How Advertising Creeps Me Out — and How Social Media Can Help

A recent development in advertising has really rubbed me the wrong way. I know it was supposed to be a good and helpful thing, but it felt so Big Brother-ish that I felt annoyed and almost angry at the company who clearly thought it was a good idea to perpetrate what felt like a violation. I really think social media could have been a much better set of tools to achieve better results for the advertiser.

Here’s what happened to me: I used Register.com to register a domain name. I know, it isn’t the cheapest domain registrar, but it has been reliable with excellent customer service, so I’ve been a customer since the 1990s. The other day, I was poking around for new domain names (because one can never have too many domain names), and purchased one. Then I went off on my merry way surfing the web for other things.

Much later on, I was on a site entirely unrelated to domain names and an ad on the side of the page I was browsing caught my eye. It contained the exact domain name I had recently purchased, but with a different suffix. It was telling me that I could purchase a variation of the domain name I already had. And right away it creeped me out. Upon closer inspection, it was an ad from Register.com. My geeky, I’ve-been-doing-this-stuff-for-years brain knew that this ad was most likely generated by tapping into the cookies on my browser, and that someone, somewhere, got the wacky idea that customizing my advertising experience would be a good thing — not just tailoring the ad to my interests (travel, parenting, Internet services) but literally lifting what I now felt was my domain name and putting it in the ad. Even though it was supposed to serve me and entice me to purchase more, I was annoyed.

How Social Media Can Help

Where do we draw the lines between connected and disconnected? Where do we draw the lines between opting into personalization and customization and having it automatically appear because our activities online are being tracked and tagged? My thinking on this is if a company wants to get social with me as a customer, it should use social media tools, not cookies and automated tools to track my every move and then spit information out to me based on some kind of algorithm.

What I would have rather experienced with Register.com could fall under a number of social media marketing tools and tactics. These are simple things that, at first, might seem like unrelated to the sale of a domain name, but hear me out.

  1. When I bought the domain name, it would have been nice to be led to a page that thanks me for the purchase and encouraged me to connect with the company on Facebook or Twitter.
  2. Once I “liked” the company’s Facebook Page, I’d pay attention to specials or discounts offered via the Page. I’m fine with consuming messaging from a company via their Facebook page, even if the messages are merely reminders to buy that domain name that I’ve been thinking about.
  3. If I followed the company on Twitter, ditto. I’d be happy to see a discount code running through my Twitterstream that I could act on immediately, perhaps prompted by the nudge: “Hey, thinking about getting a new domain name for that project you’re working on? Act now…”

I probably wouldn’t visit a Register.com blog or subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed. As a consumer, my plate is overflowing, but it’s easy enough for me to connect to a company I like and have a varied stream of messaging from them in my two most frequently used social networks.

Isn’t that how social media marketing should work versus old-fashioned, clunky and invasive advertising? Let’s connect, feed me some valuable info over time interspersed with marketing messages and some coupons or discounts, and I’m a happy camper. Trust builds between us. I’m not creeped out by your connections to my communications streams. It’s a win/win scenario.

What do you think about the old ways of advertising and the new ways of connecting to customers via social media?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media Marketing

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