Social media = broken capitalism

Many areas of capitalism have become broken in recent years, such as when we had to bail out the banks after the 2008 crash, or the way unscrupulous companies tried to cash in on early stages of the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak.

Social media is an element of our daily lives that is all-pervasive, and most take it for granted as being positively useful or benign. However, it is fast becoming more of a curse than a benefit in many aspects of our society, particularly when it is used to try and influence critical areas of democracy like national election results.

Sophocles said “Nothing vital enters the lives of mortals without a curse”, and this applies to products and services too. Back in the 1990s we were all used to buying software and PCs, simply to make workeers more productive, communication easier and to make businesses more efficient. But “if you’re not paying for a product then you are the product”, and this is where we are with social media. It has become an online marketplace that trades in human futures, designed to covertly influence everyone that engages with it.

The goals of social media are actually threefold, and very simple:

  1. User engagement to drive up the social media platform usage
  2. Incentives to get you to invite your friends on for platform growth
  3. Advertising on the platform to make as much money as possible

All of these goals are managed by sophisticated algorithms that can selectively ‘dial up’ each one of these goals on an individual basis, and in all social media companies this is managed with close precision.

For example, a social media goal might be for you to invite 7 new friends to their platform within 10 days. This is achieved by using ongoing massive scale ‘A/B testing’, where hundreds of different news, picture or post options are put in front of social media users until they decide to click on them. And click on them they do. The reason is that it’s been shown that in clicking on something that vaguely interests you, it’s possible to keep getting regular dopamine hits that make you feel a twinge of visceral pleasure.

This is where we come down to the difference between a tool, like a PC or mobile that is physical and visible, or a technique, like the algorithms used in social media for mass manipulation. Ask any top technology creator if they are just as susceptible to the draw of social media, and they’ll admit they are. Like with any drug, they are just as addicted to social media, with its regular hits of the release of that pleasurable dopamine into the brain.

Gaining your ongoing attention and time is key, for advertising that encourages you to you buy products and services. But social media is also all about creating a persuasive technology to change and modify your behaviour as an unconscious habit too, something that is called ‘positive intermittent reinforcement’.

That might sound fairly harmless when you’re trying to sell adverts for consumer products, but this algorithm method they use also allows social media companies to affect more major personal decisions, like how you might vote in an upcoming election. And all without most people suspecting it’s even happening. The Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016 showed how a US political party bought Facebook user data and then segmented voters into 30 groups, based on their ‘likes’ and clicks. The aim was so they could target them with slight variations of a range of political adverts that were directly designed to influence their future voting aims. And it worked.

To see the true long term effects you can look at what has happened since 2010, when social media became prevalent across all western society. There has been a rapidly increasing rate of teenager suicides, and teen social interaction and positive behaviour dropped since Generation Z teenagers started turning to social media whenever they were lonely or afraid, rather than talking directly to their friends. In effect we are already training a whole  generation that social media is the ‘digital pacifier’ that people can automatically turn to whenever they are unhappy, with potentially disastrous consequences

And this is a major challenge, as social media is all about giving people information they might like, rather than what they really need or might help them. Computer processing power has gone up a trillion times since the 1960s, but humans haven’t changed in millions of years. So our brains can’t be expected to even begin to understand how we are being manipulated by social media, with its algorithms embedded in code and machine learning and AI. Algorithms that help guide the information we see every time a  social media ‘click recommendation’ appears, seemingly appearing as genuine news items, valid opinions or insightful thoughts from other people we think are just like us. The reality is that most ‘fake news’ is therefore what we see on social media, not on the mainstream new channels at all.

Over time the effect is that our opinions really do begin to change, and all based on what we like, click on and the videos we like to watch. Just like any addictive drug, just because it’s what we like doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for us. Far from it, in fact.

And that’s the biggest issue of all. There’s no threat of social media taking over humanity in the future, it’s already done it in large parts of society. Social media has already crossed the point of ensuring humanities ongoing addiction simply by engaging human weaknesses. Its impact is like everyone having their own ‘Truman Show’, where what we see on social media is a warped reflection of what we think our lives are, and what we would like them to be, rather than how they genuinely are.

Facebook in particular has become expert at stopping people being truly objective, with sophisticated algorithm based recommendations fed through constantly to reinforce each person’s own opinions and views of the world. YouTube is also very good at keeping people engaged with new recommendations we will like, as well as click ‘rabbit holes’ designed to make us slowly and subtly (or sometimes far less subtly) change our opinions.


Next time you post on social media or ‘like’ something, remember you’re being very closely manipulated. The miracle to solving social media is recognising it is as much of a curse and a problem as a benefit to our collective will as a society. If we can’t all universally agree what truth is, we’re doomed as a species. It’s not about technology or social media being an existential threat specifically, but the fact that it is designed to change behaviour and opinion, and can readily bring out the worst in parts of society.

As Buckminster Fuller said about social media,  “whether it is to be utopia or oblivion will be a touch and go relay race, right up to the final moment”. Social Media offers both utopia and disaster at the same time, and ultimately it has a faulty business model that needs to make money and reward shareholders. Any solution to the ills of social media also has to realign its financial incentives, taxing them appropriately in all the geographies where people use them.

Unless the interests of all people come ahead of social media platform profits, they will undermine democracy and have inevitable dramatic societal consequences. The obvious ultimate threat is civil war, ruined economies and a lack of collective will to deal with critical future factors like global climate change.

If you want to know about the effects of social media then watch “The Social Dilemma”. currently available on Netflix. See the trailer

Social media for B2B business SMEs

When we first go in to meet the owner of an SME business to discuss how best to grow their organisation, a question we’re commonly asked is ‘what do I say on social media?’ The answer quite rightly is, of course, it depends.

Whilst most business owners understand things like TV advertising and the importance of having a website that resizes itself depending on what device you’re looking at it on, many get perplexed about social media.

Apparently there are 92% of CEOs registered on social media, but less than a third who contribute anything to it regularly. In a busy business world, where so many days are spent fire-fighting, social media is one of those areas many owners feel slightly overwhelmed about. And the issue for SME owners, those smaller businesses with maybe 5 to 50 staff, is they feel they never have enough time to think about marketing at all, let alone social media. And that means few spare moments to consider their overall marketing strategy and direction, or what message to say, or where and how social media or other marketing delivery methods best fits into their marketing plans.

And that brings us on to the crux of the issue. Our research shows most SME owners have a business plan, even if it’s only a basic one. However, few SMEs create enough time to develop a detailed marketing plan, something which is usually much farther down their list of priorities.

So, without a detailed marketing strategy or plan, how do you decide on the relative importance of social media in a B2B world, or any other marketing method come to that? One of the biggest challenges revealed from our research is that many business owners run their businesses instinctively, and they do a pretty good job of it too to be honest. However, a significant proportion of SME owners don’t have a formal business education, and naturally rely on subject matter experts in their organisations to advise them on their best course of action. And when that expertise is in the area of finance or factory production then that makes complete sense. That’s because these function still work similarly to the way they did twenty years ago, even though legislation and technology may have changed.

So, if you asked a fifty year old and a twenty five year old accountant or engineer what was important to an SME business in doing their job, their answers probably wouldn’t differ much. OK, the twenty five year old would likely know better how to use complex accounting software, or might be able to program the latest CNC machine to make widgets, but their business contribution would likely be similar, with a useful balance between these two generations of accountants and engineers of experience, skills and technical expertise.

Why social media is such a big part of the SME marketing mix

We hear all the time about how technology has disrupted the marketing industry, resulting in techniques that look nothing like they did ten years ago. If you rewind even further back to twenty years ago, there’s a good chance that the new marketers of today wouldn’t even recognise what we referred to as marketing. And that’s half the problem.

The issue with marketing is that it has seen faster change in customer targeting techniques, technologies and devices than any other area of business. In the last 20 years we’ve seen an explosion of messaging, sharing, video and other social media platforms, as well as web connected smart TVs and multiple portable handheld internet devices. All of which, within less than a decade, we’ve become so used to being contacted on and marketed to with.

Here’s just a few examples of the seismic changes for B2B marketing in the last 20 years, with a tongue in cheek look at the world launches of social media platforms and web-connected devices:

  • 1999 MSN and Yahoo messenger services launch, so we can talk to connected PCs or over the internet
  • 2002 LinkedIn launches, fast becoming the B2B platform of choice. But we can’t use it on the move yet…
  • 2003 Skype is launched, the first video calling service, to let us talk to talk to racist grannie in South Africa
  • 2004 Facebook starts, and by 2005 we have features to tag our drunk friends in photos taken at parties
  • 2005 YouTube launches, giving us endless opportunities to watch videos of cats playing the piano
  • 2006 Twitter starts, popular in Brazil and India before becoming the platform of choice for US presidents
  • 2007, just 12 years ago, the first smartphones start to appear on the market, to exercise our fingers
  • 2008 Samsung launches the first smart TV, to watch films and binge box-sets online for the first time
  • 2010, less than ten years ago, the first tablet devices appear, to help our children to play games on
  • 2011 snapchat launches, so the world begins to understand exactly what ‘dick pic’ really means
  • 2012-2018, lots of social media platforms go public, lots shut down, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal

So when SME businesses start to really focus on marketing for the first time, they often focus on social media marketing, because it looks like the fastest return for the smallest effort. And that’s perhaps the biggest benefit and the biggest issue with social media. There’s no doubt social media is great for brand awareness for one simple reason, the number of people that you can potentially reach for a smallish amount of effort.

Unlike a phone call or email or other direct one-to-one contact systems, social media offers a tantalising one to many relationship. So if everyone has the average number of LinkedIn contacts, around 300, the number of people you can potentially reach with your social media messages is 300 x 300 x 300, an amazing 27 million! The trouble is, it’s only those first 300 people that actually know you that you usually influence. How much the other 26,999,700 value your thoughts and opinions is debatable, especially when they’re viewing your post from the other side of the world.

The second reason many SMEs focus on using social media is a bit more obvious, and that’s because many SME business owners don’t employ anyone in marketing until their business gets to a certain scale. Then, the new marketers they employ, perhaps not on the highest salary, are likely to tell them that social media is the answer to their business marketing needs. This is often simply because any young marketer has had the most experience in this one marketing tool, rather than a thorough grounding in other core marketing techniques. To be fair though, when you consider that Millennials have only ever known a world of smartphones, smart TVs and social media, it’s no wonder that their perception of what marketing is focuses mostly on what can be communicated on social media in the online world.

We’re not anti-social media, not at all. Social media platform do offer clear benefits in targeting new customers you want to reach, especially if you have no way of directly approaching them or finding them to get their details onto your business contact database. Both LinkedIn and Facebook offer very sophisticated advertising systems, albeit at a cost, that can target very specific geographies, demographics or interest groups to sell products and services to them.

So social media does have a place in all modern SME marketing, but bear in mind that the B2C and B2B marketing worlds should be treated very differently. We should also accept that all social media, whether personal or business, is a careful fabrication of what we want people to think. Most people take all content that’s shared on social media, whether business or personal, and however well crafted, with a large pinch of salt. And that’s why you should make sure social media is not the ‘be all and end all’ of your marketing communication strategy.

Also remember that what you say to that target audience on social media, to influence them buying from you, will only be as good as your understanding of why people need your product or service, and what triggers they have that make them buy from you. Its only then you can create and develop a good, persuasive, well-thought out marketing campaign, with strong messaging that resonates logically and emotionally with your current and future customers.


Whilst we might think we’re a lot more advanced now as a species with our tech gadgets, and it’s true the world now certainly seems a lot smaller and more interconnected than ever before, we shouldn’t forget that we’re still just apes at heart. Soichiro Honda, the Japanese bike and car creator, said of our existence, ‘Life is measured by the number of times your soul is deeply stirred’. And that means that the things that make us tick are human interactions, emotions and more visceral experiences, even if we don’t like to admit it.

People ultimately buy from people they know, so if your business is not just selling online, then at some point it will need your future clients to make an emotional judgement about you, your business and your products and services. And, ultimately, your new business will ultimately come from people who have met you, know you and trust you.

So work on your marketing plan first, and get it clear in your own mind what it is you can offer, why people might want it, and how best to put that across. Then, and only then, can you decide how you get your message across to your target audience, whether you do it through your website, social media, email, advertising, partners or events.

And to respond to that other question we’re asked by younger SME business owners, ‘how did you do marketing before the internet?’ Well people forget that we’ve always had direct mail, letters, newspapers, trade press magazines, public transport, posters, conferences, sports events, client entertainment and even TV for eighty years. We’ve also had business partners, satisfied customers and networking. But, best of all, we could call people up and arrange for a good old fashioned face to face meeting. And, if it’s a big B2B purchase, let’s face it that’s still often the way the biggest business is done.