The other night I was at a gathering of corporate marketing and agency types who were having a really great conversation about benefits and virtues of social media as a vehicle in the overall marketing mix. It was a diverse group of content experts, social media gurus, CMOs, branding experts, B2B marketers, and entrepreneurs. Everyone seemed to have their favorite medium and a case for the effective application thereof.

I was enjoying the different perspectives and the invigorating exchange of ideas, along with some truly great appetizers and short glass of cabernet, when a singularly profound comment cut through the discussion like a sledgehammer.

“Marketers ruin everything,” said the voice from across the table.

After a good chorus of laughter, the conversation predictably took an interesting turn in the direction of this challenging notion that without some deliberate effort to the contrary, virtually every good thing enjoyed by consumers will eventually be infiltrated, manipulated, and activated as a marketing strategy (my words, not his), thereby rendering it less appealing to said consumers and subsequently less effective as a channel for connecting with audiences. And I thought to myself, “You’re right!”

One case in point had to do with Facebook and many companies’ ham-handed attempts to capitalize upon (or in this context, “ruin”) the channel by inserting brand messaging – usually in the form of blatant marketing messages, advertisements, and thinly veiled sales pitches inserted smack-dab onto our walls. Apparently, anyone can in a relationship with anything. “Hey, some of my best ‘friends’ are industrial widget coating companies!”

And I happen to be a big fan of LinkedIn. Of all the channels available, LinkedIn seems to have maintained a certain standard for professionalism for quality content, challenging social commentary, and valuable business insights. It’s where I started following and enjoying the musings of folks like Seth Godin, James Altucher, and Marshall Goldsmith. But even as I write this, there are fresh low-brow, “trolling for likes” postings about how to solve this or that math problem, which word jumps out at you first, blah, blah, blah…..It’s all I can do to stop myself from adding a snarky, pithy “Go back to Facebook.” comment to each and every one of them.

And now, a new and disturbing LinkedIn trend is emerging in the form of unsolicited sales emails via LinkedIn messaging. Instead of being a symbol of powerful networking and promising business collaboration, my LinkedIn inbox is in jeopardy of becoming a spam-filled cluster indistinguishable from my personal email inbox. Viagra, anyone?

I have to confess, I wrestle with this dynamic a great deal. As a marketer, I help companies do this for a living. On the other hand, as a consumer I enjoy an online experience free from ads and marketing as much as the next guy. It’s a bit of a conundrum, really. Like someone much wiser than I once postulated,
“Just because you CAN do a thing doesn’t always mean you SHOULD do a thing.”

Do marketers truly ruin everything? I think that depends. Will you use your marketing powers for good, or will you use them for evil? Food for thought.