There will be no social media apocalypse

twitter apocalypse

I like and admire Erik Qualman. I’ve met him a couple of times and he is a fellow author at McGraw Hill. He is a kind man, a legitimate intellect, and one of the top speakers in our field.

His insanely popular series of fast-paced “social media revolution” videos have been viewed millions of times and are standard fare to kick off a social media class or workshop. In under four minutes, these catchy factoid machines impress upon the viewer the power and importance of our society’s digital transformation.

But there is one “fact” that Erik has included in each version that makes me cringe:

qualman quote

“The ROI of social media is your business will still exist in 5 years.”

If you would believe Erik, we are on the cusp of a social media apocalypse.  Without Facebook, Twitter and the all-important “listening,” we would expect companies to start going “poof” during the impending social media rapture event.

Ironically, Erik’s first video with this quote was about five years ago … and there has been no such end of the business world.  Miraculously there are still plenty of businesses that don’t even have a Facebook page that are somehow making lots of money. Like Apple.

Let’s not sell fear

Certainly the digital revolution is real and any smart businessperson must consider the consequences and adjust. But adjusting to your changing competitive environment is just smart business and it always has been.

Business success is about far more than having an active Twitter account.  A common problem I see is that businesses and many consultants peddle this fear and a notion that the lack of a social media strategy is a sure sign of doom.

In fact, that may be the least of their worries.

Let’s not lose sight that businesses need to identify and execute upon a sustainable point of differentiation, perhaps in a global marketplace.  They need to create products and services that brilliantly address unmet or under-served customer wants and needs. They need to constantly adjust and innovate. Successful businesses need to manufacture their products through an efficient and reliable supply chain with consistent quality. Customer service levels need to meet or exceed customer expectations. The company needs to attract and retain the talented employees that will sustain the success of the enterprise.

And then we can talk about Facebook.

Social media does not assure business success

When social media gurus point to success stories, Dell Computer is always at the top of the list. Yet the company’s stock is at a five-year low.  Let’s keep in mind that it takes a lot of moving parts to create business success and having an effective social media strategy is neither profitability pixie dust nor an insurance policy against demise.

I think the point that Erik tries to make — and I do agree — is that without considering digital relevancy, a company will be vulnerable.  Today, it’s negligent to dismiss the digital revolution.  I just think there is a better way to get that across than hyping doom.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

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  • Good points as always, Mark. I never took Eric’s quote literally and I can see why others would be wary to get behind it. As you noted, there are a big number of important factors to consider before a business even thinks about bothering with social media (or any marketing medium really).

    I think Eric’s quote is most fitting in the context of people claiming “social media isn’t needed, it’s a fad, it will pass, etc.” That was a pretty popular idea not too long ago. Tons of retail business owners made similar claims about Amazon and similar marketplaces back in the day…and as we know, those retailers struggled big time or lost completely.

    While the two situations aren’t 100% comparable and I don’t think social media is *as much* of a game changer as the introduction of legitimate eCommerce marketplaces, I think there are similarities and perhaps Eric is putting a word of warning out there to people who think they’re immune to the shifts we’re living in.

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  • I totally agree with the points you raise in your article Mark. I worked for a well known global Enteprise Resource Planning software vendor in the early 90’s and at the time, companies were making the transition from multiple vertical applications within their business with loads of interaces to ERP. At the time, we peddled fear, telling companies that if they did not make the transition to ERP, they would be out of business soon. I believe most market makers do this to encourage prospective clients to make the investment. 20 years later, there are still companies out there not running ERP systems and they are still in business. The other point I want to make is that with any system implementation, your people and processes have to be right first. The technology is only an enabler. You can have all the social business bells and whistles and still not achieve your goals.

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  • Hi Mark, I’m in Hartford at Regional Meetings for my company. I’m a Proforma franchise business owner, a 400 million dollar organization. There are about 700 of us nationwide. We meet twice a year. Each of the owners focus on our own strengths and we have customers, with no geographic boundaries. It may be print, or promotional products, or video marketing, or mobile marketing, or online marketing. Or a combination of all of the above.

    The way that the majority of owners sell is by direct sales efforts. Very few are using online or social media as part of their marketing and sales efforts. I sat in on a breakout session yesterday on social media. There were about 50 other owners in the meeting. I was one of only a very few who were actually using a consistent social media approach.

    There were a couple of interesting exchanges, but it was clear to me that the “shift” or “change” to, not only seeing it as viable, but understanding the power behind it was still not widely understood. Most owners were using parts of social media for their marketing efforts, but it focused mostly on learning, gathering, and occasional participation. Very few understood the importance of “building relationships” by using social media.

    However, there were some very successful owners in the room who do a tremendous amount of business. Most of us have built our businesses by strategically implementing the right direct sales approach. And right now, it still works. And it works well. And I believe it will continue to work well…for a while. During the meeting, I made a comment about a “shift” that is taking place in the promotional product and print business. Marketing, purchasing, and business owners are changing. Most people are online. It’s only natural that at some point, they will look in that direction for information on things that are important to their business. But right now, there are still a LOT of successful business owners who are not using social media and are doing very well.

    Negligent? I don’t think it’s negligent because there are still successful companies that are doing just fine with no social media strategy. But, I wonder what that same breakout session will be next year and the year after?

    Great question. Thank you!

  • Sometimes the fear is realistic. The fear represents discomfort or awkwardness at having to learn new ways in midlife when we are supposed to be the experts in our fields. To reach the fearful we must emphasize hope and invite people to the world of promise. Both take time, effort and shepherding. Social Media does not assure success, but status quo assures failure.

  • I really believe in Eric as a businessperson and an academic. But I think this point is interpreted literally because I use to show this video in workshops. I do agree that we need to do something to shock people into reality! Thanks Jonathan.

  • Yes, great wisdom here David. I agree and thank you for sharing this perspective!

  • jcholman

    Rich, as a developer I appreciated your thorough ‘inside’ analysis of how business owners perceive social media. I realize there is a ‘shift’ that must take place and it’s at at the pace of industry. How’s the saying go, “no one wants to be the pioneer with arrows in their back”? (which I guess could be fear from the other view point.)

    In my life, I can’t think of anyone who is/was successful being motivated by fear (whiich goes to my next point). My goal is to expedite the learning process by describing results (or the wins.) If your clients provide ‘services’ to (local) markets, I’d love to catch up with you offline..I also want to learn more about ‘Proforma franchise business models.’ Thanks for the insight.

  • Funny. I’ve used those videos for my speaking gigs before and always felt the same way about that line. I think it perpetuates the idea the every single business needs to be on social media, which you and I both know, isn’t true. And, I think this is where many folks feel like they just need those shiny social icons on their website to feel relevant.

  • It all comes down to customer service. One thing to keep in mind that one’s name is an important part of one’s self. Taking the time to make sure their name is spelled correctly is important. I am always impressed when a potential client spells my name correctly. Just something to keep in mind. Thanks Erik for sharing your insight.

  • The use of social media is NOT a requirement for small businesses… period.

    Yes, the Internet provides a set of tools to connect your business to potential and current clients. Yes, these tools can make things more efficient, they can give you more ways to serve your current clients, and they can automate processes.

    They do not replace having a great, old fashioned customer/client experience however.

    People do business with businesses that provide a genuine, trustworthy, and consistently great customer/client experience from advertising all the way through the business to the owner CEO (which basically means every touch point overall).

    People don’t do business with businesses solely on the basis of them having a Twitter account or Facebook page… even, dare I say, a website. While I think these things “grease the customer/client experience,” if a business does exceptionally well in the other areas… they will do fine.

    Although sometimes us “geeks” sometimes like to think this stuff is required, I’ve met with business owners who have proven otherwise. 😉

  • I agree it’s a bit over the top but it’s a good eye catcher for the video. I’m sure some advised him to put some controversial statements in there. Too many companies think that now they are tweeting they can tick the social media box. Most companies are failing miserably with social media and they probably won’t be around in 5 years unless they develop a better strategy!

  • Mark, you are often the contrarian. Of course, I often agree with you and I believe you make a fair point about businesses needing to tease out the true value of social media. I interact with countless small businesses that have experienced good engagement with social media but not much in the way of an increase in sales. The ability to provide real-time customer service has been recognized as a benefit of social media but many business owners fail to understand the time and attention needed to move a community to action. It should be part of our jobs as marketing professionals to continue to analyze and explain this issue.

  • I couldn’t agree more Mark. A colleague of mine and I are presenting on this very subject at a conference next week.

    The most effective (which doesn’t always mean the most flashy or most likely to end up on Mashable) social strategies are ones that are more utility. It’s when the marketer has identified an issue or need and social ends up being a tool to accomplish that business objective.

    If you can’t give a quick answer for why you’re on social, it means there’s an opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate your overall marketing (and business) strategy.

  • jcholman

    I recently mentioned the ‘insinuation of fear’ as a way to evoke behavior (action) from the user. I think he uses it as a way to shock the viewer and promote social(action.) Social is a solution that needs to be considered, now rather than later. Managers and owners shouldn’t be motivated by fear, but it get us all talking.

    As usual, I think your ‘take’ is right on. Social doesn’t assure success, but it can put you at a disadvantage to your competition if not engage, adapt. “Today, it’s negligent to dismiss the digital revolution” or lose out to those more knowledgeable, more effective, more engaged at building relationships with the consumer of tomorrow.

  • Thanks for the balanced perspective. Great addition to the conversation.

  • I needed to be invited as a guest speaker!!! They needed some thunder.

  • Well said Judith. Love this comment.

  • The videos are excellent but i always have to apologize for that line!

  • It’s amazing to me how many very successful businesses don’t even have a website, including one of my relatives, who has a multi-million dollar leading business : )

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment Ian!

  • It’s funny, I don;t consider myself a contrarian. I see myself as a realist : ) So I guess to the extent that people are unreal, I’m a contrarian! Heh. Thanks so much.

  • Nice Drew. Great to hear from you!

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  • Great point you raise Mark and about time that someone critically looked at the myth that going forward your businesses success will only be guaranteed if you engage in Social Media!

    When we i started out learning about and growing our family business , my father used to repeatedly say that the purpose of being in business ” was to make money” and that the purpose of marketing was to sell more to more people, more often.” – This is something that some of the so-called experts and gurus sometimes forget, that the tools of marketing and selling and ultimately the goal of making money will vary from business to business depending on your location, your niche , your customers, your customers access to technology etc.

    When i worked for Starbucks in the Middle East and Eastern Europe – we grew the business without any Social Media Marketing (yet SBX in North America are great proponents of SMM ) Because of the culture , the uptake of technology, etc, other marketing tools made and still makes way more sense than social media marketing. Will SBX business in Eastern Europe and the Middle East implode if they dont use SMM – offcourse not.

    Having returned to our family business in South Africa — even though i love Social Media Marketing ,i would not advocate Social Media Marketing as a very important marketing tool – why ? because the market in South Africa is not yet conducive for Social Media Marketing(for many reasons, lack of general internet access, prohibitively expensive internet etc)

    This is especially important for small business – Social Media should be at best one of the tools that will help your business grow money, not the only tool in the marketing toolbox.

    Most small businesses owners grow their businesses not through traditional marketing methods like paying for expensive advertising or hiring a huge sales stuff to badger customers about their products, but rather through word of mouth marketing …. customers talking about the new business to their friends, who talk about it to others.

    Social Media Marketing for small businesses should just be an extension of this.

  • My thoughts exactly! I have someone I’d like to introduce you to. We have meetings 2x a year. I’ll make the introduction in the next few days.

  • A superb comment. Nothing I can add to that but thank you!

  • Mark,

    Looking at my own industry, independent insurance agencies, the truth is your business will probably still exist, but your going to struggle with growth.

    So I agree that selling fear is not the angle I personally support, but the Connected Generation is growing and growth will be tough if you can’t communicate with these consumers using the social and digital methods they prefer.

    All the best,


  • Of course I am a strong advocate of social media as a legitimate marketing channel for most businesses as well, Ryan. It can also be a source of competitive advantage, without question.

  • A marketer using fear to get people to buy products!? What next! Haha. I totally and wholly agree with you 100% and all the other people who left comments. I do want to add something different and will go with this:

    It’s important how counter the fear-based marketing of impending doom.

    It’s easy for a business owner to look at this article, read the examples you give of Apple and say “Well Apple doesn’t do social media, why should my small shop do social media?”

    That owner is acting out of fear – the fear of change. In the same way that I remember my high school classmates saying they don’t need to go to college because Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and countless others have succeeded without a diploma.

    They will view those success stories of Apple and other great brands that succeeded without social as validation that they’re doing the smart thing by not getting involved with it.

    Which is why I like that you stress the process and strategy behind how a business eschews social media. Apple doesn’t need social media because they run the conversation (indirectly) on social media (their products, press conferences, and releases ALWAYS get conversation. They understand how this game is played. They have amazing customer support across their stores that listen to problems and help out on the spot. Apple also has millions upon millions of brand advocates all over social media.

    The business owner who is afraid of taking their business to social media will not understand that. Which is why success IS bigger than social media, but a person who is afraid of change (or is simply not adaptable) will not see it in the same way.

    Which is why I do not think that using fear to market to them can work (especially long-term). It simply shifts fear of this vast, unknown world of social media to fear of “hey your competitor may be doing something different.” So they throw up a Facebook page and proudly proclaim they’re doing social media too. Reminds me of the joke, “how fast do you need to run to escape a bear?” Faster than your friend..

  • There are successful companies — namely, restaurants — that have lines out the door and big profits and do zero web marketing. Tell that to Erik.

  • This post made me a fan, Schaefer.

    Social media gives businesses more than an innovative place to advertise. They now have a place to listen. Businesses that do not adapt towards effectively communicating with their customers through these channels will still be around. They’re pretty much just missing the party. Social media, to me at least, should remain a place for fun. I know that social media has other merits such as breaking news but honestly, let’s just keep it fun for Pete’s sake.

    Some companies just don’t feel a need to get involved and until an internal paradigm shift occurs, they’ll keep interactions at a minimum but they won’t cease to exist.

  • Superb comment Pavel. To be Apple, well … first you have to be Apple! : )

  • You just did : ) I love his videos but hope he will take that line out of future editions!

  • I appreciate your support, and more important, I appreciate that you took your precious time to comment on my blog and share your thoughts with the community. I never take that for granted!

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  • Kristie

    There will always be gloomers and doomers (Debbie downers) in your personal as well as business life. As a close friend has said…the best “revenge” is to simply live well. So, live well social media, live well. We’ll be listening. Kv2

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