Five social media myths that MUST STOP NOW!

Sometimes I read the “rules” being written about social media marketing and think, “God bless this person for trying, but he must have never had a real job in his life.” And then these opinions get repeated and re-tweeted until these mindless jingles become part of the social media mantra. It’s time to bust the myth-makers, folks. Here are five beloved social media “rules” you should throw in the trash:
Myth number one: “To be effective in social media, you must give up control of the conversation.”
Why do you assume you ever HAD control of the consumer conversation? You didn’t, you don’t, and you won’t! So, in reality, nothing has changed. You don’t control consumers. On a good day, we only hope we can influence them.What DO marketers control? The message. Nothing has changed there either. The equity of a brand is usually a company’s most valuable asset. A core brand image must be tightly controlled, constantly nurtured, and tenaciously defended, no matter what communication channel you’re using.What HAS changed is that we can now more effectively listen to how people are responding to that marketing message and react to that response with speed and compassion.
Myth number two: “It’s all about the engagement.”

Another equally ridiculous variation is “It’s all about the conversation.” No, it’s not. It’s all about the MONEY.

Why are major brands pouring millions into social media marketing? Just to see how many followers they can get? Because they’re “nice people” who want to “engage?” PUH-LEEEZE. They are trying to make a return for their shareholders. And if they’re not, they should be fired.

Stop fooling yourself. If social media marketing does not contribute to brand equity and/or shareholder value, the dollars, the effort, and the “engagement” will stop. Marketers have been engaging with their customers since the dawn of advertising because it helps feed our families. Please, let’s be honest. We’re all just trying to make a buck. And that’s OK.

Myth number three: “Never sell.”

The reality is, everyone sells, all the time. Behind every business tweet is a person using social media to craft a personal brand image of friendliness, helpfulness, authenticity and intelligence so you will trust them and eventually buy from them. What’s wrong with that? As long as you don’t BLATANTLY SELL, I’m cool.

Myth number four: “Emphasize quality over quantity.”

Wrong. You must have both. You’re not going to earn much of a following if you only blog once a year … even if it’s a really, really good one! Look, this is not like buying a Mercedes Benz that you can drive around for years. In social media, the cars are free so drive like a wild man and if you crack one up, hop on another one and do it again. Quality counts but size matters, too.

Myth number five: “Social media is all about authenticity”

Social media is about being polite and likable. Nobody really wants you to be authentic and hear how bitchy you feel today because your husband snored all night.

Recently a bunch of Chris Brogan’s readers got on him because they thought he was too mean. Hell I loved it when the uber-blogger had a fit now and then. THAT’S authentic! But instead Chris announced he will try to be nicer … that’s what matters around these parts.

I think the goal of most people immersed in social media is the opposite of authenticity. Their goal is “try not to suck.” Everyone is doing their best to channel their inner Oprah. It’s a popularity contest, pure and simple. Call it what it is, folks.

So there you have it. Are you with me on this? Let me know what you think.

And no need to be polite. : )

All posts

  • Gregg Morris

    Absolutely spot on! You should laminate this and place it on the door to your classroom. I agree about the Brogan post too. I replied in a comment to him that he should let that side of himself out of the bag a little more often.


    Thanks, Gregg. I have to admit I was a little nervous about how this post would go over. It's not always easy skewering the "sacred cows." So, we'll see how it goes!

  • Brian

    Is this my first comment on your blog? I feel like I've posted before, but I think I may have started typing, had to go do something else, and never finished.

    That said, I am not a marketing major, however this post rings very true. I personally feel too many people try to make business something it is not for the sake of sparing feelings. There is nothing wrong with impersonal exchange of ye olde goods n services, nor is anything wrong with hawking said wares. The tradition dates back to the market square bazaar, wherein people promised miracles for the exchange of a few coins and gave in trade some everyday household item that nonetheless served its buyer well.

    We have grown a tad more sophisticated since then, eh?

    Also, I can't help but wonder how many of those who decry the "critical blogger" moments of others really just fear the image of themselves mirrored in said criticism. Food for thought I suppose.

  • Nitin Gupta


    You are spot on…doesn't it happen so often that people get too excited about a new medium and forget about the basic principles of marketing??

    The craze over Social Media can be compared to the craze with dotcoms during late 90s when everyone was just focused on eyeballs…don't worry about the revenue they said…

    Social Media is another medium, and a great medium, but you cannot forget that at the end of the day that shareholders need their ROI.

    I am worried we may be having a Social Media Bust pretty soon if some of the biggies (Myspace, Youtube etc) don't figure out a way to monetize their engaged users


    @Brian – Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I'm glad you're hsaring your views with the rest of the {grow} community!

    @Nitin – First, brilliant job on the banking reform series.

    I also think we could be heading for the second Internet bust and in fact I've written an article about that but have not posted it yet. Certainly the symptoms are the same as 10 years ago when people poured in, afrad to be left behind, and then realized they could not feed their children with "page views."

    I'm encouraged that most of the biggest companies are approaching social media thoughtfully but there are still too many caught up in the phantom gold rush.

  • Jamie Lee Wallace

    Happy Monday, Mark!
    Love the post and the image…though I'd love to see your face superimposed. 😉

    Great and well-made points across the board. Still – I have to admit – slightly disheartening. Coincidentally, I just posted a piece about where the commercialization of social media will lead. I wear no rose-colored glasses when it comes to the purpose of marketing, the properly profit-driven goals of business entities, or the fact that the social platforms themselves are businesses looking to profit from the social nature of humans. Still, the idealistic part of me would like to see some balance struck between the bottom-line and greater-good. I think win-win situations can be created that support profit growth while providing some service or support to a cause that affects people in their "Real Lives."

    Business is business … no doubt. But business has a great opportunity – perhaps even an obligation – to support local and global communities through projects that are about more than pleasing the board. Even if, ultimately, the C-level incentive is simply to create good will or tax write-offs, it should be done. Social media can play an important role in these types of efforts. My inner Pollyanna hopes to see more brands using social media tools both to support traditional sponsorship-type endeavors as well as to create innovative new ways to engage their employees and customers in "good" works.

    It can be difficult to see clearly through all the smoke and mirrors being thrown up by social media "gurus" and the hordes of wannabe followers. Thanks for helping us cut through the fog and giving us a wonderfully active forum on which to share opinions and ideas.
    Have a great week!

  • Mike Campbell

    Confession: I am not an authentic blogger/microblogger. I don't blog about religion, politics, or entertainment. I don't blog when I'm sick, tired, or grouchy. I only blog about stuff that I would talk about at the water cooler at work. I call that the water cooler principle.


    @Mike – Glad you were not sick, tired or grouchy today and commented on {grow}!

    @Jamie — After working with many Fortune 100 companies for so many years, I'm sorry to say that I don't share your idealism. Companies generally are not altruistic. Their purpose is to increase shareholder value and they act accordingly. Every dollar spent generally goes toward a business objective.

    The two exceptions are 1) when a powerful executive has a personal charity/agenda they want to support and 2) independent foundations set up by companies can operate outside the corporate political structure

    Other than that, even seemingly altruistic donations usually have some corporate purpose to gain favor or burnish a brand image. Don't want to seem jaded but that has been my experience in the corporate world!

    Many years ago I some graduate classes with Peter Drucker. One class topic was: How much corporate charity is enough? For a public company, his answer was basically "zero." Anything Drucker said influenced me a lot!

  • Jim LeBlanc

    Thanks for the great post, Mark. Glad there's one person who doesn't drink the social media Kool-Aid.

  • Steve Dodd

    So, when are you going to launch Team Hooey? Like you said, there is so much BS floating around about this market, it needs to be quickly called out to try to ensure we don't have yet one more hype based internet failure.

    That being said, I'll bet none of the Purveyors of Hype respond to this. It is amazing that when you post something that is hype based, it can go viral fast but if there is a dose of reality, it typically dies.

  • Jamie Lee Wallace

    @Mark –
    I think that's why I prefer working with small- to mid-sized companies 🙂 The behavior of fortune 500's I've worked with matches your description exactly. I wouldn't classify myself as a bleeding-heart, but I do find it unfortunate that often those with the deepest pockets are the least likely to share … though, perhaps, that's how they got to be in that position in the first place?

    Whatever the standard reality, I will continue to imagine – and work for – opportunities to bring together good business and good works. Nothing's impossible, right?

  • Dave Barger

    Thank you dammit. Thank you. I'm thinking we'll become more accepting of hearing the bitchy side of life too (just not at the online "front desk").

  • Nitin Gupta

    Thanks Mark: appreciate your comments about the banking transformation series. It has been hard finding the time though to finish it off. I wonder how you manage to juggle everything

    Coming back to the discussion, there certainly are examples of companies that have done it right and created enough buzz about their brand using social media channels. But there are plenty of others that are just jumping on the bandwagon…

    MARK W. SCHAEFER said…

    @Brian – Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I'm glad you're hsaring your views with the rest of the {grow} community!

    @Nitin – First, brilliant job on the banking reform series.

    I also think we could be heading for the second Internet bust and in fact I've written an article about that but have not posted it yet. Certainly the symptoms are the same as 10 years ago when people poured in, afrad to be left behind, and then realized they could not feed their children with "page views."

    I'm encouraged that most of the biggest companies are approaching social media thoughtfully but there are still too many caught up in the phantom gold rush.

  • Matt Galloway

    I enjoyed your post and agree with your points, but it feels more like 5 Social Media Myths we must _edit_ more than stop. After reading, I edited your "myths" into "5 authentic realities of social media" :

    1.) To be effective in social media, you accept that you have never had control of the conversation.
    2.) It’s all about making money… through engagement. (I'd argue that without "engagement" it's not social media, but may be some other very effective form of marketing.)
    3.) Never BLATANTLY SELL (and do some of that relationship building crap while you're at it.)
    4.) To be effective, you must have BOTH quantity and quality.
    5.) Social media is about being polite and likable… and honest.

    I've recently written about how we misuse "transparency" on my blog. It doesn't mean you have to share everything but I do think it means being honest about what you do share. You didn't mention that aspect so I tagged it on. I agree, marketers are using SM to make money. But being disingenuous or dishonest will eventually catch up with you. So in SM you should be honest not because it's "all about transparency" but because if you are not it will eventually cost you money.

    Nice post.


  • Catherine

    I'm with you -especially on #5. People in the Silicon Valley and in the social media circles in particular are just too darn polite. I don't mind if that's ones natural state, but we get a lot of nice-to-your-face-stab-you-in-the-back behavour around these parts. I'd rather people just be themselves and say what they feel. Or, if they don't want to 'speak honestly' on a topic/person -just don't speak dishonestly. Too often "politeness" is really just a euphemism for being two-faced.


    @Matt — Brilliant take on this. Thank you. Perhaps you have written your next blog article ( or mine!). I look forward to following your blog. I agree with your points 100%, especially the part about honesty.

    @Catherine — The social web is office politics on steroids. At least in the office you can talk behind somebody's back : ) Ha!!

    Maybe we need an alternative universe social media site where the mantra is "everybody sucks." Because, we all do in our own way. That's what makes us different and beautiful. The social web is becoming homogenized nicey-nice. Alt-web would require you to reveal your humanity and brokeness. I think it would unleash the real love and human compassion tucked away behind those photo-shopped avatars.

    Whew. Did I just get deep?

  • Bill Sledzik

    Thanks for a refreshing viewpoint, Mark. The 2.0 world — at least in PR and marketing — loves to play "nice-noce," and far too many of the players worry more about popularity than substance. While I don't agree 100% with your points, it's good to see a bit of critical thinking in a world that does too little of it.

  • Lois Geller

    Thanks,I look at my tweetdeck and I have all kinds of people there…nice ones, weird ones, sarcastic ones…people who give me information, and others who throw out stupid quotes by the hour.
    I always think Twitter is like a big rally in Central Park…all kinds show up. I gravitate to people who are real or add value. It is okay if they're selling me something, as I buy stuff.


    @ Bill actuall wrote an amazing and humbling blog post, inspired by this article. Check it out and support his blog:

    @Lois – you are a lot more patient than me. I usually toss the quote brigade out of my tweet stream. It's part of my daily ritual as I transform into a curmudgeon before your eyes.

  • Nate Towne

    Ya had me up until authenticity – I think that one needs a little work. I still believe you have to be authentic for this social media jazz to work (i.e. your post on ghost blogging). As for me, my participation in social media has nothing to do with popularity – I've never been overly concerned with being loved by the masses. (Just get out of my way people!) It's about connecting with others who help me get through the day, month, year in a more meaningful and empowered way. Sound smarmy? Perhaps so but at least it's authentic smarm and it hasn't done me wrong so far! For brands selling product via social media it certainly doesn't hurt to be popular, but if you're not being authentic (a.k.a. lying) it will bite you in the ass eventually.


    @ Nate — I'm glad somebody FINALLY disagreed : ) Way to go, mate!

    To be clear, I certainly advocate honesty. In fact, I advocate authenticity. But the reality is, neither is a particularly hot commodity for many people on the social web (in my experience), even though it is touted as a hallmark of the channel.

    For the record, I embrace your smarminess.

  • @ShaneKinkennon

    Wow Mark, did this need to be said. Thank you.

    The only one I struggled with was #3, but it's a micro-point. Your advice: Never BLATANTLY sell. I just think you have to be really, really careful about selling — it had better be super-dooper subtle, or people will get turned off. My instinct is that simply avoiding "blatant" isn't quite good enough — while fully nodding that at the end of the day, we're all in it (work, I mean) for money.

    Thanks and well done.


    I've received several off-line comments and think I need to clarify.

    I am not suggesting that you should not be authentic. I'm pointing out the irony that "authenticity" is a social media mantra and for the most part, I don't believe authenticity (or "transparency") is practiced or really valued, using the example where Brogan WAS authentic and then chastised for it. I believe artificial niceness is the norm and the expectation.

    This not a value judgment about any particular individual. Hope that helps.

  • dmourey

    I think you are splitting hairs. The data show that deeper engagement even in one channel is better than 'quantity. you need more thn 3 but you don't need 2,000 either.
    I think the comments covered the authenticity argument. bottom line if you don't add value along the way, you will not get as far as someone who understands and does add value. If this means that i have sipped kool aid then… the beauty of social media is that it's about attraction not promotion. if you create somethign attractive, then commerce may follow — but that doesn't mean selling or emoting or controlling. All i'm suggesting is that we pay attention for a change and don't pretend to pay attention(like lying with statistics) and then pat ourselves on the back for doing something that couldn't be measured in the first place.
    listen pay attention respond as appropriate, repeat. interesting post, thank you. I like the conversation. is the emperor wearing clothes or not? hmmm

  • Matt Moore

    Mark – I absolutely agree that Engagement is not an end in itself and I think "authenticity" is less important than i. "being interesting" & ii. "not ripping people off". I even think you can BLATANTLY SELL if that's appropriate to the context (if I've Tweeted about considering your product and you want to offer me a discount – then yes please – sell, you mutha, sell!).

    I'd want to qualify the first point. Being constantly "on message" can be very dull (which is a sin) – and many brands have identities that are complex (& even a little bit contradictory). You don't want to be so complicated that no one knows what you're about but you do want an online presence as rich & complex as you are (not more not less).

    I'd also want to bust one myth that seems very prevalent at the moment – "social software = marketing". There's lots of things that you can do with social software that has nothing to do with marketing – the blogosphere does not exist to sell products (just telephones have a use beyond call centres). And likewise, there are many aspects of marketing that have nothing to do with social software.

  • Jim Kukral

    Love the 5 things that are so true. I spoke this morning to about 30 small biz owners who knew almost nothing about social media and I used some of these. Frankly… you're just right. 🙂


    Ok I lied. I really don't want you to disagree with me. I want to everyone on earth to be just like Jim Kukral. Thank you Jim. Check's in the mail.

  • @toni_jane

    Thanks for tackling these issues. It's a really great overview and I agree that engagement does have an ultimate aim of ROI for companies, but it's a two way process that helps organisations sell and consumers feel they've been heard and acknowledged. I do believe that social media is all about collaboration – to what degree and end may depend on the people or organisations involved, but it is still the key factor.

  • Mike Rowland


    Saw your link in a Tweet by Jeff Dachis this morning. With ten years in the online community (now social media) industry, our data points back up many of your statements. We've even taken it a step farther with a presentation I gave in NY at the Online Community Unconference on Myth Busting.

    It was surprising how many social media practitioners and/or self appointed gurus were scrambling to take notes. On top of that, it generated some very heated discussions about authenticity, marketing, and conversatonal control. This presentation is the second highest download on our site after a B2B ROI presentation, so that tells me that people really want to get through the hyped truisms posted everywhere and learn what works.

    Your points are a great addition to the conversation. Feel free to download the Myth Busting presentation at in our Social Media Resource Center section.

    Twitter: MRowland602

  • Michelle Z.

    Thanks, Mark — Well said! (Esp. about the money. If it's not affecting your bottom line, why do it?!) First time I've read your blog, now I think I'm hooked!

  • caheidelberger

    Great point about authenticity. There are times that my authentic reaction to comments I get on my blog is, "Who are you f-ing morons?!" But to keep readers and avoid losing the message, I aim for politeness (not always successfully). I like your clarification above: you aren't telling us to abandon authenticity, just to recognize that if you really are authentic and transparent, you're going to catch hell.

  • Kami Huyse

    One niggle about #1. While we have NEVER had control as marketers (and in my case PR practitioners), it is true that control is a common conversation in communication conversation with top management, "We have to control this," etc. It actually bears repeating in conversations about social media.

    You might have had me had you said the myth was that messaging is bad, you must give up all messaging for conversations. That is a more prevalent myth.

    Not to beat a dead horse, but on the authenticity issue I think that the more appropriate thing to say is avoid talking like a corporate flack. In social media it is all about dropping recitation of policies and insider babble to speak like a human being. Maybe it is all about being politely authentic, or in the case of the brand, true to the personality of the brand.


    @ Mike. Interesting "myth" presentation but annoying that I had to register to see it. Thanks for sharing. Definitely worth a read.

    @Cory — Funny thing is, at the times I blow my top I seem to connect to the most people. Folks should try it more often.

    @Kami – Boy, Control is SUCH a big issue! Probably worthy of a blog topic. I actually lean toward the side of more control versus less. Little thing called the SEC to worry about here in the U.S. I think companies DO have to watch what is being said and who is saying it to react with lightning speed when problems occur.

  • ePi.Longo

    Seriouly, I don't agree with you when you use the word "control" in myth #1. Who want to control their customer? Not real marketer, i swear.
    Real marketer want to sell their idea, their product based on customer's need and they are trying to talk, to listen and to influence their customer (never try to control). So, I don't think that they've never tried to control the conversation. My 2 cents.

  • Jennie

    thanks for this post, it's really helpful (^_^)

  • Debra L. Bruce

    I chanced upon this interesting conversation. I don't come from the marketing world, so I wasn't feeling inundated with the myths of control and authenticity, but I have an outsider's perspective to share, if you'll permit me.

    1. What I like about social media for marketers is the democracy of it. If you have a lot of hooey in your message, not only will you hear about it via social media, but so will your prospective customers. Social media helps to combat the one-way propaganda of traditional advertising. It also helps me get information that advertising dollars can suppress in mainstream news media.

    2. Regarding too much nice: there is plenty of anonymous vituperativeness on the Internet to balance out the nicey-nice. Psychologists say that the discomfort of cognitive dissonance causes us to eventually match our attitudes to our behavior. So I like the pressure to be nice, especially when combined with the ability of social media watchdogs to out the two-faced backstabbers.

    3. It's not wrong to have the goal to make money. It's ok for me to benefit too while I help you. The problem arises when I stop caring about how I impact you because I'm solely focused on making money. I hope that the social media voices will unveil the socially irresponsible profiteers, thus leveling the playing field for business people with a conscience.

    Thanks for providing a forum for anyone to have a say. I'll be interested to keep listening to yours.

  • Kami Huyse

    @Mark No problem over control of what the company says, it is why I work with clients to come up with guidelines and policies when engaging in social media, including who can say what. In fact, I should be working on one right now (due today) instead of commenting here – but I digress. The problem comes when companies think they can control others speech or the situation. This mentality often leads to commentary that spouts company policy and violates the culture, causing a worse problem than if they hadn't spoken at all. I think that social media requires an approach that is more akin to crisis communication than marketing or persuasion, though both of those can be used with care. I have found that in the face of a negative backlash (which is situationally dependent and takes in account who is complaining), a quick and concise response, that shows empathy and isn't defensive, is a great way to bring down the vitriol to something more akin to a conversation about differences. Better stop there or I might as well go and write a post…


    @Debra – you may not come fromt the "marketing world" but we need insight and wisdom like this! I hope you'll comment frequently on this blog!

    (on second thought, aren't we ALL in the marketing world in some way?)

    @Kami — If you figure out the dialogue that convinces companies they can't control the conversation, let me know! What a battle.

  • The PR Lab

    Twitter, schmitter. @prlab

  • Amen, Mark. I teach my students the difference between “rules” and “customs” and “etiquette” on the Web. Every self-proclaimed social media guru I meet tries to impose their own rules on a medium, even though it’s largely driven by myth. Remember when it was considered “taboo” to do any kind of marketing on the Internet? How quickly that was kicked to the curb. I particularly roll my eyes at the “authenticity” movement you also mock here. Great post.


  • Pingback: 3 Social Media Myths That Need To Die « TRUtricks()

  • NL

    The “executive summary” of The Tao of Twitter (which I thoroughly enjoyed, thanks to its recommendtion by ProfS!  For anyone who hasn’t read it, make sure you do.  It’s what convinced me not to give up on Twitter.)  Where some other areas of the social media world have earned valid criticism for their abuse, misuse, or invasion of privacy, I appreciate the idea of Twitter being known primarily as a place where civility and helpfulness are valued. I learn something new on Twitter every day (and, I hope, occasionally have something useful to share). 

  • A couple of recommendations we’ve been trying to drive home is to integrate social media into other outreach efforts and tie it to other business metrics.  Social on its own doesn’t work in a silo; after all, most businesses aren’t in business to use social media platforms,  they are using social media as a tool and a channel to amplify their message, support customers, etc It’s need to be measured and monitored like any other asset (i.e Web, email, etc)

    I guess because my professional world isn’t solely in the marketing/pr realm that I’m not seeing these trends you listed above but I also get a daily dose of the Ad Contrarian and that seems to keep my visions of grandeur in check.

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details


Send this to a friend