The Promise of Social Media and the Myth of Tantalus


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In Greek mythology, Tantalus was cursed by the gods with an unquenchable thirst. He was chained to a rock in the middle of a river; and each time he bent down to drink, the river would recede.

This is where the word “tantalize” comes from.

And this, in far too many cases, is the reality behind the promises made for social media marketing.

The pundits, the consultants, the “experts” all tell us how we cannot succeed in marketing today without a social media “strategy.” Large, and increasing, numbers of followers are vital to our success. We must “engage” these followers to turn them into leads. Indeed, if we carefully follow their advice, the “experts” promise us that the social media platforms will be a potent lead generation engine. They are the key to modern marketing success.

So let’s just step back for a second and think about these premises and promises.

– How many companies do you know that have actually generated a noticeable number of leads (not to mention closed sales) from social media?

– Social media take time. You can’t just put up a Facebook page, open a Twitter account, create a LinkedIn profile, etc. and sit back and wait for the business to pour in. How much time and energy and resources do you or your company invest? What’s your ROI? How do you calculate it?

– A conversation is not a sale. How many of the people you’ve “engaged” have turned into customers?

No, I am not saying that social media are useless for marketing. No, I am not saying that the time we spend on these platforms is wasted.

Yes, I am saying that the promises for social media marketing are being over-sold.

These platforms are extremely useful for branding, for product awareness, for concept testing, for customer feedback, and for informal competitive analysis.

But their critical use – one which I have never seen in the literature or discussions – is to drive traffic to your web site.

That is your lead generation tool. That is where you establish company credibility. That is where you have the time and (appropriate) space to explain the benefits of your products and services. That is where you can offer demos and customer comments. That is where you need to “engage” a prospect’s interest in a way that actually results in action. (In fact, I am continually astonished at the number of people who seem to think that social media activity and blogs replace the need for a Web site.)

So be active on social media, by all means. Accrue followers. Engage in discussions. But understand the underlying purpose of this activity.

The promise of social media is, indeed, tantalizing.

But if you buy the hype and ignore the reality, you risk an unquenchable thirst for customers amidst an ever-receding river of prospects.

Emily R. Coleman
Dr. Emily R. Coleman is President of Competitive Advantage Marketing, Inc., a firm that specializes in helping companies expand their reach and revenues through strategy and implementation. Dr. Coleman has more than 30 years of hands-on executive management experience working with companies, from Fortune 500 firms to entrepreneurial enterprises. Dr. Coleman's expertise extends from the integration of corporate-wide marketing operations and communications to the development and implementation of strategy into product development and branding.


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