Social Media Marketing and Ethics: Where do we draw the line?

The digital space has challenged ethics in our society. For advertisers and marketers, the battle between right and wrong has put a stigma on our industry since its very beginnings.

Propaganda during war. Selling cigarettes to women by appealing to their desire to be skinny. E-cigs to teenagers to make them feel cool. Influencing elections and challenging the concept of democracy. Listening to conversations through our devices.

An industry with so much power, so much influence on society, is destined to be challenged. The law only goes so far. It’s ethics and morals that have to stop us from digging too deep, creating chaos, and destroying the future of our industry for good.

The online world continues to open new doors for advertisers and marketers, allowing us to be more efficient and cross more personal boundaries. And it’s all thanks to that not-so-little thing called data.

Data is a controversial topic. Data is money and it’s blurring the line between right and wrong in the marketing industry. We’ve never had so much information about consumers at our fingertips and so little regulation holding us back from using it.

If you’re an advertiser, you make money to successfully sell your brand, product, or service to consumers by placing your ad in the right location at the right time. Say you’re selling organic, all-natural laundry detergent. As stereotypical and anti-feminist as it sounds your target audience is women. Most likely moms ages 30-45 with two or more children, educated, household income of $100K+, living in a suburb, and mostly shopping at Whole Foods or some local grocer. Is it stereotyping, or is it being realistic?
A college student isn’t going to buy some special laundry soap that’s $10 more expensive because it’s got “organic” and “all-natural” printed on a bottle that looks like it came directly from the compost. Half the dads I know can’t even do a load of laundry without turning your white shirt grey.

The mom audience it is. But, you can’t advertise your special laundry detergent when your audience is 2 glasses of wine deep after finally putting the kids to sleep. Give her a break for God’s sake! Your ad needs to be placed when she’s thinking about her grocery list and making her everyday errands, not when she’s about to dig through her secret weed stash in the kitchen drawer.

Ad placement matters…a lot. And social media has everything advertisers need to get their ad placed at just the right moment to just the right person. Why spend a ton of money to place your ad in front of thousands of consumers, less than 20% of which make up your intended audience, and not even half of that 20% at the right time when they actually might stop to consider your product? Advertising on social media allows you to pinpoint these factors more accurately and only pay for your ad when it’s actually placed in front of said user. Much more efficient, right?!

But this new method of marketing can get out of hand real quick. It uses consumer data that’s been added to, revised, and stored for as long as you can remember. It knows you. It can predict your behavior before your brain even begins processing the behavior. It doesn’t see ethical versus unethical. It only sees correct versus incorrect.

Now, in the case of that organic, all-natural laundry detergent, it’s difficult to do serious damage to your ethical reputation or to the goodness of society by targeting some social media ads to moms during their midday errands. But change your product to laxatives and audience to teenage girls or muscle enhancer to young men. Change your product to guns, sex shows, political policies, political candidates. Then things get dangerous.

In essence, advertisers target the most vulnerable group of consumers. What makes them vulnerable is the fact that they’re most likely to be persuaded by the ad and end up doing what the ad tells them to do. But where do we draw the line? At what point do consumers crack? When is what we consider advertising, considered manipulating?

Social media allows the marketing industry to bloom. It’s changed traditional ways and become more effective than ever before. But we’re still following the same regulations and guidelines put in place when print ads were hot off the press and Don Draper was smoking a pack of cigs a day. Our morals are being challenged and ethics tested on a trial-and-error basis. User data is growing exponentially with little to nothing holding its use back.

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Organic Social Media Growth

Believe it or not, it is possible to grow your business simply using organic social media strategies. Organic growth requires more than just sharing content. You have to take a step back and develop an understanding of your competition, target audience, and social trends.


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Understanding the competitive landscape
The best advertisers and marketers fully place themselves into the marketplace of their client. They observe all the hustle and bustle in the industry first-hand, rather than Google searching their way to a questionable conclusion of the industry’s landscape. This approach applies to social media marketing. You must place yourself in the social media marketplace and experience the digital buzz surrounding your industry.

What platforms are they on? What platforms are getting the most engagement? What types of content are they sharing that audiences are responding to? Are they sharing different content on different platforms? How are they speaking to their audience and communicating their message? What hashtags are they using?

Continuously ask yourself these questions. What you find will uncover the secrets of how to best reach your audience. This will tell you what works and what doesn’t. Don’t jump the gun and start sharing content without analyzing the competitive landscape. Listen. Use social media as a tool for understanding the marketplace, not just spreading information.


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Understanding your audience
Similar to understanding what your competitors are doing, it is important to understand how your audience is using social media and what they show interest in. This involves looking at what types of posts they interact with, as well as testing various content of your own.

What types of content are they sharing and commenting on? When and where are they most active? What platform-specific features are they using? How are they speaking to their followers and making sure their own message is heard?

Many people don’t realize that social media holds the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of consumers, their behavior, and their thought processes. Your target audience is active and ready to engage on social platforms. It’s your job to leverage the content you share, based on your understanding of these consumers, to ultimately optimize their engagement on your profile and with your brand.



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Engaging with your audience
One of the biggest mistakes social media marketers make is sharing content without spending time to interact with their audience. Digital platforms are centered around the act of engaging. Users like, comment, share, and DM. And you’re expected to do the same. If someone shows interest in your content, you have a way to reach them over and over again and guide them through their purchase journey, all in one location.

Engaging with consumers has never been so easy, yet marketers miss their opportunity, focusing instead on sharing content, gaining followers, and reaching the most people. Your content should be directed toward your target audience, not just anyone and everyone. Having a smaller, more engaged audience is much more valuable.

Post content users can engage with and start conversation by commenting, messaging, and sharing. Show them you’re human. You’ll see an increase in people interacting with your posts and showing interest in your brand. This is much more effective than focusing solely on followers and likes.

*Note: When engaging with users (particularly through DM), always offer value before asking them to do something.



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Following hot topics and trending hashtags
Social media moves fast. Trending topics change daily, and if you aren’t with it, you aren’t getting heard. Stay relevant and find ways to tie your brand, product, and message to what people are talking about. Trends vary according to platforms, so always be on the lookout for conversations you can be a part of.

Topics are not the only moving aspects to keep up with, #hashtags can also change depending on industry trends and current events. Hashtags are a great tool to help users discover you, however, their use is very platform-specific. If you’re including the same hashtags for your post on all channels, you’re running the risk of seriously pissing people off. Here’s some insight on #BestUses according to platform:

Twitter: Most widely used in association with current events. Used to join the conversation around specific trending topics. Trending hashtags change daily and can easily be found in the app’s explore page. Use 2-4 #s per post.

Instagram: Most accepting platform for hashtags. Use industry-specific (#nonprofit) and content-specific (#AskMeAnything, #TeamZoom). Used to allow users to discover your content and profile. No more than 15 #s per post.
*Tip: Use around 5 hashtags in caption and drop the rest in the comments.

Facebook: Benefits are still unclear to marketers. Users commonly search key terms rather than hashtags. Use 1-2 #s per post. Excessive use is annoying.

LinkedIn: Use industry-specific hashtags. Use 1-2 #s per post.
*Tip: As a business page on LinkedIn, you can add and manage three hashtags. This allows you to see and engage with trending posts in the community so you can get involved in the conversation.

Ultimately, there are ways to organically optimize your business’s social media presence without spending a dime. By simply listening to all the conversations and buzz, you can gather tons of insight to implement into your social strategy. Remember, social media allows you to work on a trial-and-error basis. If something’s not working for your brand, ditch it and try something new.


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Why my mom falls for Facebook ads

We’ve all gotten those tempting ads on Facebook or Instagram that make us stop scrolling and think about how much money is in our bank account. We’ve also gotten those ads that make us think “did my phone really just listen to my conversation?” Social media ads continue to get smarter, constantly upgrading to feature new and improved ways for marketers to reach the right people, at the right time and with the right message. And they actually work.

Today, businesses must have a social media presence. Period. Your audience is on social media and will continue using social media until the day they die. Millennials are in the real world now, making real money, calling the shots, starting families and contributing to the marketplace. They continue to make up more and more of your consumer base. And…they’ve grown up with the online world growing right beside them. They were the first Instagram users, the ones who made Facebook grow into the chaotic network it is today and the ones who built LinkedIn during their unpaid internship days. Then there’s Gen Z. They’ve grown up with iPads instead of binkies and learned how to unlock mom’s iPhone before they could walk. They post a ridiculous amount of TikToks a day and would be viral if the platform didn’t switch their accounts to private. Social media is not going away. Now is the time to leverage your business, reach your audiences and get on that hashtag grind.

Facebook, in particular, has become the go-to platform for businesses to advertise their product or service. FB ads are cost effective and extremely targeted. You can target audiences using more than just demographics and basic information, but also behaviors and interests. FB can even target ads to users that previously visited a specific URL. The platform allows marketers to send different messages to different types of audiences, which, when done correctly, will deepen the user’s connection to your brand and make them more inclined to purchase. Facebook ads are extremely effective and allow brands to reach real, potential buyers among the clutter of content, fake news and Gen Z TikTok videos.

Social media advertising has changed the game for marketers. It’s a whole new way of reaching potential customers, engaging audiences and telling a brand’s story. It’s a whole new level of temptation for users. And sometimes even the most seasoned users, about two glasses of wine deep into their evening, will fall for a social media ad.

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