Starbucks had #SpreadtheCheer.

Blackberry had #BeBold.

Quantas (Australia’s largest airline) had #QuantasLuxury.

And, worst of all, McDonald’s had #McDStories. You can imagine the downward tailspin that one took.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with cooking up some creative approaches to social media. In fact, you should have a social media strategy that sticks out. But the out-of-control stories behind the above hashtags suggest that social media can cross a line… from social to overkill.

Why Social Media Is So Easy to Ignore

I’m starting to think our culture is becoming increasingly desensitized to social media. Social media is so ubiquitous that we easily tune out most campaigns, and we don’t even give the time of day to the social campaigns that are anything less than jaw dropping.

This isn’t a new phenomenon.

Take television, for example. How often do you complacently sit on your couch, engrossed in the commercials that dribble by between your favorite TV shows? Let’s be honest… do you even watch live TV? Or is it all pre-recorded so you can skip the ads? (If you’re like most Americans watching live TV, you probably just hit mute and walk away to the kitchen or bathroom.)

Okay, what about radio? Let’s assume for just a moment that you do listen to traditional broadcast radio. (I don’t know, your iPhone is dead or you forgot to renew your satellite radio subscription this month.) What’s the first thing that you do when those squawking, fingernails-on-chalkboard-car-commercials pop through your speakers? You flip to another preset instantaneously, right? It’s reflexive.

My point in discussing TV and radio is this: Media overload has made us master escape artists. When we hear an unwelcome ad, we either mentally shut down or run like the wind. These seemingly innate traits are taking deep roots in us. These days, in 2013, when we see a bad social media marketing campaign, we’re able to run even faster.

Fight or Flight: Where Things Get Interesting

Most of us respond to distasteful TV and radio campaigns by “flight.” But when it comes to social, it’s so easy to choose “fight” instead. The corporate social media strategies I mentioned above are pretty impersonal, which – in a way – makes them offensive, since they pose to be personal.

I mean, honestly, what mom is going to post an intimate Tweet about… say… her child walking her first steps with #McDStories slapped onto the end? It’s weird; it’s unnatural; it doesn’t really happen. Yet, in executing this social media marketing campaign, McDonald’s essentially says, “Listen, we’re McDonald’s, and if we ask you to get on board with us, we know you will, because… We’re McDonald’s! And we think we’re really awesome! Use our hashtag! Oh, and make sure everyone knows you love McDonald’s. Yeah!”

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not picking on McDonald’s. You could plug in just about any business into the above script. (Though there are a few, like Target, who really get social.) The point is this: too many businesses focus on being social, not on being interesting. When a brand only cares about having a “social media strategy,” no matter how asinine, boring, or even offensive, it shows.

And then it starts to hurt…

Over-Eager Brands Get the Backlash

The SMM campaign examples I opened with aren’t just boring campaigns; they suffered a lot of backlash. (If you haven’t already done so, you can click on any of the hashtag links to read the story.)

TV and radio don’t offer the audience an immediate opportunity for dialogue. But with social media, things are different. In all of those failed campaigns, users are practically begged to enter into dialogue. Oh, and enter into dialogue, they did! (Go read the colorful responses for yourself.)

Avoiding This Pitfall

Okay, so how can your company/brand/project avoid this pitfall? In all honesty, it is fairly simple:

Be genuine. I know this is the biggest cliché in all of social media marketing, but it’s one of the biggest truths. Seriously, just be yourself. If you wouldn’t say something to a friend at dinner, why would you Tweet it to a wide audience?

Think of others. Remember, it’s social media. What would others want to know or hear about?

Pick two. As Creative Director Jonathan Byrne says, “Be interesting. Be helpful. Be beautiful. (Choose two that apply.)”

What do you think? Really, I actually am interested in hearing from you… at what point does a company’s social media become unbearable?

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