Ladies and gents, meet Virginia Alber-Glanstaetten, group director of planning at Huge who picks up the baton from Josh Seifert on monthly writing duties. In her debut column on this here site, Alber-Glanstaetten, who’s also worked on the strategy side at Organic and Razorfish during her career, shares her thoughts on Facebook’s new emoticons feature.
I’ve never been a fan of the emoticon. Perhaps it’s generational – or my own form of language snobbery and elitism – but whenever I see grownups using smiley faces in a sentence I just want to issue the common parental command “use your words.” So you can imagine my feelings about the news that Facebook has added emoticons to its arsenal of self-expression.
Not only does it add to the injustices inflicted upon the English language of late, but I believe it actually pushes Facebook further away from its stated intent of connecting people. Over the last few years, Facebook has succeeded in commoditizing our relationships with each other – remember when you used to visit your friends after they had kids rather than leaving it at a Like and a comment on their photo album?
As Facebook rolls out emoticons, it will allow users to stamp a smiley or frowney icon for what they’re feeling on their status update and customize it according to the brands that they’re interacting with with—for example: drinking Starbucks coffee while watching Game of Thrones. This is no longer about people connecting with each other, it’s about Facebook bringing users closer to connecting and engaging with brands under the auspices of a social network, and providing brands with sentiment analysis.
But the real reason this is important is because it highlights the tension anyone working in digital faces every day: the battle between the users’ interest and the brands’ interest.
As marketers, it’s our job to take advantage of new trends, behaviors, and opportunities to help your clients connect with their audiences. It would be irresponsible not to encourage clients and to take advantage of channels like Facebook. Community Managers and Planners like myself immerse ourselves in fan activity and use it to glean insights that will help create better, stronger, smarter campaigns. But as a Facebook user myself, I don’t really want any of this and I’m increasingly conscious of this dichotomy as I go about my work. It’s a constant push and pull: what do I as a user of Facebook want and enjoy versus how can I take advantage of user behavior in the interests of my clients?
And this is the core challenge all brands face in digital that I deal with every day: How do you create a viable digital platform or experience that meets the client’s business and marketing needs while placing those of the user first? Failing to do so is the reason that most brand initiatives in digital flop.
So let’s be honest, Facebook. Interacting with brands is is not what people really signed up for. While I, like everyone else, will play on until there’s a better alternative, let’s not fool ourselves—you started caring more about companies as users than people a long time ago.