Disclaimer: I’ve just received a book about social media marketing that I’ve been asked to review, and it’s sent me through a tizzy of emotions in response to what I think is wrong with social media today. You have been warned that I’ve got a couple of posts that I’ve been itching to write coming up, and many of them are going to do with social media. The Maykazine will continue to be its happy little unthemed self, but for a few updates in the near future, I’m going to get medieval on some grievances I have with my trade.
If you’re faint of heart when it comes to blanket statement criticism, read on but keep in mind that sure there are plenty of social media “consultants” who are not assholes swindling companies for their money. For the sake of more interesting reading, though, I’m just gonna go ahead and not sugarcoat my distaste for social media douchebags.
If you follow me on Twitter, then you hopefully saw, if not also clicked on, this godsend of a retweet:
It seems “social media gurus” have made their ways into the UK, which sucks for the UK, because what the fuck is a social media guru anyway? It’s the most unqualified title in the world of business, that’s what. I’ll let The Telegraph’s Milo Yiannopoulos have at it a bit. From “Time to ditch the blood-sucking social media gurus:”
On the outskirts of a regional city in Britain – Bristol, perhaps – two hundred people gather to discuss “radical engagement strategies”. They are oddballs: a mixture of chippy girls with unruly fringes and sweaty, overweight blokes with bits of burger stuck in their beards. They fire cheap jibes at the Microsoft event they’re sharing a building with, and from which they’ve nicked a few chairs – a fact they crow about on Twitter as if it were some sort of victory over the “evil” corporation.
These are the social media gurus, a rag-tag crew of blood-sucking hucksters who are infesting companies of all sizes, on both sides of the Atlantic, blagging their way into consultancy roles and siphoning off valuable recession-era marketing spend to feed their comic book addictions. They claim to be able to improve your relationships with your customers by “executing 360 degree reignition programs”. But who are these people? Where did they come from? And how on earth have they managed to hoodwink so many big companies so quickly and so comprehensively?
…Marketing directors tempted by social media consultants would be well advised to visit one of their extraordinary conferences and watch them as they waffle, endlessly and without any intelligible purpose, about “transformation and inspiration”, almost visibly rubbing their hands with glee. The red thread running through these events is, “I can’t believe we’re still getting away with this.”
In 2007, there were no social media consultants in London. Just a few short years later there are thousands of the blood-suckers clamouring for attention and lucrative contracts. It is offensive to anyone creating value in their company that social media consultants dare use the word “innovation” to describe what they do for a living. How do these people sleep at night?
I started my Twitter account in 2006, when the company was riding the wave of all its SXSW hype. (And that was just the first of many waves.) For about two years I was tweeting to myself, and I largely didn’t care if I had an audience. Then people with full name user names started following me. Not recognizing their first names in connection with their last names, I’d click on their profiles to learn more about them, come across a background image full of more social networking links and methods of contact than I’d ever care for, and quickly close the window. (I’d close it stupid fast if they had a Bebo chiclet.)As older generations of marketers finally realized that such low threshold communication tools could be so powerful, in came an onslaught of what I call “social media douchebags.” They call themselves “specialists,” “experts,” “consultants,” or my favorite, “gurus,” but if you look at their most public and accessible work (their Tweets), you’ll notice that all they do is talk theory. Theory is all well and good for research and academia, but what kind of game are you spitting when you drive a hoopty?
There was a time when I thought I should become a social media consultant, but that was also a time where I voluntarily paid for and ate two 50¢ Ikea hot dogs. I was desperate for meaningful work, and in evaluating my skill sets, I interpreted my experience in social gaming Web marketing as valuable in social media marketing. I thought it would qualify me as a social media consultant. WRONG! Social media consulting implies that the consultant has no actual real-world experience marketing a product or company. Social media consultants like to talk about Twitter and Facebook all day long and occasionally show their fun and quirky side by sharing cat videos. On Twitter and Facebook.
Now obviously I love my cat videos, but I also find über meta babble entirely useless – And this is coming from a Communication major. I’ve witnessed the ridiculously easily self-propelled self promotion that comes from merely mentioning Twitter or Facebook through a social media channel. In posts where I’ve written about my own social media stories, bots and social media gurus with Google Alerts set to “Twitter” have tweeted, retweeted, and pinged back to my blog. Never mind that my language throughout my blog tends to be anti-marketing/PR/”social media wizard.” These are one-time visitors who are unfamiliar with the larger context of my critical takes on social media marketing. All they care about is that one kernel of Twitter anecdote. I don’t complain about the extra hits, but it clearly illustrates the character of their industry for me: That it is vapid and superficial, a link exchange without any checkpoints for credibility.
It’s a strange popularity contest for King and Queen o’ Snake Oil. How many tweets can we retweet about how cool Twitter is until the gig is up? What’s the value of a hit count when all we do is blog about blogging? Where are the active examples of social media gurus’ theory and Top Five lists in practice and application? The vacuum-enclosed swirl of patting each other on the back is incestuous. It breeds meaningless praise given by other social media con artist practitioners who basically quote and rephrase the same basic concept that was discovered four years ago (and probably capitalized upon by someone else).
There are approximately a gazillion bajillion social media/networking awards and honors programs that give out trophies in the form of vague and repetitious titles. I remember when Life was that rewarding, giving out ribbons just for showing up on time. It’s called grade school.
Having a blog means you have an e-mail address and basic Internet access. It does not mean your ideas are new, well-founded, applicable to actual business, or worth pitching for an income.
I’m on Team Yiannopoulos. Social media gurus need to stop being validated.
Social Media: A place not for douchebags and interns.
It should be obvious that I am not at a philosophical war with social media as a whole. I think it’s entirely requisite of any lifestyle company, not just for marketing but also for customer recruitment and retention. That said, when it comes to building a social media role into a company, I completely disagree with Yiannopoulos’ dismissive prescription that social media duties be doled out to interns:
Why am I banging on about this? Because the poisonous cult of the social media guru – or, get this, “swami” – is disastrous for pretty much every kind of business: it’s wasteful for large companies and potentially fatal for start-ups. Social media consulting amounts to little more than mastering the art of the bleeding obvious and no company, no matter what its size, should even consider hiring external social media consultants. Internally, the most you need is a couple of interns with laptops.
Umm, you know what you get when you let your interns publicly interact with current and potential customers? A whole lot of no guarantees. Every social media property your company registers immediately becomes a public forum that the educated, oblivious, and dim-witted alike can point to whenever something goes wrong or seems inconsistent.
In college my friend IMed me that Sony.com had mislabeled the price of a flat screen TV. What should have been $700 was listed as $70, so I ordered two. Months later I received a letter from Sony basically saying that there was a gaffe in their system and they regretfully informed me they could not fulfill my order. (They didn’t charge me, so I didn’t care.) If someone didn’t get fired, I’m sure they got a slap on the wrist.
I’m not saying all interns are sloppy. I’m saying that if that Sony typo had happened today in the endless plateaus of Facebook and Twitter’s wild fire, a savvy Marketing or PR rep would have a Hell of a lot of damage control to do in handling a lot of equally pissed off and excited buyers. Cheap labor comes at its own price, and with the usual intern turnover you end up wasting your time and resources filling a role and dealing with transition cycles every few months. Believe what you want, but it actually does take a good deal of skill and insight to communicate effectively in 140 characters when the news is bad.
Marketing teams today are incomplete without carving out a social media role. Social media, in practice and not just at a heady managerial level, consists of community management and interaction. This person must have a solid understanding of company values and must be able to interpret that into layman’s terms. They must be able to embody the company through equally temporary and impressionable combinations of pictures and words. All the time. The integrity of representation in itty bitty blips and bytes is no small feat.
So by all means, hire someone to run your company’s social media. But hire them provided that they fit your company culture and actually become a regular part of the group. The best investment in social media is a permanent fixture at your company. When you go down the social media guru route, you’re basically giving a green light to embezzling your own marketing budget.
Consider the vampire. Would you really want an outsider telling you how you should represent your own company? Sure, outside perspectives have been proven to be invaluable, but in the words of Yiannopoulos:
[Social media consultants aren’t helpful] unless your marketing team is so hopelessly incapable of communicating that they need intermediaries in order to say “Hello” – in which case your problems run a little deeper than hiring the wrong contractors.
Thanks, WordPress, for enabling Blackbird Pie functionality!