By Jason Menard
Why is it that so many so-called social media experts promote their craft with all the subtlety of a carnival barker? It’s true, the squeaky wheel gets the grease – but in the case of social networking, that grease is often little more than snake oil.
I’ve been heavily involved with social networking as part of my job for a few years now. I love it, I think I’m good at it, and I strongly believe in its potential for both business and personal applications.
I’ve also had the pleasure – both in the real and sarcastic sense of the word – to meet with, read, and follow a number of people who make their living counselling businesses on social media practices. And while there are a few that I would have no trouble endorsing, there are many more out there from whom my only counsel to business would be to flee!
Unfortunately, those social media snake oil salesmen (and women, of course) tend to be the loudest, most self-promotional, people out there. They have their cute little avatars and manufactured idiosyncrasies; they offer bland, generic advice in the guise of insight, and they treat social networking as a game to be won or lost – and position it that way to companies. Social media is “all fun, all the time!” Don’t focus on the message – it’s the delivery that matters!
Is it any wonder, then, why some traditional businesses have a hard time believing in social networking – and why they quickly become discouraged?
You can probably feel my distaste for these so-called experts through the screen. My greatest problem with them is that they’re forgetting the very foundation of social networking – honesty.
From using services to auto-generate “likes” or “followers” to encouraging companies to be something they’re not, they’re selling quick-fixes and get-rich-quick-esque schemes to companies looking for results. Yes, the superficial numbers may look great for a short period of time, but what results are these companies actually getting long-term? If you’re only going to focus on the superficial, how can you expect your customer’s attachment to be anything more than that? And, what’s worse, by engaging in on-line activities that really don’t feel honest, you run the risk of devaluing your brand.
There’s no magic recipe that guarantees social media success. And there’s certainly no quick-fix that’s going to be of any value to you. Likes and followers mean little if they’re not real. If you’re only interested in building up superficial numbers, then don’t expect those artificially inflated numbers to bring in real revenue.
It’s a slow, laborious process that’s built brick by brick. You want to develop that solid foundation – one based on trust, relevance, and quality. It can also be tremendously enjoyable — especially if you’re working from the heart. For business, social networking is about proving yourself to your customers – giving them valuable content and setting yourself up as a trusted, entertaining source. But it has to be done in a way that makes sense for your business.
It’s not flash and dash; it’s actually caring, engaging with your followers; and listening. It’s not being what your customers want, or what the latest study shows is “in” when it comes to business communications; it’s about being yourself. Social networking has to be something you want to do. That’s why many of the best feeds I’ve seen are those of small businesses. There’s a passion and caring for the business that comes through. They’re not focusing on buzz words, demographics, and strategies – they’re focusing on humans and human passions. And it works.
Today’s consumers can smell a fake coming a mile away. They’ll know when your tweets and posts are false. Sarcasm may have trouble translating through a computer screen, but honesty does not. And if you’re being anything less than honest with your clientele, you’re going to do more damage to your brand.
Snake oil salesmen were popular back in the Old West. They offered promise of a quick fix and miracles in a bottle – and they often delivered little in return. That mentality continues to this day – TV infomercials and print ads are filled with lose-weight-quick pills, devices, and schemes. The commercials are overwhelming in their hype and flash; and, in the end, they deliver the same results as snake oil salesmen. So what works? Slow and steady diet and nutrition – traditional fixes that require patience and effort.
We’re very much in the Old West stage of social networking now, and the on-line snake oil salesmen are back in full force. So are you going to be lured by those with barker-like antics, or will you take time, find the people who not just promise, but actually offer value. They’re the ones on-line, offering really solid advice and commentary, but without the fluff. Their content stands on its own and doesn’t need to be propped up by performance art. When the words you say matter, you don’t need to drown them out with volume.
When considering getting assistance for your business’ social media efforts, think about the magician’s biggest tool – misdirection. They trick you by drawing your eyes away from the real trick by using flashy displays, pyro, and noise. The social media snake oil salesmen do the same thing.
When you’re looking at your proposed social media expert, don’t allow yourself to fall for the misdirection. The louder the roar, the greater the bluster, the bigger the bombast – all should lead you to question, “What are they hiding?” and “What do they not want me to see?”
Finding the right answer to those questions may save your business’ reputation.