The Tweetwashing Agency Dilemma

by Holland-Mark | May 26, 2010

Greenwashing” is how cynics try to capitalize on the public’s growing predisposition to conservation and renewable energy. It’s a bit of flim-flam to make a product seem environmentally responsible, when it really isn’t.

It’s a lose, lose, lose proposition. First, some people are inevitably duped into believing that BP loves animals / trash bags can be biodegradable / coal can be “clean” – all to the benefit of charlatans and scoundrels. Second, the environment suffers despite the best efforts of downstream buyers to express their will in supporting it. Third, opportunity costs build up on two fronts: Buyers become cynical and indifferent, and sellers fail to invest in technology that would render their products more sustainable versus the competition.

The same thing is starting to happen in social marketing. Prospective clients are asking about whether they can “outsource Twitter and Facebook” to us, meaning will we put some underpaid 22-year-old on TweetDeck and ask her to “@” anyone with the poor judgment to tweet that his girlfriend dumped him while coolly sipping a cold can of BrandX.

Why do they want this? Certainly not because it’s effective in building relationships, in driving incremental sales. They want it because access to such a resource would enable them to plaster Twitter and Facebook chicklets all over their web site (which almost never allows comments because “the legal folks won’t let us”).

Call it “Tweetwashing.” A shallow and gimmicky handle for a shallow and gimmicky practice.

Is that the promise of social media? Will it become just another channel for back-slapping bullshit?

For me, the dilemma is this: I don’t believe social media can be an effective branding or promotional medium if it’s not embraced – authentically – by real people from inside brands that want to engage with the truth. I just don’t believe it can be applied as some kind of glossy outer coating by an agency partner, or any third party, and be truly effective over the long haul.

But that seems to be what clients want. They aren’t focused on the opportunities presented by social media. They seem to want to make the social media problem go away, as cost effectively as possible.

So what should we do? What do you do?

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