Beware the social-media snake-oil salesman: this month’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column

You’ve heard of snake-oil salesmen: those mythical Old West characters who sold their unsuspecting audiences on potions they claimed would be a cure for every ill.

Today, the same type of scam is being perpetuated when it comes to social media. Some huckster knocks on your door and claims to have a panacea for all your marketing challenges. And for a price, he’ll provide you with what he claims is the secret to social media success.

You don’t want to buy what he’s selling, of course, but the challenge is distinguishing the social-media snake-oil salesmen from those who really are worth talking to. So how do you make that distinction?

Do they claim that social media is “easy” or “free”? Like anything else in business, using social media effectively takes real effort and real resources. It may not cost you anything in terms of dollars, but time spent to use it effectively will be time taken away from other things — and time is a nonrenewable resource. If someone touts social media as an “easy” or “free” way to market your business, then he or she is focused on the wrong things.

Do they encourage you to limit your use of social media? As inferred above, one of the biggest challenges your business will face in using social media effectively is giving it the right amount of time, without giving it too much time. If you’re talking to someone responsible, he or she will be as careful in recommending what you should leave out as he or she is in recommending what to include in your strategy.

Do they come to you with a predetermined list of social-media sites you should be using? Your company is unique. So is your industry, your goals, your audience and the resources you have to devote to social media (see above).

How, therefore, can anyone claim to know what social-media platforms you should be using before first investigating those points of difference? Those who come to you with a predetermined prescription have thought only about how they can make it easy for themselves, not how they can make it work for your business.

Do they encourage you to buy “likes” or followers? The quick-fix charlatan will promise you that — for just a little money — you can buy the appearance of popularity. Then he or she will tell you that other legitimate followers will join in, impressed by this manufactured mirage. It will seem like magic!

In the end, though, the only trick they have to offer is making your money disappear. The truth is, those who use sleight of hand only do so because they know no legitimate way to get results.

Do they have any real experience? Snake-oil salesmen use bluster to make up for a lack of substance. They may talk a good game, but you’ll want to look beyond what they say and ask for examples of what they do. If they can’t demonstrate experience in working with businesses like yours — and show outcomes — move on.

Do they understand the larger marketing and communication continuum? Social media needs to be integrated with your other marketing and communication strategies. If someone talks to you about social media without discussing its impact on your other efforts, or how it will be impacted by your other efforts, end the conversation.

Are they cheerleaders for social media, or cheerleaders for the success of your business? Those who talk about how much they love social media are missing the point. Social media isn’t inherently great — nor is it inherently evil. What matters is what it can do to make you — or your company — great. Don’t let someone’s affinity for social media cloud his or her judgment about what’s best for your business.

One more thing: as the use of social media by businesses becomes more sophisticated, it will become easier to rely on referrals from those you trust to point you toward reputable partners. Until then, however, trust your instincts. Just as it was in the Old West, when someone says anything that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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One Response to Beware the social-media snake-oil salesman: this month’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column

  1. This is a great article. I enjoy the correlation between snake-oil salesmen and salesmen for social media. The development of social media about being honest with the companies goal. Either building a customer base or creating or an ordering platform, without a company understanding why they are using social media it will lead to wasting money.

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