Is it time to embrace the social media faker?

faking it quote

By Matt Ridings {grow} Community Member

There’s this guy. He’s become very popular in the “social business” space. He annoys the crap out of me.  He tweets nothing unique, mainly just quotes and platitudes of the type that are very retweetable.  He writes nothing original, mainly just articles geared to appeal to the masses but without much actual substance.

He has a PR mission for the company he works for, to become known and by proxy make his company be perceived as a social business. He preaches authenticity and transparency but then has all of the employee Twitter accounts set to automatically tweet links to his posts and retweet him. The PR machine gets him onto the right lists, the right panels, the right interviews, the right blogs. They create progressive stunts to get attention.

Why does this bother me so much?

Am I jealous of that attention? I can honestly say “no” to that. What does bother me is that people buy it. Hook, line, and sinker.

It seems crazy to me that someone who has actually done very little for his company in regards to actual change, or even progressive thought for that matter, can become a leading voice for the movement of which I’m a part. It makes me feel like the things that actually matter to me, like the hard work of organizational transformation, are being belittled or devalued.

But here’s the thing. I tend to analyze the things that annoy me, and I can’t help but wonder if maybe I’m wrong about this “charlatan” view that I have.

First off, by all accounts he is a nice guy. People I know and trust seem to like him at least.

Second, there’s no question that this is an “inauthentic” approach, but maybe this is one of those situations where if you say something loud enough, and long enough, you begin to create change by the very fact that you then are forced to become the thing that you say you already are … or risk exposure? The whole “fake it till you make it” thing?

Is faking it OK?

Is there value in that? Am I being too harsh in my judgment of this guy and others like him? Sure, he seems more concerned about image than reality at the moment, but maybe that will help to create a better reality later on?

I’ll never be in love with this approach, and yes it will probably always annoy me when people value what I consider the “wrong” things in this profession. But that’s just life, and I can’t apply my own values to everyone else. It can’t be my mission to be the white knight out there trying to protect the masses from the snake oil. There are already plenty of those people out there and frankly I find them just as annoying. Let’s face it, even this post it can be taken as a form of condescension and elitism. “I’m smarter than you so let me warn you away from your own stupidity”.

The bottom line is that there are things that I wish didn’t work. There are things that make me question my own values and what I’m willing to sacrifice in the name of “success.”

Cognitive dissonance is a bitch, isn’t it? What are your thoughts on the subject?

matt ridings

Matt is a co-founder and CEO of Sidera Works, a marketing and organizational development consulting practice. His work over the last 10 years has focused primarily in developing innovation cultures, change management initiatives, and specialized market research. Follow Matt at @techguerilla.

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  • “Am I being too harsh in my judgment of this guy and others like him?”

    No! What scares me is that there are so-called social media managers out there that use this approach, and people pay good money to allow them to manage their accounts. *shudder*

  • Not sure if this is a real “crime.” Not all companies are not going to have a cutting edge personality or web presence. Based on results, it seems to be working for them…

  • I Have No Comment

    While there’s people in my professional circles I cannot stomach, what makes me or you the authority on judging what is authentic or not? I’ve been wrongly accused, judged, scapegoated… you name it… victim to others delusions… so I beg the question to you… what makes you the authority on authenticity? Is there a degree for that? While it’s obviously okay for you to express your opinion about someone… I’d probably have more respect for what you expressed above if the guy legitimately screwed you over with proof to back it up. But authenticity as far as I’m concerned is determined by the market and there are never ever any absolutes in the authentic arena. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • I know the guy that you are talking about. There is one of them in the SEO space too. He annoys me too. it is not that he is unauthentic, I believe that he is authentic, but he is unoriginal and has built a large and successful business through just toeing the line and staying in the middle ground. In my mind marketing should be about some careful risk taking and doing things differently.

    It does not annoy me that he is successful but it does bother me that there are real pioneers who stick their neck out in order to move the industry forward and take some hard falls for doing so whereas this guy just agrees with everything that everyone says and slipstreams the publicity and association with thought leaders.

    In the same way as you I am not 100% sure why this bothers me – most others in the industry seem to not notice or do not care, either way there is no hint of their annoyance – perhaps i am just an asshole….

  • I don’t agree with faking things. Authenticity and true, genuine interaction with your audience takes a lot of time and effort.

    However, if the campaign is working for this person then that is, in part anyway, due to his ‘audience’ following him and continuing to read his articles, re-tweet his updates and like his FB statuses. Are they not at least partly to blame for his continued ‘success’?

  • I totally agree with you! This behavior is old skool and this is for example what white collars are use to do. Unfortunately for the real invisible social media experts or other servant leaders! this old behavior is what most of the people in the world know. I also understand that lot’s of people are looking for The world is changing so fast, they don’t what is happening in this new digital world and they need someone who tells them in an understandable way what is happening. Unfortunately the so called social media experts only know how to yell with a loud voice but don’t know how it works in real life! I believe that there will be a tipping point where things like ‘fake it till you make it doesn’t work anymore in the new digital age.

  • Matt, in a recent post on this subject I stated “they’re not scammers or con artists; they just suck!” Maybe they are fake or not, I certainly do not support the practice but I am not the one that is going to waste my time taking them to the wood-shed. As you said there are plenty of those that will and I too often find them just as annoying. Funny, those who feel the need to “out” the fakers are the first ones to cry they are not “experts” and there are not any experts in the space. Perhaps true, but there are professionals! Thanks for a good and thoughtful read.

  • Kitkat

    I guess my question is: how do the rest of us (non experts) figure out who is really an expert? I’m a conference planner and don’t want to be fooled by the PR folks pushing guys like this. I rely on an advisory board to help me distinguish whats “real” vs “fake” but I’d like to get better at it myself. Any advice?

  • Who died and made you Matt Cutts?

  • I struggle with this because there was a time when I was “that” person.. not that I didn’t know anything but I had just started my own business and there were those out there who I’m sure said the same about me. I know the “fakers” in our area and almost every single one of them is a super nice person even if they’re not as advanced as I am. I used to be much more vocal on my disdain for them but then it struck me that it would have devastated me if one of the people that I look up to (the one who owns this blog, for instance) had done the same to me so long ago. Not to mention the wasted energy in worrying about it. I just keep doing what I do and the worst case scenario is winning business to clean up their mistakes 😉

  • I wish I could give you a better answer for this. Part of our job with clients is to provide due diligence for them when hiring vendors (whether that’s technology or consultants), which should tell you that you’re by no means alone with your question.

    I’ll also say that there’s this odd discrepancy where you hear social media consultants bemoaning the fact that ‘everyone is a social media consultant’, yet when we are trying to hire people for us or our clients it turns out that it’s really, really, difficult to find experienced talent who can actually execute. Separating the wheat from the chaff in this space is difficult, namely because often those with the loudest voices are very good at communicating (writing, speaking) but not so much at executing. And those good at executing often fall under the public radar where many people are searching. My partner Amber Naslund and I have been around the block enough times to build a ‘short list’ of those we are willing to put our reputations on the line with, but we really wish that list was longer. There’s currently more work available than there is talent, it just doesn’t seem like it from the outside.

    So I guess my only real answer to you is ‘lots of due diligence’. The space has evolved enough at this point where you have the right to demand hands-on experience.



  • We are all to ‘blame’ under that umbrella, in general we prefer to the shallow soundbite to depth. At least as far as the superficial interactions are concerned. That applies to the nightly news and journalism as much as it does social media. An unfortunate fact of life.

  • What are those ‘results’ though? Is this one of those ‘all PR is good PR’ situations?

  • I don’t know that ‘they suck’ (at least not the person I’m talking about). He’s pretty masterful at PR actually, it’s just that he doesn’t say he’s doing PR, he says he represents change within a company. Unfortunately there’s no actual change taking place, all his external activities are simply to give the *impression* that the company is changing. And that’s working. The question is whether that has any value? It might. And that bugs me, but perhaps it shouldn’t so much? It’s not such a simple question.

  • Ha. Good one.

  • Agreed 🙂

  • When someone demands and commands the spotlight, they often get it…even when undeserved. Sad that 🙁

  • Failure has a way of weeding out those people over time, and while it sucks that people hire them for the wrong reasons, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those that fail to do any due diligence prior to hiring them. In this case I’m speaking more of someone representing a *company* vs. a social media consultant but often similar situations exist in both.

  • Well I *know* that I’m an asshole, there’s no ‘perhaps’ 🙂 It annoys me because I want companies to learn to *become* the company that can afford to be truly transparent and authentic, not just *say* they are. That’s what I do for a living. So if you can get away with just ‘saying it’, it’s offensive to my belief system. But just because something offends my sensibilities doesn’t mean i shouldn’t question them, thus this ‘thinking out loud’ post.

  • Part of this is definitely maturity. Part of it is that the general marketplace doesn’t understand the different roles in play here because social media muddies the waters. There is a place for the great communicator in writing, in speaking, in theory, in execution, in shallowness, in depth. They are *all* important. Unfortunately the marketplace doesn’t distinguish between them (yet) so those roles which are more public facing are the most easily accessible. That will change over time.

  • While I agree it’s sad sometimes if undeserved (or frustrating), I also think it’s dangerous to ignore reality regardless of how much I may dislike it sometimes.

  • Not sure we’re talking about the same thing in regards to lumping yourself in with the post topic (unless you were claiming one thing but doing another)? I think there’s a line where ethics are concerned, and that line is different for everyone. But I learned long ago not to confuse ‘being a nice person’ with ‘being an ethical person’

    Being new to something is a really difficult spot, particularly in a new industry where it’s difficult to work your way up from a lower position or find a really experienced mentor to work under for a while, so I understand where you’re coming from. Most of the people I know who are trying to ‘out’ all the ‘fakers’ tend to be some of the largest fakers I know, so I wouldn’t worry yourself over that too much 🙂

  • Aha – I understand what you are saying now. you should have put that in the post 😉 That’s a very interesting and fun mission you have set yourself – I am not being sarcastic, just in case that is unclear.

  • I agree, “not such a simple question.” The practice of fake it to you make it has been going on forever, now sadly, the digital space allows for those who utilize that tactic is now amplified!

  • Eunice Coughlin

    I think the problem is education. Social media popped up on the scene pretty quickly and it’s been hard for people to catch up on the latest “trend” in addition to keeping up with everything else they are expected to do. That’s not an excuse for this guy’s behavior, just an explanation. I know a lot of people who are faking it and it’s working for them. Whether you are ok with it or not shouldn’t matter. Keep doing what you’re doing and eventually the cream will rise to the top.

  • In this instance I’m really speaking to an organized ‘company’ initiative (vs. a consultant for example). The company PR machine promotes this guy, who then promotes the progressiveness of his company, who then makes the list of the ‘best social businesses’. While nothing has actually changed at the company at all. So the question is, is that really an issue? Will the inauthentic PR eventually put pressure on the company to ‘become’ what it has been saying it already is? If so, does that mean this approach has merit?

  • Great article. I have wondered the same thoughts as well. My retort though is; Sure he is a nice guy but all snake oil salesmen are nice guys till you tell them that their oil doesn’t work.

  • I think it is always a good thing to stop and assess…the field, so to speak. Look around, see what’s going on and what’s working.

    But I’ve lived long enough to realize that I’m only in charge of myself.

    Life will deliver you many intersections like this one Iand my advice is to be true to yourself and to your core values. I can’t promise that in the end you win, because the world isn’t perfect. But…

    You don’t have to live with those other people. You do have to live with yourself. Personal peace is worth so very much, when all the sound and fury settles. And the people who actually matter in your life will know it, too. 🙂

  • I think we pretty much are agreed in our philosophies Pauline 🙂

  • Ahh, but if the oil does work is it still oil? There is your philosophical question for the day 🙂

  • You never get more out of something than what you put into it. These people get nothing out of Twitter.
    Rememeber it’s a marathon not a sprint. The spoils go to the long-term thinker.

    Keep at it my friend. Fight the good fight. As Carnegie once said, “appeal the the nobler motives”. Faking it only works in poker.

  • I’ve never believed in ‘success at any cost’ type of mentality. SideraWorks was formed and structured in such a way as to not take outside funding (even though it was available), and to only grow at a certain pace, for the very reason that my business partner and I are adamant about success on our own terms. I’m very lucky to have a partner who sees the world the same way I do in that regard. I don’t know if that’s the ‘good fight’, or a ‘nobler motive’, but it’s aligned to our notions of what the definition of ‘success’ truly means.

  • SkMom

    If they’re faking it and it ends up changing them for the better, great!

    If they’re faking it and it doesn’t change who they are, they’ll be discovered eventually. Anything that they’ve attained because of these “fibs” won’t last.

    It’s life’s version of getting a new job. You can lie on your resume, charm your way through an interview, but if you don’t prove yourself on the job, you’ll never make it past your probation.

  • I agree with you completely! These types annoy me as well, but some people want the snake oil, and for them, it works. I have to stick to my morals and what makes me happy. I hold honesty and originality as my highest values. It is what gets me through the day. When you introduce false or copied work, it looses impact and value. Look at what is happening with the video from Jay Leno, with the couple singing at the gas station. They claim that it is real yet the woman appeared in a similar skit earlier. Trust is lost and it’s hard to get back. For those who don’t really care, well I’m not sure I want to cater to them with a blog or a photo. I’m not interested in those who are easily swayed or swooned over a gimmick. I like who I am and I don’t mind leaving them behind.

  • Thanks for bringing this to light, Kristen. While not all of us are at the same level of expertise in this field, most of us are trying to get there. And if we can make ourselves better by offering up what we already know, while acknowledging that we have even more to learn, then I’m ok with that. I realize not everybody does that, and so we call them the “fakers.” It’s just getting very difficult to listen to those who I consider to be my mentors and who are considerably “ahead” of me in this field continue to complain about this topic. My advice to my mentors (hah! imagine that) is to ignore the “fakers,” and seek out the authentic up-and-comers. Teach them, point out their mistakes, and encourage them. It will only make our world of social media an even more awesome place to work.

  • Yeah there are tons of fakers in the social sphere. They’re annoying, but I also get tired of seeing people go out of their way to call them out. What a I find interesting about this post is the way you introduced the notion of personal character. Good sales people are always “nice” in a very superficial way. That’s all these “experts” are—glorified salesmen selling themselves.

  • I’m right there with you, except that I’m going a little spare about how many people are advertising themselves as “writers”… when in essence, they’ve just a blog. And I firmly believe people can be crazily talented straight out of the gate in many fields, but there’s something about being subject to editors and spending time on learning how to write effectively for different purposes and having to collaborate with clients to get THEIR ideas across, etc. that lends people more credibility than, say… the capacity to write a pithy post about social media or “content”.

    But everyone is a writer now, just like everyone is a photographer, or a consultant, or Chief Officer of Awesome for a startup with no vowels.

    I want time and experience and wrestling with ideas to matter more than the elevator speech.

  • Matt – I think your comments are fair. Analytics is one of those places where there are a LOT of posers, especially in social where there is a real dearth of talent. It grates on my nerves, but it used to cause me to go into full scale rants. Then, my boss Bob Pearson told me one time that time eventually weeds these people out. Now, after being at WCG for three years and winning a handful of new, and large pieces of business after the client has realized that the original person they hired was a fake I am starting to believe. Unfortunately, wherever there is a lack of talent there will be people who try to take advantage of the system. Social and analytics are two places where that is true. All we can do is hope that time continues to weed them out.

  • Matt, I get it.
    I think at this point, as with all things, the “cream rises” to the top, and eventually, those who practice in authentic methods in business tend to weed themselves out.
    There will always be those who are uninformed, unprofessional, and downright lazy in any field. I trust people/companies overall to use their own instincts, do “gut checks”, and *not* get sucked in for any length of time by those who would deceive them.
    I always think of this cliché: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
    Savvy companies are vetting candidates, PR and otherwise, every minute of every day.
    That guy won’t last long if his foundation is built on sand.
    Great conversation…makes for an interesting perspective, and that’s a key word here. Thanks for posting!

  • Great post, Matt. And no, we cannot expect everyone to share the same values, but I think most of us in social media value and respect transparency. But just like in the real world, there will always be those who are true to only themselves. Social media doesn’t change a person’s true self, it just gives them another outlet to express it. The nice thing about social media is that we can tune those people out!

  • You could’ve just told me how you feel about me. : )

    The old me: holy crap, that guy bugs the hell out of me.
    The new me: work on my business, make people successful.

    The new me makes lots more money than the old me when the new me focuses on making my customers more successful.

    Follows are not equal to money. The record industry proved that recently. They bought followers (allegedly – please don’t sue me), and then couldn’t understand why follower count couldn’t predict sales revenue (my thought: robots don’t buy many records).

    The part that’s a LITTLE harder for me to stomach is when they get keynotes on big stages. Not because I care about them so much. I care about the notebook-filling little birds in the audience believing that the stage=validation.

    As evidenced by the fact that *I* get more stages than brilliant people like YOU and WEBSTER and PENN, it should be obvious that speaking does not equal depth of value, either.

    But my thoughts on this don’t make my customers more successful. : )

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  • Ha. In this instance I’m talking about what I guess you could call a “company sponsored” situation, not the typical independent guru discussion. The mouthpiece in this case isn’t as relevant to me. I differentiate because the question I had to ask myself is whether or not inauthentic PR (also known as lies) can drive a company in a positive direction as they attempt to ‘become’ what it is they’ve told the world they already are.

    I think the answer to that is that sometimes it probably can. And that’s tough for my brain to swallow. It’s like telling people you’re a doctor while you’re actually still in medical school. But if you get your degree and go off to Doctors Without Borders and do some good, should I really care?

  • I can’t tell you HOW many names and faces are flashing through my head right now…!

  • jeffespo

    @techguerilla:disqus why not call the person out by name and go the passive aggressive route? I almost that would be more productive that this route. You make good points but without naming names you kind of lose it a bit

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  • I disagree. You can legitimately attack an issue without attacking people Jeff and I think by focusing on his own feelings, Matt has tapped into an issue relevant to many. It’s a great post as-is.

  • danperezfilms

    Remember what Hyman Roth said to Michael Corleone in The Godfather II: “This is the business we’ve chosen.”
    Now, repeat that to yourself over and over and try to remember that every industry has people like the one you describe here. People that understand that sometimes perception is reality. Eventually, these people are gonna have to show that they can generate more than just perception.
    Let them do what they do and just go about doing what you do…and if you can’t beat them, you can always join them, yes?

  • There’s a huge difference between “fake it till you make it” and hucksterism.

    I’m right there with you on being bugged by this. I’m no stranger to busting chops on it, either. I once called a prominent member of the personal branding movement a douchebag during an interview in public. While I totally disagree with his methods (to this day), I don’t like the fact that I hurt him personally while doing so.

    It’s just a matter of growing up in the digital age. We all have some dues to pay as well as some growing up to do in learning how and when to run our mouths, whose chops to bust, and when to keep the peace.

  • jeffespo

    @businessesgrow:disqus I agree with that principle, but in a case like this, it reads as a specific person. Leaving him nameless does give an overall perception, but also creates a boogieman mentality. Like hey Mark’s a faker, Matt’s a faker, Jeff’s a faker — within each reader’s mind. It’s fair to say that many can see this as someone that they react with or follow on the Twitters.

    I pointed this out here because one of the things that I like about @techguerilla:disqus is how he’s addressed issues where someone has called him out either on social or blog format. The one that sticks in my head is the event from 2-years back at SXSW.

  • Point taken, but at least on this blog I don’t want to needlessly embarrass anyone. In fact in more than 1,000 blog posts I have only called out one person out and that was because he was chronically lying and manipulating me and other bloggers and was a threat to others. And it turns out even his name was fake! I would rather lift people up. Thanks for the comment Jeff. Sorry I missed you at SXSW this year!

  • Hi Matt, interesting post. And, really interesting comments! Commercial activity in social media (whatever platform) is a game of gaining attention. What works will survive and what doesn’t won’t. Although as individuals, some of us don’t like some of the tactics but if they works for them, who are we to argue? Thankfully, there’ll always be the types who challenge this in an attempt to “fix” fundamental problems but at the end of it all, sheep do follow and these tactics are designed to gather sheep.

    The other question I have for you though is have you really determined that these individuals you’re discussing actually have working strategies? Or do they just think they do because of questionable metrics (ie: followers versus true engagement)? If they are not getting real engagement, just wait, they’ll go away. And, unless there is real value being delivered, sheep tend to follow the strongest “leader” so if they get bored with this person/company, soon enough they’ll too move on.

  • I think you’re missing the point of the post (or, as is more likely, I failed to communicate it well enough). The post wasn’t about the annoyances of an individual, it’s about how when I analyzed my strong reactions to that I had to face up to the fact that *sometimes* there may actually be value to a company using its own bullshit as a mechanism for becoming better. It’s kind of like announcing to the world that you’re running a marathon. When it’s months away it’s pretty easy to do, and seems pretty harmless. But once it gets closer and you realize it’s going to be obvious that you either did or didn’t run you start getting a lot of incentive to get your ass out there and start training. That ‘New Years Resolution’ methodology may have some merit, even if I dislike it. That’s the point I was trying to make, that internal struggle with my dislike for something I find distasteful with the objective point of view that perhaps it can sometimes drive positive change.

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  • jeffespo

    Likewise @businessesgrow:disqus maybe in 2014 – every other year catchups 😉

    @techguerilla:disqus Appreciate the clarification dude. This was more on seeing what the goal was and how I read. Either which way was more a constructive criticism on what was interpreted. With that said your clarification makes sense and is a good insight… Keep on Carrying on… chalk it up to lost in translation and apologies if needed. Reading though comments on thread looks like I am in the minority there…

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  • Matt, pretty sure I know exactly who you are talking about. I share your views completely on this.

    Have a look at a recent post I wrote about the rise of the “social business guru” -similar theme to your post at

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  • I kind of agree with @danperezfilms:disqus in that you have to remember that this is the business we got ourselves into. Plus, you have to remember, this guy probably never complains about others. He’s probably confident in what he writes and when he speaks. By all accounts, he’s like-able. Which, in social, makes you popular. My advice, keep doing what you’re doing and concentrate on you and your business and learn to ignore the others who are like this guy. Otherwise you’ll just drive yourself nuts and frankly, you have better things to do and write about. 🙂 But just know you’re not alone. I could write an entire diatribe on this topic, but then I’d be wasting my time on “them” and not my own biz.

  • Matt, I’m surprised some people think you are referring to an individual when it seems like you are referring to a composite of many individuals working in the field. Are you?

    I know exactly what you’re talking about regarding charlatans and snake oil, but aren’t all endeavors based on some blind faith that things are going to work out the way you have them envisioned? I mean, practically everything is a fake-until-you-make it process. Marriage comes to mind, LOL!

    I think if you just keep believing in what you’re doing and you’re good at what you do, who cares about the fakers? When someone is a real FAKE they’ll lose their credibility anyway. Karma is a bitch.

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