Attack of the Social Media Gurus

Scream Duck at it again. by digicolleen
Scream Duck at it again. by digicolleen (permission granted)

Have you heard, yet? EVERYBODY is on Twitter!

It’s grown 1,382,000% since last year!

Even William Shatner is using it!

This may come as a surprise but I don’t have a degree in acting. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel

1:54 PM Mar 21st from web

Also, Google is dead; Facebook is broken; and those dreadlocked guys with the funny dance moves are lip-synching!

Okay, fine, Rob and Fab really couldn’t sing, but if any of the 8 million people who bought their album back in 1989 did so because of their videos and dancing, they deserved to be duped. The rest is hyperbolic BS that’s been floating around the Twitterverse lately, mostly promoted by self-proclaimed social media gurus trying to make a quick buck, and websites like Mashable, which recently changed its tagline to “The Social Media Guide”, looking to capitalize on a trend and boost their ad impressions.

Seriously, can we get a little perspective here?

One of the most fundamental points that most self-proclaimed social media gurus miss is that there is no such thing as “social media”, as Omnicom’s Dr. Augustine Fou spelled out in a must-read post at ClickZ entitled: The ROI for Social Media Is Zero.

People’s conversations are not media; they can’t be purchased as such by advertisers. In other words, people don’t talk whenever advertisers want them to and they won’t say whatever advertisers tell them to — so it isn’t “media” like TV, print, and radio…

Let’s start with some basic definitions.

  • Social media: There’s no such thing.
  • Social networks: The places where people go to socialize with friends.
  • Social actions: The things people do on social networks and elsewhere like talk, share, comment, review, recommend, rate, etc.
  • Social intensity: The rate and quantity of social actions. (See, “Social Intensity: A New Measure for Campaign Success?”)
  • Social marketing: What advertisers can do to stimulate more social actions in support of advertising and marketing efforts.

…the metrics of social actions can’t be compared to old media metrics; it is not social media.

Dr. Fou isn’t playing a game of semantics here, nitpicking “media” vs. “networking” vs. “marketing”; rather, he clearly illustrates the difference between them and why making the distinction is important, most notably on the question of the metrics that will ultimately determine one’s return on investment on any marketing initiative.

He makes the critical point that social networking isn’t new; the only thing that’s changed is its location, its scale and its speed. What used to happen at the water cooler or over the backyard fence or after church is now happening on Amazon and Yelp, Facebook and Twitter; as a result, the short- and long-term results of a marketing initiative are more difficult to measure.

Twitter is the current darling of both the mainstream media and socal media gurus. If you started using it before the recent wave of celebrities jumped on the bandwagon, you’ve probably already stumbled across some of the latter and their thousands of followers who retweet their maddeningly inane platitudes and link to their blog posts promising tactics to gain thousands of followers or advice on building and managing communities that sample fundamental marketing strategies, usually without credit.

A recent Mashable post entitled 5 Essential Traits for Community Managers was particularly annoying for its pushing the idea that a “Community manager is the new it position in social media”, somehow omitting the letters “bullsh” from one of the words in that sentence.

The five “essential” traits are notable primarily for their bland, boilerplate feel, and the explanations for each come off like a mechanic trying to make an oil change sound like rebuilding an engine:

1. Loving your job
2. Ability to promote others as well as yourself
3. Ability to empower & support your community
4. Transparent, fun, and engaging personality
5. Extensive knowledge about the company

These are all traits you’d ideally look for, in varying degrees, in any employee, whether it’s the receptionist or the CEO, both of whom have a responsibility to be a leader in their respective communities, as does everyone else in an organization.

Whenever I hear the term “community manager” I cringe, recalling Seth Godin’s point in Tribes: “Leaders have followers. Managers have employees.” Managers exist to maintain the status quo, and “managed” communities are a relic of the pre-internet age.

Any organization that feels the need to hire a “community manager” should do so with the explicit disclaimer that the job is short-term, like six months tops, and their sole goal is to make themselves completely unnecessary as quickly as possible. In the meantime, these organizations should also replace their marketing staff with people who have a 21st Century marketing skill set, because the current staff either isn’t good at their job or doesn’t have the faith of management to get the job done the right way.

As Dr. Fou notes, it’s social “marketing” not “media”, and the only thing that’s changed in marketing over the past decade are the tools we have to get our message out, and the number of channels we have to deliver it to our audience. The fundamentals still apply, though, and the key elements are simple: authenticity, transparency, relevancy.

For most smart marketers, this is nothing new.

For the CEOs and senior managers distracted by the latest shiny object to come down the pike, the most important thing they can do to optimize their marketers’ efforts is to ensure they’re making a good product and providing quality service to their customers.

Anything less and it’s spinning wheels, wasting money, and losing the best employees to competitors who are doing things the right way.

ETA: Here’s three some more must-read posts on this subject (I’ll keep adding them as the backlash continues to grow):

“…so-called social media experts are a dime a dozen” — Social media expert? No. Whatever expert? Yes.

“This is not about marketing… it goes deeper into the root of how business will need to evolve.” — And Now For Something Completely Different

“The siloization of social media… represents a strategic error.” — There Is No Social Media Department

“It seems like if you can get a story on the Digg frontpage, you can slap the expert tag on your online profiles.” The History of Online “Experts”

“Facebook is walking a fine line of keeping the trust of its members, and wanting to exploit them for profit.” — Do You Own Facebook? Or Does Facebook Own You?

“YouTube is on track to lose roughly $470 million in 2009.” — YouTube Is Doomed (GOOG)

“Social media is not a strategy. You need to understand it, and you’ll need to deploy it as a tactic.” — Lever’s CMO Throws Down the Social-Media Gauntlet

“Videos, music, or publications are not your friends or contacts. People are not media.” — Social Media is a Scene that Celebrates Itself

“Social media doesn’t make you awesome, it just exposes what you already are.” — Social Media Doesn’t Make You Awesome

“If you… view your potential community as a group of people to monetize, then your efforts are doomed.” —  Six reasons why no one likes you online

“I’m going to enjoy watching the great social media crash as so many jump on the bandwagon with little thought to where or why or how they got here.” — The Coming Social Media Train Wreck

“…offering common sense advice dressed up in social media terminology to an audience of gullible wannabes who lack the fundamental marketing backgrounds to realize the emperor has no clothes.” — Bursting the Social Media Bubble

If I were labeling myself a social media guru, I’d be very concerned about the growing backlash on the horizon.

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9 thoughts on “Attack of the Social Media Gurus

  1. You’re using visuals now–great pic!
    I think media companies are failing miserably at social media because it is incredibly time-consuming and not immediately measurable in ROI terms (as you’ve stated.) It takes at least a couple of years to build a solid social media platform. How many media companies are willing to be that patient?

  2. Strong post. With every bubble, there comes a burst, and I think the whol expert/personal brand thing is heading that way. It’s communications with stakeholders, old school PR that we’re talking about here…

    I’ve been at the forefront of social media for three years and have been amazed by the past year’s events and the rise of the popular expert. Very weird.

  3. @Maria: One of the reasons it takes so much time is that it’s being treated as a separate function instead of being integrated into their marketing/PR strategies. Of course, we know from personal experience where many media companies rank their marketing investments…

    @Geoff: Thanks for stopping by! Congrats on your new relationship with CRT/tanaka. I’m looking forward to following your insights via your blog and Twitter.

  4. It is slightly more than integration that causes the time lag. Depending on the type of service or brand you are responsible for marketing, a social platform integration could be anywhere from a few drops of effort a day to a 12-14 hour job. I applaud JetBlue and Southwest among others in their approach on a platform like Twitter. But what happens when they are having a conversation with 1,000,000 followers?

    I certainly agree the tag Social Media Guru, or Expert or I believe I saw one person call themselves a Social Media Wizard, has already become a red flag for desperation. While perhaps community manager is clunky as a description the role can and will be necessary regardless of what we call it. It will evolve and change rapidly, and in many cases it may be six months as you state. Marketers may need to use free lance resources who have a good feel while they seek and find excellent candidates from within their own organization.

  5. Very interesting. I absolutely agree.

    I’ve felt the ‘attack’ side of social networks growing on Twitter over the past few months. But I suppose that as long as someone can label themselves a social media expert and immediately add 10,000 followers this problem won’t be going away any time soon.

    Next killer feature- Twitter app that deletes all profiles and tweets from anyone with ‘social media’ in their bio.

  6. Scale is definitely a major factor in doing social networking the right way.

    @SocialMedia411 made a good point earlier today: “Anyone who says you can scale ‘Authentic One-to-One Conversations’ w/o significant HR $s is an idiot, a liar or both.” With marketing often being one of the first budgets slashed when times are tough, being realistic and managing expectations is important.

    And I love Eden’s killer app!

  7. Social media is now an active reality for marketers. No longer something to consider as an option, marketers are rapidly increasing their budgets in this space and trying to leverage social me.

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