Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Social Media Snake Oil

Social media is a bit like the Wild West in many ways. One of the less-than-desirable ways is that it has its share of snake oil salesmen (there are a few women, but most of the unscrupulous characters are men).

Get-rich-quick offers and wild claims of expertise abound. So if you’re new to social media, or just looking at new opportunities in this fast-moving environment, how can you tell who’s selling snake oil and who has real expertise? Can you tell, just by looking at someone’s social media messages, status updates or tweets that they’re probably pitching snake oil? Maybe. Here are a few signs that may mean snake oil is the lubricant your “expert” prefers:

1. Makes claims that clearly over-promise: For example, a recent tweet on Twitter (of the type you’ll see hourly): “Wow! Whatever online business your (sic) in: Learn how to get positioned to at least semi-retire in 8-12 months."

2. Capitalized words in their messages: In Instant Messaging (IM) and email capitalized words represent shouting. The same is true in social media messages. And if they’re “shouting” it’s likely they’re selling to anyone who will listen. For example, from a Facebook status update: “WOW! This Is Addictive!! My Sites Are On PAGE ONE Of Google In 20 Minutes For FREE!!

3. Claims that seem too good to be true: This is where that old saying about instincts comes into play: “Your instinct is your accumulated life experiences trying to tell you something.” Would you click through using the link in this LinkedIn update? “This SHOCKING Underground Method That Generated $25956 In 1 Day After Just Seven Days Using The Secrets - http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.”

4. Constant talk of “selling,” “pushing” or “marketing”: Think about the way most people use social media – to be social. Now contrast that to this sales pitch on Twitter: “It has never been easier to get customers into your sales funnel. Check out my website for THE ANSWERS: http://www.xxxxxx”

5. They talk about social media as the new best way to make money: They’ll often reference a well-known platform and make a statement that links it to increased profitability (without a clear explanation of how the two things are related). This is from a site offering social media training for sales people: “Facebook offers you the opportunity to build and develop a following and have your followers engage in conversations to increase sales.”

6. Anyone who says social media is easy: Once you check out some of the websites of these trainers and service providers you are likely to find reassurances that all this social media stuff really doesn't take a lot of actual time and commitment. For example, from the website of someone offering social media as a “sales solution”: “We will share some ‘secrets’ to make your social media updates easy. (15 minutes a week)”

7. Anyone who says Social Media is mandatory: Yes, two-thirds of the world’s Internet users visit a social media site weekly (according to the 2009 – the most-recent – Nielsen report
Global Faces-Networked Places report), but that number is still dwarfed by the numbers of people using traditional media, texting on their cell phones or seeing messages on billboards, buses and trains. Should social media be a part of your marketing mix? Most likely, yes. But put all your eggs in the social media basket? Probably not.

8. Only providing well-known (and tired) national examples of social media success and not being able to show examples of their own success: Anyone can talk about the successes of online shoe retailer Zappos or Dell or JetBlue. But it’s unlikely you represent a comparably sized company. What has the individual achieved on their own?

9. Someone who won’t share references: You’d check references with any other service provider, so why not in social media? If they do good work and have happy clients they should be happy to refer you to this clients for a reference. Be sure to check the legitimacy of the references too: Are they people or companies you know or have heard of?

10. Someone who talks a lot/plans a lot without asking a lot of questions: For social media to work it has to fit into your overall goals and that likely won’t happen if you hire someone who doesn’t ask a lot of questions about your goals and other plans. Be wary if they simply want to ”teach” you some social media tricks before quickly saddling up and riding away before any results, good or otherwise, show up.

11. Someone whose own social media presences are underwhelming: If the supposed expert has relatively few friends on Facebook and does not interact there very much, that’s a warning sign. Another: The person who promises to teach you the ”Insider Secrets of Twitter Power!”—but who has barely been on Twitter except for the two weeks leading up to his training session.

12. Someone whose social media presences seem to be on autopilot. This can be a little harder to detect, but easier to check up on. Send the “expert” a message via a social media platform they’re on and see how long it takes for them to respond.

So now you have a few ways to detect snake-oil. What other signs tip you off to someone selling social media snake oil?

My next post will offer more comprehensive tips and tools to assess your “social media expert” before you spend a lot of money with them.

Possibly related posts
Social Media Expertise is Hard to Find
Twitter ‘Twit’ or Twitter ‘Expert’?

- With special thanks to Mark Frisk for his help on this topic.

1 comment:

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