A Rant About Some Social Media Advocates

A Rant About Some Social Media Advocates by Lewis Green, Founder & Managing Principal – L&G Business Solutions

I am frustrated by some social media (SM) advocates (evangelists), who have little to no experience within corporations or business generally, telling businesses what social media is, how it should be used and, most of all, trying to convince smart, experienced marketers, communication’s specialists and C-level executives that social media is an elixir for what ails them.

Social media is neither revolutionary or different in terms of marketing and communications strategic thinking in regards to creating community around customer experiences. It is evolutionary in terms of the tools we use to achieve that purpose. Businesses have always discussed ways to form community. Starbucks and Harley-Davidson are great examples of this. Cause Marketing is a primary example of one of the ways businesses form such communities, and Inbound Marketing is a tactical way businesses do it today. Within business, Internal Communications’ core purpose is to form an employee community and Yammer is a tactic being used today to do so.

By talking about social media as if it is revolutionary and special in some way, we place barriers in front of it that prevent some businesses and frustrates some executives who might want to use it within their tactical mix but learned long ago not to use unproven tactics in real-life business situations. If we see it as revolutionary, it’s not a calculated business risk but a dangerous one.

Let’s look at just two reasons why social media is neither revolutionary in terms of changing business strategic thinking or special in delivering results. First, there is no such thing as a tactical elixir. As one who held manager and executive positions within five corporations, I can tell you each business behaves differently in a variety of important ways and have different challenges, problems and solution needs that require a variety of tactics.

Second, social media tools are fluid and evolving like all new tools before social media; they don’t need special handling or expertise that isn’t available within large corporations or within marketing and communications consulting firms. Some may need to learn the language and the how to launch; they don’t need for us to tell them the why. Although there can be a number of reasons why business people may use a tactic, they know that their primary responsibility and what they will be most accountable for is producing results. That’s the primary why.

Therefore, if you sell and advocate for social media tools, you need to explain how you believe social media will achieve results for your client. Like all tactics, social media ones should be applied carefully and thoughtfully. Don’t be naive about tactics. They offer a potentially valuable product but the salesman must explain how to maximize the product’s potential. To that end, I find advocates who aren’t helping businesses better understand how their tool(s) provide solutions within that business’s process for achieving results irresponsible and dangerous. It’s like selling a vacuum cleaner to someone with dirt floors.

Keep in mind: Executives and managers know their business, their needs and their objective better than we consultants, no matter our field. Our job is to learn their needs and objective and to recommend measurable goals, strategies and tactics. It is not to assume we know more than they how to integrate our to launch tactics. Advice yes. Attitude and arrogance, no. Good social media consultants understand this and begin helping a business by first understanding the business structure, its needs, where it is going, and how it plans to get there. They don’t begin by claiming a business needs social media or any other tactic for that matter.

Recently, Amber Naslund wrote Why Absolutes Fail. In it she cautions against applying thinking around words such as “Never. Always. Can’t. Won’t.” I saw the post as a way to warn SM evangelists that they need to stop telling businesses that they don’t get social media and are using it improperly.

“Uttering absolutes when it comes to what’s working or what’s possible with this new hybrid discipline implies that there are no reasonable alternatives, that perspective is irrelevant, and that the person uttering said absolute has the universal insight to speak from every standpoint.”

I’m taking Amber’s thoughts to the next level. If you have never worked for a corporation or a successful business run by executives and directors, and have never served as an executive or even a manager, and have never been held accountable for a strategic plan, a budget and goals, don’t presume to know more about how to integrate a tool, including social media tools, in a business. Every situation is different and not every business needs social media to continue its growth

Consulting is more than understanding how tools work. It first and foremost is about helping a business grow. Consulting is about results. It is about understanding business, from best practices to innovation, from costs to revenues, and from goals to tactics. That said, consultants need business experience to deliver the goods.

Here’s my advice: If you have never held a position of leadership within the kinds of businesses you are advising, do yourself and your future clients justice: Get hands-on experience within the business world before you tell them how to improve their businesses. And if you are a leader in a business, vet consultants very carefully. If they don’t have business experience, don’t hire them. (Some very good consultants, especially in fields such as public relations, get this business experience on the agency side.)

Finally, because I can see the steam pouring from your nostrils, let me assure you that I have the greatest respect for tacticians and tactical sales generally. Many who sell tools such as social media bring great business expertise. Only those who sell tools to businesses without an understanding of business, business planning, leadership responsibility and accountability, and a business’s core purpose and objective represent the evangelists and consultants who worry and frustrate me. They see a tool as a solution, when in fact the solution is a strategy or set of strategies to achieve a goal or several goals to meet a business’s objective.

Tactics combine to deliver results and we consultants should understand how to deliver results based on a business’s objective, if we are to be of service to a business. Remember, when a business hires us, we are responsible for the results of our advice. That advice can result in growth or it can result in people losing their livelihoods. We must proceed responsibly, thoughtfully, smartly, knowledgeably and cautiously. And, yes, that sentence proffers an absolute, because in business there are established behaviors around responsibility and accountability that are absolutes. Absolutes might be dangerous on the tactical side; however, they are necessary when it comes to holding leaders responsible and accountable.

Lewis Green, Founder & Managing Principal
L&G Business Solutions
Marketing, PR, Social Media, Communications
Author: How to Grow a Business by Putting People First
T. 860.673.7543 F.860.673.7055
Cell: 860.805.9392
E-mail: lewis.green@l-gsolutions.com
Web: www.l-gsolutions.com
Blog: http://lgbusinesssolutions.typepad.com/solutions_to_grow_your_bu/

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  1. Good find, Scott. I couldn’t agree with the author more.

    Social networking, as so many marketing trends, has been met with a rush of attempts to standardize it and make it into a proprietary methodology or off-the-shelf solution that can be packaged and sold.

    But marketing with social media at its heart is still another form of viral marketing. It’s a different infrastructure (and vastly improved infrastructure), but you still need to get people to 1) desire what you’re trying to spread and 2) want to evangelize what you’re trying to spread.

    The three successful ways I’ve seen of doing this are:

    1. Make something so compelling it spreads organically. This is the grand slam but also the most difficult. Think “Elf Yourself”, “Subservient Chicken”, etc.
    2. Buy it. AOL and others are taking this tact. Force the spread through a heavy support of standard banner advertising, including ad serving the widget itself.
    3. Incentivize it. Give free coupons, chances to win a prize, etc. by spreading the widget or other media you want spread.

    And of course, successful combinations of the above can multiple results.

    All of which needs to be thought out within the overall strategy.

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