason users go to these sites: it’s not to get bombarded with ads, it’s to get away from it all.

On the one hand I am glad that our best source of innovative entertainment has spawned a revolutionary sub-industry within the realm of advertising, but on the other hand I don’t appreciate the lack of creativity that has come along with it and falls short of expectations 90% of the time. There are a few examples from Pakistan.

When Pepsi launched “Sting” in Pakistan, TNBT (The Next Big Thing) was the online agency that created one of the most negatively memorable online campaigns of all time. This sad excuse of creativity involved heavy doses of supposed endorsements from mediocre local bloggers that were far too easy too spot as being insincere. Blogging used to mean expressing what you want, not what ‘they’ want, and even if there is a third party involved, then it’s simply ethical to mention that part of the equation.

I’m waiting for the day when my online escape won’t be cluttered with ads that don’t solicit positive emotions for a brand. Would it hurt to create a fun tie-in game?

Now I won’t go so far as to claim there are no good agencies in Pakistan for social media. There are a few, including Sociality360, which recently did a CMK (customer market knowledge) drive for Swisscom. Coincidently, Sociality360’s CBO actually contributes to Newsline, often advocating the techniques used by his firm.

And herein lies my point: I’m all for using the data gained from social networking to improve products and services, but I’m not for hammering ads in my face. Can’t all the social media companies just come to a conclusion that they’re either going to get serious about producing creative, engaging campaigns for us or just gather data to improve the damn product.

Just get in, identify and address unmet customer needs. And if you have to, go on ahead and engage your employees, long-term customers, suppliers and other third parties as active participants in the service-improvement process, which just may save time in moments of crises and help expand the range of ideas and help gather real-time feedback on their potential take-up.

Last month, I was on the team that oversaw the CMK campaign designed for us by Sociality360. It was simple but somewhat ingenious: they created for us an online lab that awarded customers all over Switzerland the chance to download beta applications and provide feedback to its product development teams. Sociality360 went a step further by filtering out the unnecessary feedback (such as rave reviews) and redirected the appropriate data that provided an early opportunity to identify potential problems and alert the developers to customer differences across geographic markets that needed to be addressed.

Granted, in some ways Sociality360 exceeded our expectations, but in others it missed the mark. In particular, it committed the same sin condemned earlier: offering up annoying ads that negatively affect the online user experience. Our long-time customers complained. So given that Sociality360 interacts with others in the same line of work, I implored their CBO to pass on my simple message, a message that comes on behalf of millions of working folks who just want to come home from work and relax online:

“I believe that if a company wants to make money off social media, it should do so in this manner, that is, gather data for product/service improvement. That is all. If you come on my favourite sites and nag me to see your brand, then I will grow to hate you. And hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!”