Rant: Social Media Bullshit Artists Pollute the Space

It’s entirely possible that this post is filled with envy and narcissism. But I don’t think so.

This topic has been brewing in my mind for some time, and yesterday, I arrived at a point at which my thoughts crystallized and I could make sense out of what I was thinking.

My point: I hate social media bullshit artists. As a practitioner, it is getting harder to teach internal and external clients the skills to distinguish what is helpful, concrete advice and what is self-serving of shallow counsel. This frustrates me enormously because some high-profile names pollute and dominate the space with pontifications and advice that I feel is at times, self-serving and at others, a firm grasp of the obvious. This makes it SO much harder to have solid advice sink in when a client’s response might be “Well, [person here] has written four books and was the keynote at BlogWorld Expo. Why should I listen to you?”

I’ll tell you why: because I am not a bullshit artist.300

Could I have envy that so-called “A-Listers” write books, get huge speaking fees and make a bazillion dollars a year? Sure. But again, I’m content with my place in the world of social media advice but am frustrated that some big names make it harder for the rest of us who try to offer actionable advice. Recently, I was horrified to read a blog post in which an A-Lister posted his normal speaking fees, and the cost of one speech – ONE SPEECH – could easily outstrip the annual salary of a junior social media worker bee in a smaller market.

I have to offer a caveat, and it is a big one: I am writing a book so point the finger at me with many of the same criticisms that I will level here. Here’s the difference, though: I am not trying to sell more books (it’s not even out yet), but an important part of the book is to attempt to help up-and-coming social media practitioners distinguish between those who are smart and they can learn from, and those who I think are phoneys and bullshit artists.

The best advice that I can give here is a combination of my own ruminations, those of my colleagues and friends in a Facebook group (you know who you are) and specifically what my friend and author of “The Like Economy,” Brian Carter pointed out. When starting out or hiring someone to help formulate a social media strategy would be to ask them:

  • In the recent past, what accomplishments can you point to that you have achieved for others? The unspoken point here is, aside from writing books, counting your Twitter followers and crowing about your speaking engagements, what have you actually done that has helped others achieve their social media communications objectives? And how have you measured the success?
  • What types of clients have you served? Again, many offer case studies about helping Fortune 500 companies (or at least speaking at their events), but the majority of companies in this country are small or medium-sized enterprises. Is the strategic advice that you give applicable to all companies, and does the difference lay in the tactics? Most companies don’t have multi-million dollar budgets to throw at social media. When I was teaching, the fixation of texts and Harvard Business Review articles to focus on Fortune 500 companies missed a critical point: most people will NOT end up working there. They will end up at much smaller organizations and need advice on how to make it work there.
  • Finally, is there as much listening as there is pontificating? I spent nearly 15 years in the agency world, and through practice (and mistakes), I learned to listen to clients and tease out what is was that they were attempting to accomplish through the use of social media. Start with the client’s communications objectives. Some more recognized names go on about the latest, shiny tool, but one size does not fit all. Nor does one strategy or one tactic. And tenting ones fingers and saying “engagement” over and over again serves only to pollute the space in which many of us operate. It makes it harder: damn harder.

So yeah, I’m writing a book and have pimped it here. I am at best, a B-minus Lister, but in my career (or for most of it) I have tried to be a good listener, stay on top of what is new and interesting in social media and offer practical, actionable advice to clients. Not sell books. Not trying to build my “personal brand.” Not increase my Klout score. And certainly not crow about what I charge for people to come listen to me.

Am I envious? Not really.

I’m disgusted.

Mark

Image:  Shark Bait Shirts.

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Comments

  1. Exactly. And, beyond “actionable” advice … let’s include rational advice. Too many serve up social media pablum and platitudes. They are not much different than pied pipers for sheep. (I know some might say that’s too harsh — but, it really isn’t.) The whole thing irks me, too.

  2. I was told by a sort of high profile (at least locally) consultant last year that I wouldn’t make any money helping SMB/Es. While there’s some truth to that, if we’re all looking to work with F500s, then who helps the little guy? And my experience (so far) is that the little guy is really appreciative when they get help with actionable items and puts the follower/fan counts into the right perspective.

  3. Mark Story Says: February 1, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Karen,

    You make a great point. There are only so many social media companies that Pepsi or Ford can employ, so if you want to be profitable, I think it makes sense to pitch business you can actually WIN, which more often than not, will be SMEs.

    Good point. And whomever told you that is an idiot.

  4. Mark, I do see where you’re coming from with this post, but I feel you’re over-generalizing here. (Also, I believe you’re referring to Chis Brogan and his speaking fees?)

    Of course, it is up to each of us to decide who has substance and who lacks it. We each have our own filters based on our experience, knowledge and understanding of the social media space.

    Depending on an organization’s level of maturity with respect to social media as well as their business goals, they may have reasons for inviting a specific social media guest speaker or performing a project with a specific social media consultant.

    What is “a firm grasp of the obvious” for you is most likely not obvious for the majority of businesses who are lagging behind in the social media game. As a practitioner in the industry, I constantly find myself assuming that my clients understand more than they really do! Also, not every business scenario necessarily requires actionable advice.

    (Thanks to @DannyBrown for sharing this post BTW).

  5. Mark Story Says: February 1, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Hi Abbas,

    Thanks for reading as well as for your thoughtful comment. I completely agree that one person’s teacher is another’s bullshit artist.

    The overarching point that I was trying to make is that fame does not equate consulting smarts – it comes from, as you have pointed, out, understanding where you client is coming from and what she is looking for and can afford -and grasp.

    Not everyone has this experience, but were I hiring someone, I would be much more likely to bring in a consultant who has recent, tangible, measurable success, rather than someone who writes and speaks about it.

    Thanks again for reading and for your comment.

    Mark

  6. Mark,
    The fact that there are people out there who attained their social media “credentials” by being unemployed and having 8-12 hours/day to spend on budding social media platforms is more a reflection on how many sheep there are out there than on the shepherds themselves.
    If you make your living capitalizing on the ignorance of most people (even company executives), I really have no problem with that; good for you. If you can command large speaking fees for simply repeating concepts that Dale Carnegie, Tom Peters, & Tony Robbins have already beaten to death – more power to you.
    It’s not the player, it’s the game that’s at fault. And players have been taking advantage of the game since the dawn of time. It sucks. But the people that are good at what they do AND produce real results for their clients will remain in the game long after the pretenders have been made out.
    Just my two cents…

  7. Mark Story Says: February 1, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Good point, Dan.

    Snake oil salesmen have been around since the days of PT Barnum.

    Mark

  8. It happens in all things. Every industry. In every human endeavor.

    But results speak for themselves if you get the right people to listen. And louder and more clearly than any motivational speak. Again, in the right ear.

    If you can make it rain, kick back, sip your favorite beverage, and enjoy the show: the monkeys throwing their crap at each other.

    So what that sexy always gets the lion share of attention. It usually doesn’t partner well nor lead to meaningful commitments. Leave the clients who like to sit on the fence with a poignant metaphor and a business card.

    Shitcreek Consulting, a Microsoft solution provider and problem solver, has a poignant business card:

    “After the big boys f— it up completely, feel free to give us a call.”

    Can you imagine the smile on their face and satisfaction in their heart, everytime they had out their business card?

    Cheers! And better days! And the last laugh!

  9. Bravo on the post!

    I am in 100% agreement with you. Sometimes the BS artists make it hard for my clients to get off the ground, never-mind do their events any good. I work in meetings and events and the social game is new to many event marketers. When they first start out they dive in head first listening to the person that speaks the loudest or the person who comes up number one in Google (which is a great feat I will admit).

    My clients often come to me with smashed dreams because they tried to do everything that they were told (paying huge sums of money for the advice), they spend a fortune on gadgets and platforms they don’t need and they forget why they are there in the first place.

    What they fail to realize is that they should have just started with a conversation which is what social is all about. Learn to talk, then the rest will come easy.

    Good luck with the book!

    • Mark Story Says: February 1, 2012 at 3:40 pm

      Thanks for reading, Keith.

      And without the BS artists, your clients wouldn’t have to come to you, right?

      Mark

  10. Mark,

    Thanks for the response.

    Yes I agree, that some people can create the illusion they know what they are talking about without legitimate experience to back it up. They don’t have to be experts to pull this off, they just have to know more than the client, which is not hard in the industry!

    I think we can sum it up as: “hire the right person for the right job” based on a mix of their qualifications, past experience and knowledge.

    Abbas

  11. Lewis Poretz Says: February 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Yeah – What Dan said!

  12. […] Rant: Social Media Bullshit Artists Pollute the Space, https://www.intersectionofonlineandoffline.com […]

  13. How refreshingly honest. I suspect many of the people who write these books, only write books. They don’t actually go out and “do it”. I’ve written a book on social media, too, Mark. And it’s free. It’s simply a collection of 12 lectures I gave to third-year university students about “doing” social media. People can contact me through my web site if they want a copy. As yet, I haven’t placed it as a link.

  14. We all feel like this … so I don’t think it’s full of envy. The big difference is among those who actually DO the work and show real results. If I read one more blog post about how the ROI of social is engagement and sentiment, I might actually go on a shooting spree. Those people have never had P&L responsibility and are trying to make themselves feel better because they only know how to get likes and follows and +1s.

    I’m also going to let you in on a little secret. Unless you are Bill Clinton and can command six figures for a speaking engagement, speaking and writing a book are not lucrative. Those who say they get $20,000+ for one speaking engagement and do many every month are full of it. No one wants to pay $20K+ for a social media speaker. They want to pay that much for someone who will add BUSINESS value.

    I can think of only a handful of people who really do make a living speaking and writing: Seth Godin, David Meerman Scott, and that’s about it.

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