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Dear Brands. Stop Ruining the Internet.

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I’m a big believer in the power of technology to change the world. But lately I’ve noticed that the old world and the new world just aren’t getting on that well.

Not so long ago social media platforms were meant to make us all more connected and be the catalyst for customer-centric change in behaviour that would sweep the world. Communication had become more democratic than it ever before and now everybody had a voice.

But some members of the business community simply don’t understand how to use this technology, and they are busy ruining it for the rest of us.

Facebook has become a social platform with around a billion users because it is genuinely useful. Stop and think about it. People are able to connect and organise social, community and work activities in way that has never been possible before. What’s more, Zuckerberg has made the platform open, meaning that for brands and app developers the data is available to use if your customer gives you permission. Facebook’s mission is “to make the world more open and connected” and they are doing everything they can to make this happen.

The problem is advertising. It’s not that there is anything wrong with advertising on Facebook. When done right it’s actually pretty entertaining and can even be helpful. But most brands are not getting it right. They are used to “dumbing it down” and targeting the lowest common denominator. They’re using outdated metrics and old-school marketing techniques. And when these don’t work they blame the platform.

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It’s not Facebook’s fault brands don’t know how to connect with their customers. Their advertising products and targeting tools are incredibly sophisticated. If people aren’t engaging with the ads, there is probably a good reason for it.

People are having conversations on platforms that make them feel good. The value they get is in the connection. Most of the time they are treating each other with respect and talking in a human way. As the cartoonist and author Hugh MacLeod wrote back in 2006, “if you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face”.

Brands are busy saying “where’s the ROI of social media?” and it is important to be results driven. But make sure you are also asking “are we creating experiences that people will actually want?”

So listen up brands of the world. Stop trying to change the way that people behave and think. Stop trying to position your brand at the centre of a relationship. Stop writing irrelevant ads.

Talk to your customers and listen to your market. Treat them like individuals. Start thinking about the experiences you can offer that will make a difference to your customers lives. Think about how you can use data to make someone’s life better – not just to spam them. Help make the internet a better place for all of us.

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