Social media has not fulfilled its promise of revolutionizing marketing. It was seen to be a new medium that would create democratic dialogue over autocratic broadcast. Initially brands and advertising agencies were threatened by the power social media gave individuals. They feared a loss of control over the message.

To some extent, that has happened. Reviewer websites, blogs, tweets and so much more have given voice to the many. Bad news and views do spread fast. Good news does as well, but brands seem paralyzed to leverage such instances. Like any marketing medium, the purpose of social media is to inform, entertain, and compel. Now social media is lumped with traditional mediums for five reasons.

No Personality

A brand’s social media voice demands personality. It has to reflect a uniqueness and passion for the values and beliefs it extols. This gets people identifying, connecting and returning if the voice resonates. Many brands are attempting to be playful in tone and personality to be memorable. Captain Obvious’ sardonic voice for Hotels.com is consistent across all communications. Digital advertising agency, R/GA, has formed its voice around the work of a young staffer charged with running their Twitter account. That voice is witty, intelligent with a peppering of jadedness that is authentic in advertising. That tactical decision has influenced the agency’s entire communication strategy. Both examples have clear personalities whether you like them or not. They take a stand.

Fake Voice

Too many brands try too hard on social media. This ends up coming across as canned and bogus. It runs the danger of putting people off never to return again. You can’t hide who you are or try to be something else. KFC has embraced irony in its social media strategy, and that has been backed by ironic moves in its marketing. Whether it be their Extra Crispy Sunscreen, “These scents bring up these memories, often of childhood visits to KFC,” said Kevin Hochman, the CMO. This comes on the heels of KFC’s edible nail polish. It launched two ‘flavors’ of polish: Original and Hot & Spicy. KFC’s history is kitschy. Instead of running from that fact, the company has embraced it in all communications.

All Channels

When you exist on too many social media channels, you end up diluting the brand or miss real connections. Instagram is different than Facebook, and both are different from Twitter. Trying to sandwich the same content on different platforms does not work. The purpose of all is to reach and connect with people, but the content must be massaged and nuanced to respect both clear and subtle differences. Copy-heavy posts that accompany photos on Instagram are glossed over, and light and airy content on LinkedIn is skipped. In marketing, it used to be “know thy audience” now it is equally “know thy channel.”

Broad Content

Topics have to fit. Brands and individuals must “stick to their knitting” otherwise, credibility and authenticity are challenged. Too many businesses and products are trying to be “lifestyle brands.” This does not give a dog food company permission to talk about backyard barbecues or a car company license to offer parenting advice. Starbucks found this out with their lambasted and cringe-worthy #racetogether campaign. So much social media marketing money is wasted because companies are now afraid to be direct. The purpose of marketing is to help make a sale. Brands appear afraid to sell, but are shockingly comfortable with weighing in on significant social issues. Social media is an informational and educational tool, but for brands, it exists to help tell the story of both functional and emotional benefits of their offer without being so glaringly obtuse.

Spray And Pray

This leads to the fifth and last point. Picture a person with no personality, a fake and irritating voice, who feels the need to be in your face everywhere, and talks about subjects they know nothing about. That individual would not last long as an acquaintance, colleague or friend. You would, in short, ‘unfriend’ them. Well, that is what is happening with most brands on social media today. They practice ‘spray and pray’ social media marketing, hoping that more will be more. In the end, it is ineffective, inefficient and irritating.

For all of the talk of big data and analytics that should help us understand consumers, brands still treat people as “followers,” “eyeballs,” and “click-throughs.” Social media betrays a lack of respect for the individual. History shows that marketing is a very human activity. For those in charge of a brand’s social media strategy, I recommend you wake up tomorrow and think about how you can meaningfully connect with one customer – not one million. The one million will then follow in the desired way.