Three new social media myths that MUST STOP NOW

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A few months ago I wrote a post about  The Five Social Media Myths that called out some of the mis-guided “rules” of the social web:

  • To be effective in social media, you must give up control of the conversation
  • It’s all about engagement.
  • Never sell.
  • Emphasize quality over quantity.
  • Social media is all about authenticity.

Some time has gone by and three more myths have creeped into the dialogue.  Humbly, may I suggest we also need to stop them too!

1) You can, and must, measure the ROI of social media programs.

This cracks me up. We have come full circle!

A year ago many A-List bloggers were suggesting that it was a waste of time measuring social media marketing campaigns because it would be tantamount to measuring the ROI of email. Now, some of them suggest that not only is it desirable, it is possible and necessary to measure the ROI of every social media initiative.

For these folks, I have to ask: “Have you ever really worked in a company that has a BUDGET?”

Let me state emphatically that it is critical to measure the results of marketing initiatives in some manner and that you must tie your efforts to the creation of shareholder value.  But many times it’s not practical to drive measurement all the way down to ROI because it may be too time-consuming and expensive to do so.  Many times a leading indicator such as sales leads or downloads can be a reasonable and cost-effective proxy, especially for small companies.  Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Sometimes simple measurements will do just fine — spend most of your time on the actual doing!

2) Your number of friends/followers don’t matter.

I recently observed this ridiculous Twitter conversation — celebrity-grade tweeters arguing over which of them cared less about the number of followers they had.

Last week Mari Smith left this comment on my post: “I’m with Guy Kawasaki on the two types of people on Twitter:  Those who say they want more followers and liars.”  That sums it up for me, too.  Chris Brogan also had the guts to write a blog post about the practical advantages of large number of followers.

If you’ve built your meaningful and relevant audience carefully, why wouldn’t bigger be better?  Why not learn more, make more friends, build more connections?

And if you’re on here to sell, developmental sales and marketing is usually a numbers game.  You connect with lots of people.  A small number of those become business leads. An even smaller number result in real business.

It’s an honor that a lot of great people care enough to follow you. Why be cavalier about it?

3) Every business needs to be on the social web.

Here is the most pompous tweet I’ve seen in a while: “If you don’t use the social web for your business, it’s not that you don’t understand the social web. You don’t understand your business.”

Excuse me?  The successful business owners I know are very smart, highly in tune with their customers, and have an extraordinarily good sense of what it takes to succeed.  While many businesses may realize tremendous benefits from the social web, I think we have to respect the fact that it might not be the wisest place to focus precious time and resources in every case.

  • If you’re selling Depends adult diapers, you should probably spend most of your marketing dollars elsewhere.
  • If you’re selling coal to electric utilities, you’re probably not going to tweet your way to success.
  • If you’re in a down and dirty business like buying and re-selling scrap metal, neither suppliers nor customers typically even have computers.
  • In some nations and cultures, marketing through the social web may be less effective than in Western business models.

Let’s use common sense and resist the temptation to force-feed any communication channel on anybody.  And if we’re in a consultative role, we need to respect the inherent wisdom that resides in experienced business owners and listen more than preach.

So that’s a take on the latest mythologies on the social web. What’s your view?  Any I missed?

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  • Hey Mark,

    Another great post, as usual!

    I like your additional 3 myths, but I’d like to add a few spins to numbers two and three. I agree with number one as long as you measure relative to your objectives for social media. ROI is not necessarily the best way, depending on why you’re there.

    For #2 – Number of followers don’t matter.

    I agree that it’s great to have a lot of followers. That said, we need to focus on not just getting any followers, but attracting followers that can add value to us and whom we can provide something worthwhile and valuable to in return. I know you meant it that way, just felt the need to make it clear. All followers are not created equally depending on who you are. I’m tired of seeing all the “get a million followers in a day” scams.

    For #3 – Every Biz Needs to Be on the Social Web

    I agree that social may not be the best choice for expenditure of effort for many companies.

    This said, I get told by a lot of companies that their customers don’t use social media. I can prove many of them wrong with a couple of simple searches. So, it’s fine to decide not to use it. Just do some research before you make that decision. What we believe to be true may not be so.

    Just saying.


  • Mark W Schaefer

    Ardath, agree completely. I underlined “meaningful and relevant” to try to drive home the importance of being mindful and selective.

    Also you point about not assuming about where your customers are is spot-on — especially if you haven’t really looked in a while!

    Thanks for adding your expertise to the discussion, Ardath!

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  • Mark: you nail it again! It reminds me of your earlier post about selecting those you follow! And I agree with you on all points! Thanks!

  • Kathy Snavely

    Smartly sensible once again, Mark. The ROI is still hard to wrap your head around, sometimes, but it’s getting clearer as time goes by. The numbers thing – well, I’m happy to kick off the teeth-whitening agents and tweeps that want me to deepen my “satisfaction,” since I’ve been happily married for nearly 27 years. And needing to be social? While I think it’s a good idea, I don’t think it’s an imperative for some businesses – but let’s not use this as an excuse. And knowing you, Mark, there’s more to come – and we look forward to it!

  • Mark

    @Amy — Thanks!

    @Kathy — I “edit” followers too as best I can. Thank goodness the teeth/porn mafia has been at least somewhat corralled by Twitter! Better than it used to be.

  • Love myth #3 about every business needing to be on the social Web.

    I’ve worked with some of those down and dirty companies and I agree — they don’t need Twitter or even a blog to drive business.

  • Mark

    @Dianna. Amen. Let’s get real.

  • heheee – Mark, you rock!! Thanks for the ping.

    (I’m so loving your mythological characters in these posts, btw! Indeedy, a picture says a thousand words.)

    Really nicely done – right on target. Frankly, social media marketing is shifting and changing, evolving and growing so much – there’s no hard and fast rules that could apply to every single business, as you point out. But there certainly are many solid, sensible guidelines… and you’ve done a great job of compiling eight of them, you myth-buster you! ;D

  • @Ardath – I completely agree with you regards the followers, btw. I’ve been on Twitter since Sept 2007 and am hovering around the 70,000 follower mark, so I’ve taken my time to build momentum. I always advocate to my students and clients to “focus on quality and the quantity comes.” That is, building a quality network with targeted individuals and consistently producing quality content. Over time, the following naturally builds. Those gajillion-follower scams are just that, scams. (Actually, the other day I was amazed to see a regular business guy claiming to have amassed 250,000 followers in 12 months. Hm!)

  • Mark

    @Mari — I had a friend tell me he had bought a Twitter list and now had 6,000 followers. He asked me, “now what do I do?” My answer: start over.

    Thanks for stopping by and contributing today. Always a pleasure!

  • ha!! You’ve made my night with that one, Mark. I’m sitting here so chuckling my head off!!! Excellent answer. 🙂

  • I am with you on the fact that not every business needs social media. They really don’t! If their target market isn’t there or they aren’t willing to put the time in it, then it’s a waste of time. There will eventually be a time where just about everyone will use social media in some form or fashion but that time isn’t necessarily now.

    I’ve actually advised a few companies away from social media because they simply weren’t ready for it yet.

  • I totally agree with you. In fact, I’m about to embark on a speaking tour of Western Australia dispelling such myths in my Ultimate Business Plug-in Lunchtime Seminar Series.

    I firmly believe that online marketing is just part of a much BIGGER marketing strategy and let’s keep it all in perspective, hey.

  • Mark, I couldn’t agree more!

    #1 is something a lot of people just don’t get. Not only do they think that they’ll “see” their ROI within weeks (or days!), they want it to be completely measurable. Well, yes, you can measure if there is a traffic increase to your web site or if you’re selling more product, but it can be difficult to measure “reputation”!

    As for #3, yeah, although most businesses will be able to get something out of being in the social media realm, not all need to be on Facebook/Twitter/blogging, etc. (LinkedIn is a different matter – there’s a lot of untapped potential for networking & learning for the “individuals” in those businesses.)

  • Excellent post Mark. I just reread the original one on the 5 myths to remind myself what my clients need to know about social media. So many folks think that they simply MUST be involved in social media and it is often not the case.
    Thanks again for the pointed discussion and humorous approach!

  • Mark

    @Drew — sounds like a smart (and gutsy) move. We have to be mindful of using limited resources wisely.

    @Hayley — Give my warmest wishes to my friends in Perth and Fremantle. One of the loveliest and friendliest places on Earth! Best wishes with your talks!

  • Mark

    @Sherra — I think you make a key comment about LinkedIn. I am not normally prescriptive, but I think most business professionals seeking to network can absolutely get value from Twitter and LinkedIn.

    @Jackie — I read a post today where a bunch of people took the comm manager for Rolls Royce to task because he didn’t see a use for social media. Is anybody really surprised by this? I think being on Twitter or Facebook could potentially degrade a super-luxury brand.

  • “If you’re selling Depends adult diapers, you should probably spend most of your marketing dollars elsewhere.”

    With that one statement, I’d say you just summed up Social Media Myth #3: “Every business needs to be on the social web!”

    I have to write a funny blog post in reply to this, asking for suggestions for businesses that should be spending their marketing dollars anywhere but through social media. Expect a ping!

    Thanks for exposing some truths we all need to hear, Mark!

    ~Michelle for New England Multimedia

  • Mark

    @MIchelle — You got it!

  • I’m a little late to the party, but can I get an “amen?!” I think you hit the nail on the head with these.

    It’s funny, I’m not sure why there are so many attempts to define rules and edicts for the social web. How people go about it is different for each business, person or entity involved. There is no right and wrong way. And, as you pointed out, social media isn’t for everyone. Those that suggest otherwise, are not remembering the main point of marketing – cater to your audience.

    BTW – I love the unicorn graphic. It brings me back to grade school and the host of unicorn notebooks and trapper keepers!

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  • Mark

    @Laura — Funny reference to unicorn school supplies. I was more of a Batman guy myself though : )

  • Susie Sharp

    I agree about the untapped LinkedIn potential. I live in Cleveland, a town that is heavily into LinkedIn for business connections. When new people and their businesses move into town, the first thing Clevelanders want to do is connect them with the people who will support their business from top to bottom… and it is nearly impossible to do if they aren’t on LinkedIn. I can’t take the time to introduce people personally via email. The convenience factor of LinkedIn is highly underemphasized and I see only upside. I think that teaching LinkedIn to seniors in college should be a required course.


    Susie Sharp
    Social Zense Media
    Cleveland, Ohio

  • Mark

    @Susie — That’s a great story! Glad to see Clevelanders getting behind this powerful networking tool.

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  • Awesome article, I just featured it on my website. If you’re interested I would love to have you as a regular contributor.

  • Mark

    @Brian — I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I’m flattered you shared it with your readers. Thank you.

  • Mark, another winner! As a solo PR I’ve advised small business clients for years about practical ways to track ROI. Expensive media maps and clip reports, focus groups.. they’re for someone with bigger budgets. Let me spend more time doing, getting more bang for the buck.

    For #2 I’ll confess to wanting more “real” followers; I’ll keep blocking folks selling cheap Canadian drugs and porn and “get more followers” trolls.

    To #3, Even if you NEED to be on Social Media, I’ll add #4: Don’t expect ALL your customers to be on Social Media. Sure soccer mom may be a online, search a lot. but between carpools, policing the YouTube habits of her tweens, reading SVU fanfic and finding ways to save money for college funds, etc… she doesn’t have time for Facebook, or to “have a relationship” with you on your blog. Just a little dose of reality. FWIW.

  • Mark

    @Davina — I LOVE that reality check. Keep it coming, keep us honest!

  • You, Mr. Shaefer are officially on notice.
    And are asked to forthwith cease and desist!

    I quote …

    If you’re in a down and dirty business like buying and re-selling scrap metal, neither suppliers nor customers typically even have computers.

    I un-quote …

    As a card carrying member of the Global Scrap Metal Buyers & Sellers Association of America I am formally asking for an apology. You have maligned, marginalized and generalized an entire nation of down and dirty business people.

    Your attitude fosters the all-so-prevalent attitudes of so many people belittling the men and women who get down and dirty in our industry.

    We officially seek a retraction and, in point of fact, a stern memo is on its way.

    (Happy Canada Day Mark!)

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    @Mose — I appreciate you handling this so sensitively : )

    In fact, I am also a card-carrying member and worked for many years in the metals recycling business (for real). “Down and dirty” is a term of blue-collar endearment here in the U.S. So you and I are faced once again with trying to connect and communicate across the vast of differences between our two countries.

    I ask you to join arms as blogging brothers, North American ambassadors and fellow metal men to set an example for those who work to push our countries apart!

    ** Note — Mose and I are friends. This little exchange occurred within the context of good fun and fellowship.

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