Snake Oil in the Social Mediasphere

13 Jul

imagesSo many self-proclaimed social media gurus are full of it. They confuse quantity with quality, and juvenile behavior with “authenticity.” Use of social media does not equal expertise in leveraging the medium for business purposes.

These days, there’s a fair dose of snake oil being peddled by people seeking to make a profit. Business advisors encouraging companies to hire a  “social media expert” lead to further confusion, setting aside real strategic decision-making for reactive jumping-on-the-bandwagon.

Just because someone’s using social media doesn’t make them a go-to for solving business problems. This is like saying that because a person can dial the telephone and talk with every friend in an afternoon that they are an expert in sales. It just doesn’t work that way.

Here are four recommendations for identifying a purveyor of social media snake oil:

  1. Take a look at their design aesthetic. Is the color palette of their blog reminiscent of the choices you would have made as a teenager? Just because you can make your blog header bright pink doesn’t mean that you should. Appearances do matter, and this is a signal that they are not playing to a business demographic. Taste is not something we’re all born with. Most of us develop it over time, through trial and error.
  2. Read their blog. Does it include self-promotional and narcissistic photos and a minimum of useful content, primarily focused on their drinking exploits? Is there a preponderance of lol, omg and cul8r? This is self-absorption that they’ll mature out of, but you probably don’t have time to observe the process of growing up. Let them interact with the newbies in the industry and pay their dues before they get credit for being a “guru.” Experience counts. Come back in 5-10 years.
  3. How much content do their tweets deliver? If they are mainly flirting with people or trash-talking with friends, this is another reason to filter them out. Sharing information is key on social media, but being mindful of what’s worth sharing is the “twetiquette” to live by. Some do not switch gears to DMs when a one-on-one conversation is started on Twitter, and that’s a shame. Knowing when to go off-line or on a private line is a judgment easy to make and honestly appreciated by the Twitterverse. A high frequency of  tweets does not get one access to the ranks of the Twitterati.
  4. Is their point of view “authentic” in a style that can be converted to play in a business setting? The beauty of social media is each individual’s ability to establish a uniquely authentic voice. Just as all voices are not welcome at the board table, not all social media voices are worth tuning into for business purposes. Being authentic in the business world probably does not include over-use of emoticons, IM abbreviations or stream-of-consciousness chatter. High-quality tweets consolidate big ideas, embedded in tiny urls and spartanly precise word choice. They are mini-headlines that when mined open new worlds for the reader.

Remember, there’s a “me” in social media, but it comes after the “social”–meaning that awareness of social standards is still good sense and good business.

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5 Responses to “Snake Oil in the Social Mediasphere”

  1. Michael Bowers July 16, 2009 at 7:51 am #

    I agree with you on the ever increasing number of Social Media “experts” that are showing up. It seems that the only qualifications that some of these people have are that they own a computer. It is critical that small businesses pay particular attention to the “experts” that they are employing. Social media needs to lead to results for the business. Make sure the people that you are looking to for guidance have the overall business knowledge to help you get to the results you desire.

    • toknowbetter July 18, 2009 at 9:56 am #

      Good point, Mike. Thanks for your comment.

  2. gmonteith July 17, 2009 at 1:37 pm #

    I think there is evidence that hardly anybody understands how to harness the potential of social media just yet. One example: Almost daily, I’m seeing promotional pitches in “personal” Facebook entries, an approach that almost always rings hollow and turns me off of whatever message the person is hoping to deliver. Eventually, I think we’ll get it right, but for now I’m seeing more misses than hits.

    • toknowbetter July 18, 2009 at 9:57 am #

      It is being done well by some, not all. Thanks for continuing to follow my posts, Gene.

  3. Tim Eby August 2, 2009 at 11:33 am #

    Great post and very timely as I’ve grown tired of the expertise claims by folks whose actions simply do not reflect either expert status or authenticity.

    A friend of mine, Johnnie Moore posted a short note with a YouTube video around the idea of courageous authenticity. http://www.johnniemoore.com/blog/archives/002180.php

    Most of the snake oil comes from those seeking transactional authenticity – which in itself is an oxymoron.

    Courageous authenticity recognizes that risk and relationships come from heart (as well as the head) and lives in the values of integrity and common purpose – to name a few.

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