11 Myths of Social Media Marketing

May 24, 2010

Though social media marketing is rapidly advancing in terms of adoption and sophistication, many marketers and business executives still struggle with it. They wonder if their organizations are doing enough, if they are doing things right, even if they should be involved in social media at all. This confusion is partly due to some still-common misconceptions about social media marketing. As the goal of Social Media is Simpler Than You Think was to demystify social media marketing, this post will attempt to de-myth-ify it.

Social media intern - the face of your company?1. Social media is so easy we can hire an intern to do it. Because social media is fundamentally about conversations, the individual(s) behind your social media activities is often perceived as the public face of your company. This person is answering questions about your products and/or services, responding to or redirecting complaints, sharing interesting content, providing more information…you’ll probably want to be a bit careful about who gets this responsibility. ->

2. Social media marketing is really hard. True, there are techniques that work better than others, guidelines that are good to know, rules of etiquette to follow and common mistakes to avoid, but the general skills called for aren’t all that uncommon, and the specifics are teachable. It helps to be creative, curious, articulate, friendly and helpful. Okay, so not just anyone can do it, but it’s not rocket science either.

3. Social media is only for the young. Argh, no! On the consumer side, the largest cohort of Facebook’s user base is the 35-54 age group, and the fastest growing is the 55+ cohort. On the producer side, the most important attributes are interpersonal skills and industry knowledge. Age is irrelevant in social media usage, and life experience is a plus for social media marketers.

4. Social media is free. Um, no. While recent studies show that about half of marketers say that social media reduces their overall marketing costs, it is by no means without a price. The primary budget effect of social media marketing is to shift costs from media buying to labor. The tools of social media are (mostly) free, but the time, effort and expertise required to make social media marketing effective has real costs.

5. Since social media marketing is labor-intensive, we should offshore it. Ooh, not a good idea. While offshoring works well for tasks like IT consulting services and software application development, it tends to be less efficacious for market-facing activities. Thoughtful companies keep their SEO efforts local (to avoid link-spamming, for example) and after evaluating all of the costs, many are even moving call centers back onshore. And see myth #1 above.

6. Social media marketing success is all about rules and best practices. Not really. True, there are guidelines as to what works well (being sincere, helpful and knowledgeable) and what doesn’t (trying to use social media sites as one-way broadcasts of your marketing brochures), but the field is new enough that many of the “rules” are still being written. While there are some techniques that seem to work well and are worth replicating, and others that should clearly be avoided, there’s also a great deal of space for creativity in this rapidly expanding and evolving area.

7. Social media marketing has no rules. Now, just because there isn’t an established cookie-cutter approach to social media marketing success doesn’t mean there are no rules. Don’t be excessively self-promotional, don’t try to automate everything, be sincere, add value—there aren’t a lot of rules, but these are a few very important ones.

8. Social media marketing gets immediate results. Almost never. Sure, you may run across an example somewhere of this happening, just as you may hear about a couple who got married three weeks after they met. It can happen, but isn’t common and shouldn’t be expected. Social media is about building relationships and influence. It takes time, but the payback can be much more lasting than a typical “marketing campaign” as well.

9. Social media marketing is too risky. This fear is most common in the medical, financial services, and other regulated industries. And it’s certainly true that there are situations where a company has to be somewhat cautious about its social media participation and content (another reason to keep myths #1 and #5 in mind). By all means, be aware of your specific industry and regulatory environment and put necessary safeguards in place. But people in your marketplace—customers, prospects, analysts, journalists, shareholders and others—are talking about your company and/or industry across social media channels right now. The real risk is in ignoring those conversations.

10. Social media marketing is new. Not really. Certainly the tools are new: Twitter has only been around since 2007, Facebook since 2006, and even blogging has been popular for less than a decade. But social media marketing is fundamentally about participating in and influencing the direction of conversations about your industry and brand. Those practices are timeless, but social media has increased the velocity and magnitude of such conversations.

11. Social media marketing doesn’t apply to my business. There are isolated niches where this is true. For example, if you build weapons systems for the U.S. military, you not only don’t need social media marketing, it would probably be best to avoid it. And there may be a few other such situations. For virtually every other type of business however, someone, somewhere is discussing your brand, your industry or your competitors in social media. You’re missing out if you’re not listening and participating.

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37 Responses

  1. Good piece. Your points are the most common misconceptions that neophyte social media enthusiasts tend to harbor. Most importantly, it is not free, it is not without rules and it is not easy. I have a Social Media Director in my company and he is an extremely talented young man. His role is critical, since he is the voice of our company.
    Thanks for setting the world straight.

  2. Very good primer on social media myths. The first is a real pet peeve of mine.

    #8 is also a tough pill for people to swallow but, I’d argue, other forms of marketing and PR typically don’t have immediate returns.

  3. Thank you so much for a content-rich and intelligent article!

    This is exactly what a compney needs to know and understand.

  4. Tony Palm Jr 

    Excellent article Tom; well constructed and insightful, thanks! However, with regard to the caveat in rule #11, I beg to differ.

    Exposing classified information on any open source (web-based or otherwise) would be tantamount to treason; clearly not a good idea! However, the premise that a defense contractor has only one customer is where the flaw that particular argument lies.

    As any recruiter working in the defense space knows, candidates are the other (or hidden) customer for every company wishing to do business with the Department of Defense. Providing value added content to this demographic group ensures an evergreen pipeline of potential candidates and a tribe of followers who might pass along job opportunities to their networks of friends and colleagues.

    For organizations with contracts they can’t talk about outside a classified room, utilizing social media to engage your target market is a more complicated challenge than for most companies to be sure. But as with all things difficult, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it!

    Make it a great day!

  5. Tom 

    Tony – point taken! I was thinking more about the marketing side of things, but from an HR standpoint, yes social media is a viable and valuable tool even for defense contractors. Still, that does support the overall argument for this myth: it’s hard to think of a business where social media can’t be helpful in some regard.

  6. What a great list for organizations to consider regarding social media. While you don’t specifically say it, I think the focus of your recommendations are about putting solid strategies in place and not just considering social media efforts to be a tactical exercise.

  7. Tom 

    Doug – you are absolutely correct. Thanks for the observation, and for the idea for a future blog post. :-)

  8. Great tip! I included this in my weekly wrapup: http://printedproof.com/wicked-good-week/wicked-good-week-may-28/


  9. Tom 

    Thanks Christian! I tweeted and dugg your wrap-up, some great stuff there.

  10. Thanks for this! I’ve been searching all over the web for the details.

  11. This is great insight into, what is still for many, a somewhat mysterious marketing/PR channel. My question relates to the importance of actively pursuing the benefits of social media in B2B marketing. If a business has severe time and budget limitations, is the use of social media justified over other more traditional marketing options?

  12. Tom 

    Hi Susan, great question! I’d say, start out with a moderate exercise in social media listening, to determine what your prospects are saying about industry issues, your competitors, and possibly your company/products in the social media space. Use free or low cost tools like Social Mention, UberVU, Twitter search and Techrigy SM2 Freemium to do this listening research. Understanding what’s being said already will help you make an informed decision about if, where and how your company may want to participate, in a manner that makes good business sense.

  13. Finally!!!!!!!!!! a social media marketing blogger who actually knows what they are talking about and has the courage to openly state it.

    I get so tired of hearing all these so called “social media gurus” laying down laws and telling clients what the client wants to hear, instead of the truth. And the truth is exactly what you made clear in your blog. The biggest truth is that there is no clear path and that each company/product must have a custom built strategy, just like any other good marketing endeavor.


  14. Tom 

    Harry, thanks for the reinforcement. I advise people that social media strategy doesn’t start with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter; those tools are (in most cases) important at the right time, but social media marketing has to start with a clear understanding of goals, objectives, communication style, a content plan and other more strategic elements.

  15. What a great post, as stated above, so refreshing! Thanks for publishing it.
    While I agree with the sentiment behind #8, there are times when the effects of your Social Media Marketing (SMM) campaign can be almost immediate – when you leave a link on a popular site in such as way as to add value to the ideas (and thus not be too self-promotional), you get an instant boost in traffic to your site. May not a huge hit, but can often be an additional 20 – 30 visitors for that day (obviously depends on the readership (authority) of the site.
    I would also advise anyone wanting to run a SMM campaign, to think of the whole exercise as a process. And all processes can be run according to the Continuous Process Improvements mantra of “Think, Plan, Do, Measure and Repeat”. If you design the process you use to run your SMM campaign along these lines, two things are certain:
    1) You will lay out the rules for the SMM maven in your company to follow. Yes, your points about rules (6 and 7) are totally valid – but encapsulating them this way means they are recorded and made public and thus are more likely to be followed.
    2) You will get better and better at running the campaign over time. You may not even start off properly, but if you do the measuring part, and then the rethinking and planning parts, your next set of “do” actions will produce better results.
    While the logic behind this approach cannot be dismissed easily, I find that most people’s eyes glaze over when I start speaking about formal Process descriptions. If you would like to check out an example of just such a description, the link at the end of this comment will take you to an index of 4 posts:
    1) How to Run a SMM Campaign. This is the formal process description on how to run your campaigns. And because it calls for one to measure ROI as one of the metrics to use in monitoring your campaign, the other 3 posts cover:
    2) How to measure the ROI of your website as a whole
    3) The 10 best free ROI calculators on the Web and
    4), How to build your own ROI calculator so that you can measure the ROI of your SMM.

    Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/cEc0ln

    Hope this helps get you started down the right road.

  16. Great post Tom. I’ve passed it on to our company owners since we’re getting more heavily involved in this. You really covered some great points very completely.


  17. Tom 

    Thanks Michael. Let me know if there’s any way I can help.

  18. Thanks, that’s helpful advice. I’m trying to persuade my marketing clients to take an interest in social media.Can you recommend any good posts or guides about using it for marketing?

  19. Tom 

    Dean – well, of course, there’s always this blog. :-)

    For a daily dose of the best thinking on social media for business, I recommend following Social Media Informer.

  20. Thanks for your recommendation.Of course I’ll be coming back here, too.

  21. Excellent points, these are common misconceptions of social media marketing I face everyday with my clients. Social media like anything else is a science, abeit an ever evolving science, but there are still rules to achieve success and social media has a way of filtering out those who take shortcuts.

  22. utube 

    Thanks, that’s helpful advice. I’m trying to persuade my marketing clients to take an interest in social media.Can you recommend any good posts or guides about using it for marketing?

  23. Tom 

    Are you kidding? How about 55 (of the) Best Social Media Tips, Tactics and Tools of 2010 (http://webbiquity.com/social-media-marketing/55-of-the-best-social-media-tips-tactics-and-tools-of-2010/).

  24. joy 

    It is very good that there are such articles as this. I’m glad someone finally explained all these myths. Some of them were really confusing for me and I wonder how it appeared in popular thinking.

  25. This is spot on. Especially about it “being too risky” for financial services. It is just a conversation, but on a bigger scale. Great article.

  26. Tom 

    Thanks for the kind words Chuck. :-)

  27. 11 Myths of Social Media Marketing is a great topic. Great advice on the myths, i speak of some of these on my Social Media Marketing Blog.

  28. willi 

    Well the Social Media Marketing has become like a giant in field of advertisement.It is one of the fastest media marketing no doubt.
    Get a Link

  29. high school algebra 

    high school algebra
    With havin so much written content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright infringement? My website has a lot of unique content I’ve either authored myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my permission. Do you know any techniques to help stop content from being stolen? I’d really appreciate it.

  30. Tom 

    Unfortunately, that happens. There’s no way to stop scrapers. I try to include at least one embedded text link back to one of my blog posts in every post, so that if someone steals / scrapes my content – at least I get a backlink out of it.

  31. If you are in business and have a website it should be a given that you also at least have a basic understanding of how social media works. Everyday social media becomes more and more important. It is a staple in the younger generation. In my field (Real Estate) it is huge!

  32. Tom 

    Hi Bill. When you get a chance, check out http://workface.com. This is interesting tool for realtors: a way to place an interactive “business card” on your site or anywhere else you may want to engage with prospective home buyers/sellers, even Facebook.

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