Buying snake oil? It’s your own fault

Business Week’s feature (Beware Social Media Snake Oil) on the ‘consultants’ who have emerged to help companies to make the most of social media has drawn some online commentary – though not as much as you might have expected.

It’s a well written piece that tackles many of the challenges involved in incorporating social media as part of the marketing mix (hey I’m old, cut me some slack, at least I didn’t mention the 4 Ps… doh).

The risk is that a backlash against the consultants’ easy promises could reduce social media investments just as the industry takes off. Think back to the dot-com boom a decade ago. Soaring valuations were based initially on promise and hype. In early 2000, when investors started focusing on scarce profits, the market collapsed. But many companies drew the wrong conclusions. Believing the fall of a hyped market was a sign of the failed promise of the Internet, they drew back on Internet investments. This happened just as the technology was on the verge of living up to much of its promise, dominating global communications, transforming entire industries—and spawning social media.

But the more interesting question for me is who is handing over the budgets?

If you work in PR or marketing, then it’s your job to know your business.  If someone’s selling something that’s too good to be true, then it normally is. However, humans are lazy, so we like to think that this time, well this time it’ll be different.

The fact is, if you are in charge of promoting a product or a brand then you should have an intimate knowledge of your audience, where they are, what they think of you, and how you can reach them.  Otherwise I daresay you are asleep at the wheel.  No marketing person regardless of their tenure, position, experience or budget can afford the luxury of outsourcing an understanding of social media.  It’s the traditional media equivalent of not looking at billboards.

Other wisdom on the subject: