Decaf Social Media


 A couple of days ago I was in the Edmonton airport waiting for my flight back to Hamilton. I grabbed a coffee at Tim Horton’s there, and noticed a sign hadn’t seen before advertising It talked about sharing your story online and it seemed like an interesting social media experiment by Tim Horton’s. So, I made note of the URL and checked it out when I got home.

It is a site where you can share your stories, photographs and even videos about how Tim Horton’s has become a part of your life. But it’s not really a social media site. Sure, it has all the trappings of social media and Web 2.0. You can upload pictures, videos, and stories. You can comment on those stories — but all through the mediation of Tim Horton’s.

It’s very clear they don’t want your stories, they want your stories that put Tim Horton’s in a good light. And, they really don’t want your comments. They want your comments that put Tim Horton’s in a good light. So really, it’s decaf social media. It’s social media co-opted by an organization that doesn’t really understand what social media is about. or, maybe it does and just doesn’t care.

The collection of stories read like they’ve been edited into a corporate Christmas family letter full of nothing but optimism, good news and the phoney buff of the Good Housekeeping yarn. There’s no real community, no real conversation, just co-opted and cleansed crowdsourced content.

On the plus side, folks in the social media community see right through it. But, the downside is most Canadians aren’t part of the social media community yet. For them, it will seem like social media in the same way that a podcast from CNN or NBC is seen by many people as what all podcasts are like — something corporations produce.

The reality is of course “amateurs” produced podcasts long before corporations, but corporations co-opted them. So I worry that is maybe a bellwether of things to come. That social media will become corporatized and co-opted and decaffeinated before it’s really had a chance to catch fire for what it really is. 

I wish I could like every  And, I wish Tim Horton’s got it right. But they didn’t. Maybe nobody’s fooled. Maybe everybody’s fooled. Either way,no one but Tim Horton’s is the better for it.


4 Responses

  1. Well, the site may not be social media, but it certainly is slick. I agree with you that corporations will most certainly attempt to use social media to advertise their brands. In turn, the public will, hopefully, be able to see their sites for what they are ~ another way to market their brands.

    However, until you mentioned that is not “really a social media site”, I would have thought that it was. How does it differ from many NGO social media sites who also carefully moderate their discussions and attempt to spread their particular messages? I’m not challenging you, but rather trying to clarify the definition of “social media site”.

  2. Hi Kelly:

    I think any social media site that over-mediates: corporate, NGO or private, misses the boat. You can’t engender real community and conversation without respectful, mature discourse and debate. There is no conversation here, in fact, it is the opposite, it is TIm Horton’s taking stories and turning them into a broadcast after passing them through a PR filter. If NGOs did the same thing I’d say the same thing.

  3. Thanks Wayne ~ the concept of social media is becoming more clear to me 🙂

  4. […] Wayne McPhail’s blog post titled “Decaf social media,” he discusses how Tim Hortons has made a weak attempt to use social media.  “It’s very clear […]

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