Ditch the blood-sucking social media gurus?

This article was first published on January 7, 2011 at The Online Marketing Mix.

I tweeted about an article by Milo Yiannopoulos I read in late 2010 about ‘blood-sucking social media gurus’. I commented that I found it unfair generally, but the issue deserves a balanced analysis, especially at this particular blog.

Lets take a look at the context of the article. It is published on the website of The Telegraph, and you’ll note that The Telegraph provide useful buttons on the article to allow readers to share it on Twitter, Facebook, and numerous other social media websites.

Pay a visit to the website of Yiannopoulos and you will see that he also favours social media interaction. He is a prolific user of Twitter, and also has Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.

So the issue that Yiannopoulos has is certainly not with social media itself. He uses it, and his employer uses it. The problem is apparently the idea that somebody else could deign to help others benefit from social media.

Amongst the generalised criticisms which apparently apply to all social media Yiannopoulos says:

Many of these charlatans are selling little more than common sense

To some extent, I totally agree with this analysis. However, what is common sense to some, is not to others. In the past I’ve compared building websites to building a car. It is common sense that a car has a chassis, wheels and an engine. That doesn’t mean I actually want to set about building one. I prefer to pay other people to build a car for me because they will do it faster and I’ll end up with a much cheaper, better and safer result than if I started learning how to design a car from scratch.

I have a friend who refuses to use Twitter. Point blank. He understands it, but despises the very idea of it. He is no Luddite, though. He loves using Facebook and has his own blog which he updates using an app on his iPhone.

Now, imagine that my friend were a business. A business that refused to use Twitter on the basis that the Managing Director did not like, or perhaps understand it. That business would be ignoring a powerful promotional tool. And we don’t have to go too far back to find naysayers of that sort who believed that the Internet itself was all hype and would never deliver more than, say, the local mall.

In 1995, Clifford Stoll wrote:

We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

Following this 1995 train of thought to it’s logical conclusion would have meant accepting the status quo of shopping at the local mall and not investing in the Internet. History shows this would be – and has been for many – folly.

On the face of it, Yiannopoulos, like Stoll 15 years before him, is worried that the advocates of social media are selling so much snake oil. But then, his view appears not to be consistent throughout his writings. In a different article about Stephen Fry he says:

Surely someone of Fry’s stature needs to learn to be a bit more careful what they say in public. I understand that in the age of Twitter people expect direct access to their heroes, but, in some cases, it’s perhaps best that celebrities do hide behind the veil of PR and image consultants. And if Fry doesn’t trust himself not to fly off the handle, perhaps he should employ someone to tweet for him, like other celebrities do.

Which is interesting, because this is what many social media consultants – amongst other skill sets – are actually selling. It is rare to find a person who is exclusively selling social media skills. Social media experts might also know about web design, or copywriting, or coding, or SEO, or general marketing ‘common sense’.

And social media is but one part of the marketing mix. Even Yiannopoulos, as his LinkedIn profile tells us, is a Director at WRONG, a ’boutique marketing, communications and public relations agency’.

Does Yiannopoulos not manage his client’s social media as part of his public relations expertise? How do we differentiate him from the ‘blood-sucking social media gurus’?

Social media – like the Internet itself – is here to stay. As with the Internet, social media tools will become easier and more natural to use over time, and indeed it will become common knowledge and practice to integrate social media into marketing, but for now, businesses still need a hand getting to grips with it all.

Do blood-sucking social media gurus exist? Of course they do. But the social-media types who can show a good track record using a variety of tools over a long period of time will surely stand out from the rest.

As in any industry, the ‘leeches’ are in the minority, but as time goes on, they will be easier to spot. Which is, I suppose, something that Yiannopoulos and I agree on.

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