Are Social Media Consultants Harming Social Media? | January 31, 2009
The logic goes like this. The traditional marketing funnel is broken. You can’t just throw a bunch of money at an advertising campaign and have that turn into customers. At least not to the levels you could when there were just three channels or four channels of communication. The web and social media has changed all that. So rather than waiting for customers to come to you, you have to go to them and engage with them in the same way they engage with each other. So that means blogs, that means Twitter streams and than means Facebook applications. Basically that means moving your marketing messages into the social media space . Most companies have little idea how the web works, let alone how people use it, so in order to reach this new generation of consumer, they hire the services of a Social Media Consultant.
Social Media Consultants are an interesting breed. They are usually individuals who have earned a modicum of success through their blogs or other social media activities and started wondering if they could make a living trying to replicate this successes for their clients. In fact there was a time when I briefly flirted with this idea myself. As such, social media consultants tend to be guns-for-hire, although there are a few agencies getting in on the act.
In the beginning these consultants would advise you to set up a company blog as that was a great way to engage with your customers. Sadly most company blogs are as dull as dish water and rarely generate enough traffic or good will to last for long. So consultants have started exploiting other fields, suggesting their clients create Facebook widgets, Youtube videos or presences in Secondlife. The problem with this is the same with all viral campaigns. For every one that takes off, there will be hundreds or thousands that don’t. I mean, how many corporate widgets have you installed on your Facebook account? Not many I guess?
I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I do wonder what value a lot of social media consultants bring to their clients, and how long that value will last. Is social media marketing the next big thing or merely a blip in the growth of the Internet? While there may be a need for specialist consultants now, I wonder if that will be the case in five years time when clients have got a bit more savvy?
The problem I have with social media consultants however is less about the value they bring to their clients and more to do with the affect it’s having on the web. Call me old fashioned, but I used to like it when the top 20 blogs were primarily from individuals with little or no agenda. Now the majority of highly trafficked blogs are commercial operations in their own right. Blogs have become just another marketing tool and it’s getting increasingly difficult to differentiate between genuine posts and cynical marketing ploys. Is this blogger recommending this product because they really like it or because they’ve been sent one for free?
Other social media platforms are also being affected. There was a time when Facebook or Twitter was simply a place to go and socialise with your friends. However now every company (including my own) has a Twitter account or Facebook group. We’ve even seen companies start spamming people on Twitter which really sucks. It seems there is literally nowhere you can hide from these marketing tricks.
Now I’m fairly pragmatic and realise that this descent into marketing is probably inevitable and if consultants weren’t doing it for them, companies would end up doing it themselves. However I think there is something a little seedy about people who purportedly love social media, yet end up helping companies pollute it with marketing drivel.
It reminds me of a guy I met while travelling many years ago. He was an ethnographic researcher employed by a big oil company to asses the impact oil pipelines would have on the indigenous population. He loved tribal culture so much he desperately wanted to work in the field, even if that meant being partly responsible for the destruction of the very thing he loved.
Posted at January 31, 2009 2:17 PM