Beware Social Media Snake Oil


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A bit has been written in the past about the number of clowns flooding into the social media space basically conning companies into spending money to build a social media profile. This article last year from BusinessWeek and a follow on post from Olivier Blanchard touch on some of these issues.

Here in Australia I’ve seen these types of people and organisations popping up around the web – in many cases offering low cost programs that involve nothing more than setting up a Twitter account and Facebook page. And unfortunately it’s not just limited to social media – I see the same happening in the digital marketing and online reputation management space.

I saw evidence of this first hand last week with a new client. They had engaged a Sydney company to build a ‘social brand’ for them. The end result was beyond ordinary – it was wrong on so many fronts. The biggest issue however wasn’t the shoddy work. They had made 3 or 4 grave mistakes that someone in their position, with their experience shouldn’t be making.

Mistake #1 – Strategy

There wasn’t any.

The vendor has sold the client a solution that is totally lacking in any form of strategy – and this from a company where the executives claim to be ex-IBM. This company also proudly states they are a leader in digital marketing and social media.

The problem with this is that the vendor has committed their client to a whole raft of services with nothing in place to guide or measure this effort. They’ve basically set them up to fail.

Mistake #2 – Brand Disintegration

This vendor talks long and hard about building a social brand, yet all the work they’ve done fails to incorporate the clients brand name in any of the services they’ve set up. I honestly don’t get this.

Here’s a client that is pure B2B, only Australia, and looking to establish themselves as an alternative to a group of competitors who are mega-sized and mega-hated in the business community. I look down the list of 23 services that they were signed up for and NOT once has their core brand been used.

Mistake #3 – Focus and Alignment

Nothing had been done to understand the clients business – this has led to the client being signed up to dozens of services – some of them quite bizarre. Why register them on MySpace or a community site for expat Indian’s? Again, this is a waste of client time and money.

The situation is made worse by the fact none of this is aligned to their overall business strategy, let alone their marketing strategy.


Firstly, I don’t know that this problem is going to disappear overnight. One of the reasons I think this is that many of Australia’s core business hubs (i.e. our major capital cities) have highly concentrated mainstream media. This same media has a fixation with the bird and the book – making it easier for clowns like this company to sell the snake oil.

For businesses who are thinking about social media? The lesson is to put the hype aside and focus on determining where you’ll achieve business value. Don’t be afraid to ask old-school business questions around relevance, sustainability, TCEP (Total Cost of Effective Participation), and strategy examples. If someone’s selling you the dream, ask them to bring you examples of relevant peer companies.

For those of us who work in this space – we need to spend time debunking the hype and getting back to business basics. At the end of the day, we’ve got to demonstrate how social media will help a company make money, save money, or manage risk.

Reprinted with permission from my original post

Mark Parker
Mark Parker is the founder of Smart Selling, and the specialist business unit – Smart Social Media. The core aim of both businesses is to help companies become better sales organisations by utilising the ideas, tools, and practices of Sales 2. and social media.


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