By Joanne Jacobs, Social Media Expert Consultant and Adjunct Associate Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology

I came across a campaign recently, lauded as a success because heavy internet users were not blocking it. Sorry, marketers, but that’s not communication. It’s not even close.

Social media mentions are not evidence of:

Users buying your productUsers advocating your brandUsers even reading what they are tweeting about

Furthermore, encouraging users to get a celebrity to tweet about a product is spambot behaviour and should be seen as possibly the worst form of social marketing faux pas. This is where marketers are consistently getting it wrong with social media: they need to stop treating audiences as ‘target markets’ and stop measuring mentions and assuming these are benchmarks for ‘communication’.

Social media are not a useful channel for campaigns in the first place. Social media are a space for continuous communication, not short, sharp advertising campaigns that are designed for public spaces and traditional print & broadcast media. So even beginning such an exercise is evidence of marketers completely missing the point of engaging with an audience. Such oversimplification of interaction design and undervaluing of audience contribution is a classic broadcast strategy, and should be recognised as the dregs of old media mentality.

Communicating involves listening, not broadcasting messages, and it involves actions, not competitive scrambling for a prize. It has a different value propostion from mentions. It’s about generating useful content and responding to others, and it is based on gift economy principles.

Let’s take the use of hashtags to illustrate this point.While hashtag use is valuable for sharing of information about a topic in the manner of event tweeting, or in helping others by providing access to information sources, in such circumstances, the primary reason for hashtag use is to share content among interested audiences. The value is given by users to the community. However, where hashtags are deployed only as a means of winning a competition, or getting mentions of a brand, the value is entirely self-serving. This isn’t an example of gift economy principles, but rather, acquisitiveness. It clogs up otherwise useful feeds with spam, providing no valuable new information either in the interests of the audience, or for the brand hashtag itself. Indeed it can damage trust in campaign participants who soon find their audience mutes their content, or simply unfollows them in response to their participation.

So: not only does the campaign not create value for audiences, but it potentially devalues the reputation of participants. Oh bravo! Great campaign! NOT.

Until marketers realise that measuring brand mentions is less important than communicating useful content and mobilising audience expertise, they will continue to fail badly and fail often with social meida. And while I’m all for failure tolerance, I am afraid I have no tolerance at all for myopic marketing stupidity.

This article originally appeared on Joanne’s blog, joannejacobs.net

You can follow Joanne on Twitter @joannejacobs

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