Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
December 7, 200911:11 PM

Social Media Snake Oil And The Elusive ROI

Most companies and brands won't have any level of satisfaction from Social Media Marketing unless we - as the collective practitioners - can communicate and demonstrate a high level of ROI and value.

Most modern marketing agencies have to come to this realization. One of the only ways we're ever going to move the needle and get dollars to shift from the tried, tested and (apparently) true ways of mass media advertising, is to get better at creating tangible results and selling those stories through case studies, white papers and yes, even in these Social Media channels and platforms. Whether we like it or not, brands want to know what their competitors and contemporaries have done, because few are willing to be the brave souls that take the first steps towards something that is still new and somewhat unconventional.

That was the crux of three unique Blogs posts/articles that were published online in the past little while. If this sort of thing interests you, I'd recommend you read the following (in the order below):

  1. BusinessWeek - Beware Social Media Snake Oil.
  2. Logic + Emotion - Life After Social Media Snake Oil.
  3. Chris Brogan - Measuring Social Media Marketing.

Here's one of the key points from Stephen Baker's piece in BusinessWeek:

"Over the past five years, an entire industry of consultants has arisen to help companies navigate the world of social networks, blogs, and wikis. The self-proclaimed experts range from legions of wannabes, many of them refugees from the real estate bust, to industry superstars such as Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk. They produce best-selling books and dole out advice or lead workshops at companies for thousands of dollars a day. The consultants evangelize the transformative power of social media and often cast themselves as triumphant case studies of successful networking and self-branding. The problem, according to a growing chorus of critics, is that many would-be guides are leading clients astray. Consultants often use buzz as their dominant currency, and success is defined more often by numbers of Twitter followers, blog mentions, or YouTube (GOOG) hits than by traditional measures, such as return on investment. This approach could sour companies on social media and the rich opportunities it represents. 'It's a bit of a Wild West scenario,' blogs David Armano, a consultant with the Dachis Group of Austin, Tex. Without naming names, he compares some consultants to 'snake oil salesmen.'"

It's hard for brands to back Social Media "experts" and "gurus" who don't mention clients, campaigns and results. Because in the end - no matter how sound the logic or insights sound - it still comes off as hyperbole.

That feeling is only magnified when the people doing the pontificating do not have the resources to back up their claims and ideologies. Remember, there is something to be said about having a team on an as-needed basis, but understand that this is not how the bigger corporations function. They are looking to Marketers to not only provide the insights, creativity and analytics, but they're also looking for the people-power to get the job done. Saying on the phone (or in a RFP), that you can mobilize a team to create and execute the platform is a sure way to never get a deal done. Brands don't want to know that you have access to resources, they want to know that you have the resources, that they're been working together for some time, and that they have already had real results for other companies of a similar size and stature.

We're going to have to pull the curtains back and get down to the real, hard work... fast if we all truly believe in this space.

How do we make this happen? We're going to have to do what we tell our clients to do: we're going to have be transparent and demonstrate credibility.

Here are 6 ways to bust the Social Media Snake Oil Salesmen: 

  1. Demonstrate that you have done this for others (not just for yourself).
  2. Create real proposals that have timelines, budgets, deliverables, staffing needs (both yours and theirs), and package it around definable metrics and anticipated results.
  3. Have case studies and white papers ready to go. Make sure to mention the brands by name and scope of project (make sure to get their permission in writing prior to publishing).
  4. Win awards. This may sound controversial because some Marketing professionals don't feel like awards are a real indication of success, but a lot of the major award ceremonies are acknowledging Digital Marketing programs, and gaining that kind of industry recognition does resonate with bigger brands.
  5. Don't settle. All too often Social Media programs don't succeed because both brand and agency fall back on everything they used to do in the more traditional channels. That won't bear fruits.
  6. Deliver. Too many brands are being sold a bill of goods by what Armano and Baker refer to as, "snake oil salesmen." There are some very smart agencies executing on some pretty fascinating Social Media mandates for brands. Talking, consulting, and writing proposals is easy compared to getting the work done. It's time to get the work done.

Talking about Social Media is easy (somewhat). Doing it is hard (very hard).

In the end, brands are not looking for people to talk about this stuff, they're looking for a group that can actually do the work, measure the success of it and adapt to those insights. They're not looking for people who have lots of followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook, they want to know that you can build community and conversation for them, and not just for yourself. It's easy to tell a Social Media Snake Oil Salesman from the real deal: just track and see how much of their work day is spent self-promoting on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs etc... versus doing the actual work for clients. Those who can't talk about results, who they work with and who they work for are usually those who have something to hide or simply can't get the job done (I'm not talking about publicly on Blogs and Twitter, but if you're a potential prospect and they're still not willing to discuss who they with/for, that should raise some flags).

Ultimately, if you can't deliver on everything mentioned above, you're not legit... and you may have some snake oil to sell.

By Mitch Joel