Living, Dying, and Advertising in Social Media

“What in heaven’s name made you think you could monetize the real estate in which somebody is breaking up with their girlfriend?”


This controversial quote from the GM of Interactive Marketing at P&G five years ago continues to stick with me.  As glib as the comment reads, it strikes at a fundamental tension between the people who use (and generate) social media and the marketers who utilize these new digital canvases to target advertising back at them.  I was reminded of this quote after experiencing two events in social media recently that made me rethink the place of advertising in user-generated social platforms.  One joyful, the other tragic.


Friends living overseas have been trying to conceive a child for many years.  Finally, last week, I was thrilled to see an update in my Facebook News Feed showing a mobile photo upload of a healthy baby boy.  Comments lit up the post with emotional congratulatory messages.  The communal expression of happiness was immediate and tangible, amplified by every additional Like.  I felt so fortunate to be connected and sharing this moment across time zones in such a vivid and immediate way.


While this experience connected me to the best in life, the worst occurred in a theatre in Denver in July.  As I followed the coverage of the tragic events, I noticed that journalists were referencing and directing readers to public Profile Pages and Twitter accounts of both the victims and the accused.  Many of these pages were filled with updates just minutes before the shootings took place.  They were pages like all of our pages, providing everyone a glimpse into who we are and how we want to be perceived, and that uncomfortable place in between.  It was beyond an invasion of privacy.


So what does this mean for marketers?




Social media is generated as an output of platforms used by people to share and connect with others they care about.  So as members become targets, updates become content, and pages become inventory, advertisers need to better recognize the context in which their messages in social media are being consumed (life), and the other content it is competing with for consumer attention (what happens along the way).


Maybe marketers need to think less about being social, and more about being human.

Photo posted on Facebook by the author when his twins were born.

Note: Originally posted in 2012 on the Cossette Blog