7 social media lies the gurus want you to swallow

By {grow} Community Member Gregory Pouy

Every time a new marketing “technique” appears, it’s seems like the next revolution. Everything is suddenly going to be easier, faster and cheaper, right? Social media is unfortunately no exception to the rule and there will always be people (often those who claim to be experts or “gurus”) to sell you the newest bells and whistles.

It seems important to me to describe some of the lies that you may confront.

1. The social web is free 

Starting around 2006, viral marketing was announced as the end-all be-all to getting a low cost audience. Today we realize that it’s far from reality.  When there are more than 100 hours of videos uploaded on YouTube every minute, you’d better ante up.

It’s the same with the social web. Since it is actually free to post items on the web, the shortcut to “free” is easily sold. As you know by now, success on the social web comes at a cost in terms of time and the expense to produce content that gets noticed.

With the flood of attention on Facebook, it is not easy cutting through the Edge Rank formula to get noticed without being ready to open your wallet!

2. We’re going to create a brand community

It’s pretty rare to see an advertiser that isn’t talking about creating a “brand community.”  I’m with you – the idea is attractive. Which marketer doesn’t dream of his own community that we can talk with directly — a kind of simplified and low-cost CRM ?

Do you really believe that all brands can create communities just by opening a Facebook page?  For many companies, it is a mistake to think so and a waste of money to even try.

Remember that being part of a community means sharing a value system. It is also typically viewed as a way of defining oneself to others.

A much more clever idea would be to attempt to become a part of an existing community by respecting the way they structure themselves, and by learning the rules they use. This changes the way you should act and measure, and it will therefore change how you perceive your actions to be effective or not.

3. You must have a “social web” strategy

How many requests have we all seen for “social web” strategies?  I’m considered to be a “social media expert” so I’ll admit I’m part of this whole quagmire.  The reality is that there is no such thing as a social media strategy, just like there is no such thing as a digital strategy. There is a communication strategy in which you use an entire set of tools — including digital spaces.

It may not always be necessary to know all of these tools in detail; what is essential to understand is how the social web has affected the way we do business and, in particular, the relationship between the company and its stakeholders (employees, shareholders, suppliers, community members, and customers).

Rather than view social as its own strategic silo, it is best to view this option as part of a fully-integrated into your communication strategy.

4. You’ll get fast results

This is probably one of the worst lies you’ll ever hear but as marketers who are under pressure for short-term financial ROI (read: “what will I get out of this month’s blogger operation?”), the guru’s message of quick results can be seductive.

Success on the social web is neither easy nor quick.  It requires embracing marketing basics —  research, planning, experimentation, content development, measurement. Does this quick or easy?  I didn’t think so.

Of course some actions may have a short-term return on investment but the social web is built mainly on conversations and building relationships that are sustainable.

For short-term results, there are plenty of tools available such as adwords if one is confined to the Web, or using TV spots which are unsurpassed in short-term conversions. And …. NO, increasing one’s Facebook fan base is not a goal. It’s just the beginning of your relationship with your Facebook page and using Facebook for ROI.

5. Just get a Community Manager Intern and you’re good to go!

Community Management is increasingly important … but brands rarely allow an adequate budget for this position.

It is essential that the person who takes the floor for your brand is passionate and knowledgeable, is a gifted communicator, can navigate company politics, knows the industry, knows the company, can answer questions authoritatively, has access to decision makers ….  Does this job description make you think of a student who has a Facebook account and has used Twitter once or twice?

Ideally, this person is in-house and should be guided fairly close by a senior person.  Moreover, it is a position that takes time to master because you must be present for some period of time to learn the community.  Clearly this is not a job for an intern!

6. To be successful on Facebook, you must have a Facebook page

Facebook, the sanctuary social network, seems to be the answer to every marketing question these days. Granted, with its 901 million members, it’s kind of hard to miss.

The question you have to ask yourself is simple:  Is it actually possible to be successful and NOT be on Facebook in 2012?

At first glance it seems logical to open a Facebook page and access its community (yep, we came full circle!) but for many brands, a Facebook page is not necessarily relevant and cost-effective because it costs money (buying fans through deals, creating contests and content, purchasing visibility).

If you develop great content (videos, pictures, etc..), it will be shared by users on social networks and will naturally be posted on Facebook even if that isn’t where you originally posted your video/pic of the day.  Sometimes it is better to put money into developing content and ensuring the appropriate SEO rather than embarking on a battle for the fans.

I believe the key to social media success is interesting content, wherever it may first start. Simply opening a page on Facebook does not necessarily translate to visibility.

7. There is no ROI on the social web

You’ve probably heard this from a number of sources and yet, why invest if no return can be expected?

As Forrester explains, it is important to understand that ROI is not as simple as “the return on a short-term financial investment” (“does my action lead directly to increased sales?”); you must also consider ROI’s other 3 dimensions:

1. Brand equity (long-term financial)

2. Top of mind (short term – non-financial)

3. Brand image (long term – non-financial).

The real issue is not so much whether there is a return on investment from social media activities but rather how integrating these activities into an overall communication strategy impacts organizational goals holistically.

To conclude briefly, I would hate for you to underestimate the importance of the social web. But you also need to think critically, especially when you hear any of these seven “promises” I’ve discussed. Do not lose your common sense over the fear of being left behind.

Pay attention to what people are trying to sell you. The social web is a set of tools will undoubtedly meet some of your goals if used wisely; nothing more, nothing less.

Do you agree with what I have described here? What do you think?

Gregory Pouy is based in Paris and one of France’s leading marketing bloggers. You can learn more about his work on Slideshare and by following him on Twitter @gregfromparis 


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  • Great post. I love a more objective and realistic view on social media. It is like any other ‘hype’ or business.., there are always people who’d like to sell anything.., and of course those who buy anything.
    Let’s stay firmly planted with two feet on the ground.., in the end.., it will provide (much) better results.

  • 1) Viral Marketing became famous after the viral success of Hotmail.com (http://www.dfj.com/news/article_26.shtml) in 1997, not in 2006.

    2) I guess Facebook fanpages should give existing offline communities a plattform to collaborate or get in contact with each other.

  • Hey Jacobs, that is so true but I was talking about the huge wave after the Youtube launch.
    Concerning your second point, I agree, but I dunno how they could do that

  • @twitter-15629338:disqus thanks !

  • Interesting insights.Navigating the new media landscape is difficult for companies large and small. As a sole proprietorship, I have to invest my own time which takes away from other income producing activities so choosing how much time I invest and how much money I invest in new media is important.

    Interesting as well is the image you’ve used at the top of this article. As I’ve been trying to navigate the new media world and, hopefully, learning along the way, I’ve written a series of articles on my blog that outline some of my own thoughts and successes/failures. Two of the articles specifically talk about the ‘snake oil’ that pervades new media. Glad I’m not alone in such a harsh description of some of what’s going on out there.

  • #4, 5 and 7 were especially helpful!

  • Thanks for the great list Gregory
    One more: “Its enough if Social Media is looked at by the Marketing (Communication) Department. Senior Management does not need to know about it.”
    In my view Social Media is part of the strategy and this needs senior management attention and decision.
    Kind regards from Germany

  • I’d suggest that depends. It depends on how much autonomy senior management gives to the various functional departments, what management of those departments can implement on their own and what needs to go up the chain of command for approval. Too much oversight is as bad as not enough. Micromanaging is not a good, or long term successful, strategy.

  • Great article Gregory.
    It is refreshing to see some sage advice on social media. It seems the past few years have focused on Marketing
    chasing after the “latest and greatest” in social media/digital platforms. Too easily, this can make social media the
    goal – rather developing a sound marketing plan focused on true business goals
    that help companies increase awareness, customers and, yes, profits.

  • Pavel Konoplenko

    Great article Gregory. Each point you make is great and valid. Point #3 is a particularly powerful lie I have seen by “gurus.” They talk about how great it’s to have an instantaneous and integrated channel of conversation with the customer – which it is – but then then treat it as something completely separate. Why talk about integration if you cannot even properly integrate social media into your marketing strategy? Ultimately, social media is just one more tool, albeit a powerful one if used correctly, in your toolbox.

  • The reality is that there is no such thing as a social media strategy

    I agree that social media should be part of a communications strategy but I disagree with the idea that there is no such thing as a social media strategy.

    Your social media strategy is an adaptation of your communication strategy based upon the tools and resources you use in social media. They aren’t the same in every medium so you need to adjust accordingly.

  • I respectfully disagree with statement that there is no such thing as a Social Media Strategy.
    Of course what would be considered a social media strategy is a communication strategy, however i believe with all the advancements and developments in social media, it can now be considered a strategy that is separate to plain communication.

    A well executed social media strategy will take into account the various platforms and they way in which information is communicated on those mediums. Additionally, many strategies these days are implemented entirely and solely on social media. Could they then not be considered a social media strategy?

    Also, if a campaign is created with the sole intension of piggy-backing word of mouth marketing via social media, is it therefore no different to a communication strategy? You are getting other people to communicate your message and you are not investing in a traditional paid media, much like a traditional communication strategy.

    I see the point of your argument, however i feel the need for a new sub-classification is important.
    Max- http://www.InfluenceMedia.com.au

  • Hey,

    I totally understand your point and I could agree.
    My point is that social media should never be consider as a silos and I know very few (maybe none) social media only strategy.
    I’m not so sure it is the best strategy to focus only on social media, I would (at least mix with a website, search marketing, fidelity card…or so).

  • Thanks very much Pavel, I can”t agree more.
    People are talking about 360 Campaign, about Multichannel or integrated marketing but in reality there are very few real example….
    Social media is juste ONE more tool (that change everything but still a tool).

  • Thanks for this, I argue with so called SoMe guru’s all the time about just these things. There is so much SoMe BS being babbled about by “those that know better.” The bottom line is do what is working for you, if you are getting results, keep doing it . I get suspicious when someone labels themselves an “expert” or a “guru”, not good terms to use when describing yourself in my book.
    Thanks for a great article.

  • I think that digital is just forcing companies to back to the roots of what their brand is – so totally agree

  • I like yours very much ! Thank you.

  • You’re welcome 🙂

  • One thing that irks me more is not integrating social media with all of online marketing or marketing in general. Social Media is great for link building and customer service. But we all know this :).

  • Gregory,

    Very nice… It’s the last one #7 that really burns me. When someone tells me there ROI is tough to manage on Social Media I almost get a little angry. ROI is very easy to manage and evaluate… HOW MUCH MONEY DID YOU MAKE v HOW MUCH TIME YOU PUT IN.

    Am I crazy in thinking that?


    Ryan H.

  • Very nice to hear someone say that the emperor has if not no, then few clothes!

    Of course the loudest advocates are the ones who are the most interested in selling you their techniques and shortcuts…. thanks ever so much.

    I think this type of hype can be especially damaging to a small business like mine that says, well we can’t afford traditional marketing techniques so we’ll put everything into these media. After a short while it becomes apparent that there is a reason that the very large players spend 5% or less of their total budget on social media… The ROI can be measured and it ain’t what its cracked up to be.

  • Greg Bohrer

    Bang on!! Thanks… Yes, Social can work – No it isn’t free. in fact very time and resource expensive. Special kudos on Strategy! I get very tired of the “social media strategy” argument.. It’s a tool and a tactic and is part of the overall strategy – not a strategy in and of itself! Well done!!

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  • Thanks for your comment Greg !

  • Social media can help small businesses but it takes a lot of time

  • no you’re not, it’s just that the ROI is not always straight forward financial

  • true

  • I agree with #3…it’s a soap box of mine. And I definitely agree with #5. Unfortunately I got so keyed up on which side of the fence you were on, I tweeted that I was against #5 (geez *shakes head*). I’ll retract that. Being in the industry, I seem to deal with that particular issue almost daily. It’s exhausting. 😉 Great post, Greg!

  • “4) You will get fast results”. While its always better playing it safe and while a lot of things take time (we build & manage communities — we know) there are still a LOT of things you can do using social-channels that bring fast results! Take read of Jason Falls “No Bullshit Social Media” book for a few ideas. Great blog post, totally hit the nail on the head!

  • Mark Chambers

    Great post and great information. The one area I would politely disagree with: “Ideally, this person is in-house and should be guided fairly close by a senior person. Moreover, it is a position that takes time to master because you must be present for some period of time to learn the community.”
    While I agree it takes time to master, I believe for Small and Medium sized businesses, it is possible to outsource this if you have the right company. I f you are outsourcing to a SM Guru, you might have some challenges. If you find a company that has a proven model with a track record of success, it can be done. I think it comes down to making sure they understand business, not just marketing, so they can take your existing strategy into account (as you so aptly put it – a communications strategy).

    I will be sharing this with clients and prospects. Thanks again for good work.

  • Thanks for writing one of the most valuable articles I have read so far about social media! I agree to 100% and use to provoke the thinking before using social media with a WHY? What is is the persons and companies business values based on and what is the purpose with their business and presence in social media? Is it for a pure business marketing to earn money for yourself and build up your status or for creating something good for others and coming generations? We are all or can be journalists and writers in the public space but where is your Passion and Purpose?

  • Well said!

  • Great reply!

  • Yes it’s hard to really get a handle on social media right now because it’s still new and changing so fast no one really fully has a handle on it. So join the band and thanks for a great reply.

  • Well written and great points; I like point 6 especially. There seems to be an urgent force to be involved on Facebook when there are other channels that could be time spent, where you don’t have to be purchasing your fans and couponing all the time. Personally, the entire idea of edgerank I feel to be a greedy ploy by Facebook to increase revenues.

  • And it’s only a beginning knowing that Facebook is going to be a search engine, I think that the number of fans and the edgerank will play a role in the “natural” positionning.

  • Thanks very much for this kind comment !
    You’ve got the point, whatever the tool, continue to do what your brand’s purpose is, just evolve with the people behaviour and make their life easier.

  • You might be right, having the help of an agency at the beginning could be helpful to better understand all the tricks.
    Glad if you share it 🙂

  • I know you can always get fast results with everything and there are some little things that can be won but on a global level, you need to work on the long term.

  • Thank you so much !

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  • Chris Lee

    Outstanding. One of the best articles about social media I’ve read in years.

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  • Thanks for a great post, Gregory. You’ve articulated many ideas I’ve thought of but had not had the courage to express, thinking I must be wrong to question what the gurus say. In particular, the “brand community” idea has always struck me as ludicrous. Is my little brand such a stand-out in the universe that a global community will consciously incorporate it into their lives? I get that a “community” exists around huge brands like Apple and Starbucks. But most of us will never be anywhere close to that level. There has to be a relevant way for smaller fish to think about community without setting ourselves up for that kind of expectation.

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  • iancleary

    Hi Gregory, great post and yes I agree!! I think companies get caught up in feeling they have to have facebook pages, twitter accounts and they think it’s all about numbers. Get an intern and put up some updates. Job done!!!!

    Really they should be thinking about how they can can build relationships with their clients and potential clients. Communicating with them is the essential ingredient in building the relationship.

    This is done online and offline. As people are spending more time on line than ever before it makes sense to consider this as part of your strategy.

    Do you use Facebook, Twitter, Website, E-mail etc etc? That really depends on the profile of the people you are dealing with and where they spend time online.

    It’s much easier to build that relationship using their preferred methods of communication online.

    If companies really focussed on building a real relationship with people that would be a lot better.

    Let’s get rid of the term Social Media. It’s communication and relationship building on and off the web.


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