Internet marketing sucks, and here's why.
In recent weeks, a friend has been picking my brain about why I do (or don't do, really) what I do with marketing my art and writing.
Basically, I don't.
I don't promote it heavily, I don't promote myself heavily. I'm not constantly telling people I wrote a book or painted something.
The Supposed Science-Backed Data
You'll often see marketers who market to other marketers (it's really just a giant pyramid scheme, with top marketers making money off of wanna-be marketers) writing posts that purport to lay claim to science-backed methods of building audiences, getting more fans, increasing engagement, boosting sales, getting more readers, getting those readers to read, and whatever else.
Let's break that down.
The engagement myth.
Do you know what qualifies as engagement?
Pretty much if someone farted in the near vicinity of your internet properties.
People could engage with your poster ad in the subway if they urinated on it.
Engagement doesn't mean anything more than they may have glanced at what you have online. It doesn't mean sales, it doesn't mean clicks, it doesn't mean shares or likes. It's merely a vague "engagement." Unless the blog posts defines engagement, don't be fooled. If a marketer is claiming some kind of "300% increase!!!!" in engagement without an asterisk next to it, they had better define that engagement and show how that was measured. If engagement is left open ended, it's just a box of caveats.
Maybe, though, they say they can promise an increase in shares and likes. So what?
Social media and search engine algorithms have more to do with your success rather than fans, shares, and likes. The direction we're going online is that if you have anything remotely politically incorrect (and in this day and age, that's pretty much everything) to say, you're going to be buried, shadow banned, and ignored by those algorithms.
So, using science to increase engagement can essentially be as easy as feeding your customers more cheese and beans.
Bastardization of data.
Scientific data is basically a bunch of number sets open to interpretation. Unless a study is repeated and has air-tight results, it's pretty easy to bend the data to fit whatever you want it to. It's also easy to just put out a bogus pile of information on purpose, betting that other journalists and marketers, desperate for new content to create for their websites, won't look too hard into the truth of what you claim.
Let's say a new study comes out and they find that people who buy leather shoes also eat a lot of carrots. You can bet some marketer is going to start writing articles on how, if you are trying to market your shoe store, you need to be using the color orange, you need to have sales with carrot-themed treats, you need to write blog articles about the health benefits of carrots, and whatever else.
Seriously, this is the correlations and methods marketers are using. Why?
First, they're desperate for content. They gotta keep writing blog and social posts or they lose fans or seem to have gone dormant. Search engines like active sites, not dormant ones.
Second, either they have the ability to understand scientific studies and still don't mind twisting the summation to their purpose, or they don't have the ability to understand them and/or are just reading some journalist's second-hand take on them. Whichever the case, they turn correlations into causations, and make wild connections of data points and speculations.
This leads to just about 50 percent of Buffer.com's blog posts from a few years ago in which nearly every post had a brain scan and the word "science" in the headline, leading every other marketing slave to mimic the technique and sell the idea that if you put the right color button in the right spot it would light up the right part of the brain and you'd get someone to sign up for your email letter.
Heck, I wrote these kinds of posts myself; it was my job, I had bills to pay, that's my excuse. I tell you that to let you know that I know what went into writing them, and the pressure to ape Buffer et al. Scroll down this post and see if you can't find my guilty reference (to a popular post which has since been attributed to other authors, a story all in its own right that I may share some day).
I tried to write posts that were a little bit more challenging even though they still had a marketing twist, but let's be honest: what people want is a promise of success "backed by science."
Internet Marketing Is Not An Innocent Technique
This is why I have a problem with using internet marketing techniques as if they were value neutral, applying them to all internet presences.
Churches, for example. That really bugs me. I've written about it before.
Look, internet marketing is based on playing to algorithms of companies that don't like certain kinds of religious faith, playing to psychological tendencies or weaknesses in humans when faced with a barrage of stimuli, and other such things. It also allows people to participate by something as low-commitment as liking a social post.
This is not good for churches.
Are you trying to attract people through marketing and low-commitment narcissistic techniques? Because that's what these methods are. They are all about playing to human weakness and foibles (what's the best time of day to post? the best font? the best color? the least offensive? the most offensive? what's the best click-bait? what are people interested in as seen in trends? etc.). Does that sound like a great way to get people to church?
"I see that you aren't terribly interested in church. Maybe I can cajole you with my carefully planned schedule of graphics on social media."
Yeah, God has the ability to use stuff in ways we can't predict, and I know he uses the internet. I've no doubt he's used a marketed message to get through to someone somewhere. He's going to accomplish his plan no matter what.
But I worry about our efforts to fill our church with people that need constant marketing to remind them to be active in their faith. Marketing is about the lowest common denominator (i.e. the least offensive message possible) because it's about reaching the greatest mass. Marketing is based on one simple concept: "what's in it for me?" It is a completely self-centered approach.
What does your customer want? What are their fears? What "keeps them up at night"? What are their secret wishes? How can we make them feel powerful and connect it to our product/service?
So we end up with pretty pictures of muted landscapes or a millennial woman drinking coffee on the beach with her Bible on the sand and script font that says "Jesus brings peace" and get fifty likes and whee. I guess the message that Jesus Christ, the risen son of God Almighty, came to save each of us from the destruction of sin and death if we would believe in him and repent is hard to get on that beach photo.
Again, I've worked in internet marketing. I've written hundreds of thousands of words as blog copy to feed that monster. I know what goes on behind the scenes. It's gross. The ghostwriting, the celebrity worship, the marketing of marketing, the clever methods that focus on appealing to base and narcissitic human nature, the basic Ponzi nature of it -- all of it is repulsive. It is especially repulsive when important things, like faith and truth, start to cater to it to try to cajole people. Talk about building your house on the sand...