8 Reactions to “Beware Social Media Snake Oil”

A couple of days ago, Steven Baker of Business Week published “Beware Social Media Snake Oil,” warning that “hordes of marketing ‘experts’ are promoting the value of wikis, social networks, and blogs.”

Since I run one of the nation’s largest social media agencies (and help some of the world’s largest brands with social media marketing), people asked me what I thought of it. It’s not an answer I can condense to a tweet. So here goes:

1) He’s right

His primary point was that there are too many shysters, too many speechmakers, too many pontificators, that sell social media as a panacea. Even Baker says in the subhead that “all the hype may obscure the real potential of these online tools.” Social media is powerful enough, you don’t need to oversell it.

2) The shot at Chris Brogan was a cheap one

I don’t know Chris Brogan well. But I know he wrote a cover quote for my book, has his own bestseller, and we’re Facebook friends. And I know he’s a highly sought-after speaker. I’ve also talked to some of my clients with whom Chris has spoken, and they liked what he had to say. I don’t know if Chris has solved real business problems for real companies. I assume so, but I have no idea.

But the way Baker wrote implied that Chris was full of hot air, the proof of which was that Chris didn’t choose to answer a question from another blogger. At the very least, Baker should’ve called Chris and asked him for examples of success before calling him out based on nothing.

3) No real case studies? Go away

Having said that, I’m not sure why any legitimate brand would, in 2010, work with a social media consultant or social media agency that doesn’t have clear case studies. A good case study demonstrates the business problem you were asked to solve, the approach to solving it, and the results. If you can’t deliver at least a few of those, please stop delivering speeches. As Jeremiah Owyang said months ago, “Social media play time is over.

4) Sales matter…

If you’re asking a company to invest money in social media marketing that they are not going to invest in another form of marketing, the assumption is that you’re going to help them make more money then they give you (at some point). Otherwise, why should they invest? Now, having said that…

5) …But if you focus directly on sales, you’ll fail

Social media marketing is predicated on encouraging others to help you with your marketing. You inspire and/or empower evangelists. You attract attention. And virtually nobody wants to help your company increase sales. They want to laugh, or learn, or save money, or solve a problem, or be inspired, or support a cause, or impress a friend, or scratch some other proverbial itch. The art in social media marketing is figuring out how you fit into the conversation and how you maximize it. Shouting, “Buy me!!” is the surest recipe for failure.

6) Want predictable? Keep buying ads

Social media marketing relies on other people’s reactions. You can’t predict those. You can use your experience and expertise to develop programs with the best chance of success, but you can’t guarantee impressions or reactions.  If you want guaranteed impressions, buy an ad. And get the same results you always get. Some social media campaigns won’t do as well as your ads. The great ones will dramatically outperform them. There are already countless success stories, large and small. If you haven’t heard any, you’re not paying attention.

7) Clients’ realities are reality

Some of our clients are conservative. They should be. They’re multi-million (and multi-billion) dollar brands. Baker was right to chastise those who “follow a rigid gospel.” The best people in social media marketing know the “best practices,” but they also understand business realities, and they develop programs that work within business confines, and get as close to the best practices as possible.

8) We’ll all be better off when the hacks go away

If you’re a legitimate player in the social media marketing world, or want to be one, you should want to see the hucksters fade away. The sooner the better. I’ve never called any of them out, but I sure know who they are. I hope the economy improves soon, so they get jobs, stop blogging and tweeting nonsense, and leave us to it.

What did you think?

What were your reactions to the story? Let me know in the comments below.

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  • Mark Thompson
    Posted at 04:18h, 09 December

    Some really good points Jim. I agree, there are a lot of so called “social media experts” or “SEO’s” for that matter that think creating a Facebook profile is social media or that adding a spammed title tag is SEO.

    I think the bottom line is that for any social media strategy to be successful the company and employees need to buy into the fact that they need to listen and engage with their target market. Touching on point 6 you made, that companies need to understand that just because you can’t see the number of impressions/clicks your social media campaign got, doesn’t mean you are not running an effective marketing campaign. Brand awareness, networking, increased customer service/support, resolving negative feedback from a customer, minimizing negative listings in the SEPRS, all can come about from an effective social media strategy.

  • Jason Coleman
    Posted at 12:28h, 09 December

    Good points. I think a lot of this has to do with the whole “affiliate marketing” world selling ebooks on “how to make money on twitter” etc…

    As an experienced web designer and aspiring Internet Marketing Consultant, my main priority is to make sure that my clients have realistic expectations. While social media marketing and other forms of internet marketing can be powerful, it takes much more than creating profiles or blogs and trying to spam people.

    I tell them it’s like dating: you don’t try to F*** on the first do you!? So quit trying to make a sale when you hardly know the customer!!!

  • Mike Helton
    Posted at 00:11h, 11 December

    Hey Jim, I think you really hit the nail on the head in your pointing out the fact that ‘snake oil’ would be profiteers are out there. It’s disgusting to see it and almost everywhere I turn.

    I am one who has a terrific idea for a social website but I’m holding back , waiting for the noise to go away so something legitimate and useful can emerge without carrying a ‘for profit only’ stigma.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Matt Harrell
    Posted at 19:19h, 12 December

    Great response Jim. Seemed very well thought out. I thought Steven article didn’t do a great job of presnting both sides of the argument. The ironic thing to me is that he wrote this article and published it though a social media platform….a blog…surely hoping to get some conversation going! It was a great use of SM for Business Week :).

  • Warren Whitlock
    Posted at 08:28h, 13 December

    Amen to the Chris Brogan comment. Chris understand more about the future of business than anyone a Business Week ever hopes to learn.

    But on #8.. don’t expect the hacks to go away. Let’s stop crying about “everyone saying they are a social media expert” and realize EVERYONE is part of social media. There is so little distinction between “pros” and the rest of us. The revolution is that we all are bypassing the gatekeepers and having conversations.

  • rocketcp08
    Posted at 18:20h, 16 December

    The fear that I have is from a different angle. I’ve seen great concepts that, if left on their own, would have been wonderful tools used by consciences people to improve their lives either through entertainment, information and or communication. However, many concepts have fallen victim to “business users” which has either ruined or degraded the service to the point that without technology to combat it is almost unusable in any productive manner.

    I remember “newsgroups”. They were fantastic social places until the spammers discovered them. I have never been back. Web Ad Marketing has almost become passé. I can’t stand and will not watch a 15 second video before the news video I originally selected begins playing. I simply close or maybe turn off the sound.

    I usually receive over 250 e-mails a day of which at least 20% are unwelcome and somehow get by our corporate SPAM filters (Hmmm, unless that’s my wife initiating all those offers?)
    Now, the push is Mobile Device marketing (pun intended). Can you imagine the crap that will start? Get ready as it’s been cute/cool so far but when the heavy users come on line as they may be about to, it will be a pain just like the others.
    We may see the same with Social Network engagement. When businesses start using MySpace, Facebook pages and Blogs etc to market through the portals, well,…my fear is it’s all over. The trick will be how do we allow only the truly useful stuff through and ehem,…who decides what’s useful, the users, the sellers or the person trying to drive some revenue to pay for the site?

    When a technology like this begins to be a topic of conversation in main stream markets i.e. Newsweek, it’s often the signal that it’s near its end as a useful and unique tool.

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