A new docudrama on Netflix highlights the dangers of social media and the many ways these platforms are designed to gather data and manipulate its users. But what does it have to do with your business? Here are a few takeaways.

September is Marketing and Branding Month at Inman. That means we’re talking to the chief marketing officers at major brokerages about how the pandemic is changing their jobs and what it means for agents. We’re publishing a suite of tactical Inman Handbooks for marketing on digital portals. And we’re looking at what pages of the traditional marketing playbook still work. Join us all month long.

The haunting melody of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” is cleverly interwoven with the drama of The Social Dilemma — a recently released docudrama that aims to open the average consumer’s eyes to the dangers and manipulations of social media. 

It pivots between social media experts (most of whom are former employees of major platforms) doctors, psychologists and little vignette scenes of a family that’s being affected by an addiction to social media. 

Many agents may have watched this and felt a variety of emotions, like how to continue to advertise and promote their business in this current social media climate. Here are a few viewpoints about maintaining perspective as well as a couple of considerations to take when crafting your business plan for 2021.

The presentation

I was a little disappointed in how the creators just assumed consumers have no idea how manipulated they actually are on social media by algorithms. It was as if they wrote the show as an after-school special for concerned parents who are not sure why their kids are spending so much time making a TikTok video.

The argument is compelling. We are chained to our electronics, and social media is ruining our ability to function around each other and the most important people in our lives. 

Vincent Kartheiser, who is most known for playing that coworker you can stand from AMC’s show Mad Men, embodies a convincing evil algorithm in the style of Disney’s Inside Out control center. Worst-case scenarios play out, facts and heartfelt testimonies are shared, and everyone is either in shock, disbelief or “I told you so” mode about just how terrible social media is.

The consumer

The realities that are spelled out are real and dangerous, but one major element was missing from the film — and that’s the idea of free will.  Yes, there are manipulations. Yes, there’s data on each and every person, and that data is collected and sold over and over again.

This is not news, and it’s not magic. Consumer behavior has been measured, manipulated and monitored for decades. Social media companies often specialize in psychographics or how lifestyle characteristics can align with demographics to make predictions in behavior.

But consumers are smart. They are smarter than they are given credit for. Many can recognize that social media has a number of pitfalls, including the fact that the information they’re presented with may likely be from false sources.

Children and teens are especially susceptible, but instead of just blaming cell phones, parents need to get involved. Have conversations about how information may be compromised, how to mirror good habits and how social media makes them feel. Take a look at their phone’s history. Monitor accounts, and set expectations if you allow them to have social media accounts.

Your advertising flex

This is the No. 1 thing I caution agents the most about when it comes to advertising and building a brand. No one should ever feel “tricked” into working with you. Advertising should be transparent, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be creative.

The marketing you create for potential homeowners can be educational, fun and used to tell stories that are not only entertaining but can show the meaning of what the journey to homeownership is like.

Crafting content takes practice, but it also takes patience and discipline. The biggest challenge advertisers will continue to face is short attention spans. Platforms will continue to create opportunities for agents to get that attention.

We have to stop romanticizing the “hustle” culture, which pressures agents to churn out content like a 24/7 news cycle. We need to start encouraging the housing industry to build content that benefits the consumer, builds professionalism and has room to innovate for the needs of audiences that are outside of the cookie-cutter, white-picket-fence ideals that have dominated marketing norms for years.

There seems to be so much pressure on agents to become “influencers.” As consumers continue to evolve, I encourage you to leave the ego at the door because they’ll see right through it. The Social Dilemma holds a mirror to our current situation, but it doesn’t have to reflect the way you choose to build your brand and content in the future.

No one has to create a challenge or a business plan for this — it’s already there. Are you up for it? Let’s continue to raise the bar now and rise to whatever challenges the future might bring.

By day, Rachael Hite helps agents develop their business. By night, she’s tweeting and blogging. Feel free to tweet her @rachaelhite.

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