Surprise? Study reveals that people don’t like social media marketing

This week, Australian research agency Truth Serum published results of a poll detailing the most hated social media marketing practices for users.  The results read like a best practice list from any other site.

What is illustrative about this study is that it reinforces that users don’t use social media to see marketing content, anymore than people watch TV to see commercials.  In a perpetually contentious relationship like that, insights like “social media turnoffs” aren’t necessarily informative of what businesses should be doing, but they must be understood nonetheless.  

People hate it when social media marketers do ______________.

Here is the list that Truth Serum complied:

Truth Serum graphic

Notice that people don’t like recruiting their friends for brands.  They don’t want to Like your business for an enticement.  They don’t like overposting.  They don’t like sales.   And if any businesses were to follow these user recommendations they would effectively be neutered in the social space.

(Also of note: that the insight about content in poor taste is actually pretty sound, substantiated by the research of MIT professor Thales Texiera.)

What people prefer on social networks

Now contrast those insights with the preferences that Truth Serum found from the same group:

Truth Serum graphic
Not surprisingly, people’s preferences for social media content correlate pretty closely with their intended functions: sharing pictures, videos, interactions.  This isn’t surprising except to substantiate that social media has a specific purpose for end-users, and brands aren’t even on people’s radar.

So what?

Understanding how averse users are to social media marketing content is good.

Marketing Week just ran a piece singling out the video marketing of British retailer John Lewis for driving engagement.  Their campaign is an example of content that accomplishes their marketing goals while trying to appeal to users platform-specific preferences.

Marketing Week and Truth Serum offer an important perspective.  Social media marketers have to perpetuate some action be it following, clicking or buying.   People enjoy consuming content that is appropriate for the context of the social platform that they’re using.  So, the goal appears to be to make content so appealing that users will perform a less-than-ideal action to consume it.

What do you think about the disconnect between the content that people want to consume and the actions that social media marketers want to instigate?  And if content quality isn’t measured, are aggregated case studies about social platform effectiveness less valuable?

Photo Credit


Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Skip Blankley

    This is great info but not a surprise. What is surprising is that marketers still don’t get it…

    The social space has always been socially driven (obviously). I still love the idea that social networks are like the digital equivalent of a cocktail party. We are there to socialize, chat with friends/family, and then ‘that’ dude walks into the party with a silly suit on trying to sell you his product while interrupting your conversation. He will not sell anything and will likely not make it on anyone’s ‘friend list’.

    BUT, the dude you do not know that strikes up a genuine conversation with you and takes the time to hear your story, then tactfully mentions his business could help you, then hands you a business card without pressuring you into anything is doing what successful salesmen have been doing since sales was sales; Building a relationship. That ‘relationship’ is still often times overlooked by marketers.

    It blows my mind that marketers still think that kicking in the door, and screaming buy my product while everyone is enjoying the time spent catching up with friends, is an effective marketing method blows my mind.

    Thanks for the info! Great stuff!

  • Cendrine Marrouat

    There is the word “social” in social media for a reason. Marketers are still stuck in the old-fashioned practice of throwing stuff in people’s faces. That’s why 95% of them totally fail.

  • Shelly-Ann Roper

    Yup. As marketers we tend to forget about the feelings and cares of the audience all in the name of selling. But if we really reflect on how we ourselves feel when we are the consumers, we will see that a lot of the things we do as marketers would turn ourselves off the product. Totally out of touch and “anti-social” lol. Good article, thanks Jim.

  • erinreadruddick

    Nice data but I agree it’s no surprise. Creating Results’ 2010 survey of “Social Silver Surfers” (folks over 40) found that it boiled down to intent.
    The primary intent of the consumer in joining the social network was to connect with offline family and friends. They did not intend to be marketed to, and see this as an intrusion of the commercial into their personal space.
    I like your advice to make it so that the benefits of sharing your marketing content are so strong, they outweigh the discomfort of the consumer in doing so.

  • MarkTwin

    70% of women & 58% of men like to see photos of friends and people they know – and only 19% like links to website god help us!

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Mark. While those numbers are true according to what people self-report, studies like this may not accurately reflect how people are behaving…. so maybe there’s hope!