In defence of “blood-sucking social media gurus”

If there is one thing worse than so called “blood-sucking social media gurus” it’s ranting journalists. A perfect example of which is on display at the Telegraph today.

Milo Yiannopoulos argues that “social media consultants are an inexcusable waste of money”. Maybe. Maybe not, but what is really inexcusable is if you are going to say such things give us some examples of the work these people who are apparently beyond parody.

In place of examples all we get is some terribly poor and largely unrecognisable pen portraits of  “chippy girls with unruly fringes and sweaty, overweight blokes with bits of burger stuck in their beards”. These people apparently wear “home-made clothes” and carry “the faint whiff of body odour”. Social media marketing types are smelly hippies anyone?

Does anyone recognise these people? I don’t and I have been to a lot of these conferences and spoken about social media. The blokes with beards and food sound like programmers and the “chippy girls” nothing more than the latest version of Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs-era Lisa-units. Derivative and so far wide of the mark.

Has Yiannopoulos ever really spent any time with these people — gone to a few agencies? Who knows.

I’m not a social media consultant and have never pitched myself as one, but I have met a lot people in the industry and spoken at the odd event and my experience is not in anyway reflected by what is written on the Telegraph.

Yiannopoulos complains about how social media types “claim to be able to improve your relationships with your customers by ‘executing 360 degree reignition programs [sic]’ and the reason the “faux-academic colloquy of the social media industry”  has grown so quickly is because of a “lack of checks and balances online, especially within social networks. Highly questionable practices go either unremarked upon or purposefully ignored by the Twitter bubble”.

What these highly questionable practices and lack of checks and balances are we don’t know as there is no time in this breathless piece to give details. We always need details and examples otherwise there is no context and without context there is no substance. Therein lies the basic problem.

Fortunately, he does pause to tell us why he is “banging on about this”. It is because “the poisonous cult of the social media guru” is disastrous for pretty much every kind of business. Has anyone seen any social media consultant enabled corporate disasters?

The crux of his piece is that social media gurus sell common sense like gold dust and that you shouldn’t hire them externally and “internally, the most you need is a couple of interns with laptops”. And of course we have all seen how that works out. So good luck with that one.

There is a grain of truth in what is written, but that does not do justice to what those working in the industry do.

Social media might at its most basic level, say customer service, be about common sense, but that is only a aspect of the whole. If anyone thinks that great examples of social media customer care (say @Comcastcares or @Jetblue) is a job for the inexperienced and knowledge free grad then step forward. If you want to hire a couple of interns and save yourself and your organisation from the poison of social media than go ahead.

There might be an oversupply of social media consultants or there might not, I really don’t know, but what I do know is that businesses out there are doing some very interesting work.

At the heart of a lot of this work is not purely common sense, but creative ideas that work online.

That might be how the England bid has built a huge social presence to back its World Cup bid on Facebook or how brands like Toyota and Ford makes a social splash  or how Old Spice entertained and revived a forgotten brand or that rules for engagement are needed to ensure that you don’t end up as another Habitat (at least if you hire those interns you can blame them).

Brands need good creative ideas to succeed, get noticed and engage with consumers. That’s a lot more than common sense. It is why some brands win and others lose when it comes down to successful marketing.

What is very true is that some of those come from people who currently wear a social media hat, or are tasked as part of their remit to keep abreast of what is happening with social networks and related digital activity, probably had another job title not too long ago. It strikes me that we are getting is a lot of people who are hung up on these job titles when that is not the issue. The job titles rather than some of the work that gets done has become the focus.

No one should be fooled by any of it and some of the ills that he talks about don’t belong to social media specifically they belong to advertising and marketing more generally.

I have sat in a lot of agencies and for years before social media arrived heard the spiel about 360 degree marketing. About integrated strategy. About brand vision and brand guardianship. That is simply how ad agencies and marketing consultants market themselves. As a cynic and a journalist that is all marketing baloney to me. What matters is that at the end of it you watch a reel that has a great ad on it or are shown another example of good work. The proof in any of this is results. Did the social media consultant who came in and advise get your brand talked about and did awareness and sales subsequently rise? If that happened then job done.

Social media consultants or director job titles is simply the latest and one iteration of digital strategy. Three years ago these people probably had different titles, but that doesn’t mean a job is not being done or that some of them don’t have genuine insights to offer and help businesses. I really believe that’s true.

There might be smaller communications firms trying to hitch a ride on the social media wave, but within the larger groups, within the WPP’s for instance inside agencies like Ogilvy and JWT, there are seriously bright people doing good work whilst wearing a hat that says social media.

Social media isn’t the solution to all marketing dreams. Sometimes it might work very well on its own for a particular brand, but most of the time it seems to work best in conjunction with everything else a brand does, but like that other activity it has to be done in a considered manner. It has to be thought out and creativity seems a pretty essential part of the picture. You can put a stake through the rest of it.

Read more on The Wall

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  • Milo Yiannopoulos

    Dude. This has got to be the weakest, most defeatist, most half-hearted rebuttal I have ever read. Have another crack at it. Please.

  • http://suraj_atreya(Twitter) Suraj Atreya

    Good post. Just because the many fakes claim to be social media gurus, there are also a selective few who should be given due credit – doing great work and giving strategic insights to global brands!

  • Jamie Gavin

    Don’t like social media gurus. Don’t like marketing gurus. Don’t, to be honest, have any time for anybody who goes around calling themselves a guru of any description.

    Don’t even profess to like social media “specialists” to be honest. The message is always the message whatever the latest and most effective communications channels may be – and communication strategy should be joined up and not thought of in boxes, whatever tactics you choose to use.

    However – and it’s a big HOWEVER – Yiannopoulos’ whole rant in the Telegraph yesterday highlights the desperation of the traditional print press as its position as information & entertainment distributor becomes increasingly non-essential in today’s media communications world.

    In days gone by a national newspaper writer would never have gotten so riled by what is admittedly all too often a pretentious branch of digital communications. But by taking the bait they are showing the fear of a diminishing powerhouse shrinking in the face of its usurper.

    As I say, I don’t like social media gurus either, but as with most people who don’t really hold any significance I don’t give them the time of day. It’s only when something starts to become an issue – or I suspect in this case starts to seem like a subject matter capable of generating a couple of clicks – that people react.

    It is hard to fight an enemy that has outposts in your head – social media gurus are undoubtedly false prophets but the real disciples of community content are the consumers themselves, and right now they are converting in their droves to the church of community communications, and leaving behind didactic media.

  • @gordonmacmillan

    Your post was a rant. The poorest kind of journalism. There’s no more to say.

  • @LStacey

    Poor. Just poor. Cry me a river.

    The Times has actually hit the nail on the head there and I speak as someone who works in social media. Articles like this are good for us because it gives us an opportunity to not only exceed expectations but blow them to pieces.

    Think about it.

  • @LStacey

    Oops, of course I meant the Daily Mail. j/k

  • Henry Elliss

    Whilst I think his article was petty and childish, with it’s name-calling and playground-style teasing, there is a semi-hidden message in there which I partially agree with.

    If you read the comments, it’s clear that most of Yiannopoulos’s experience seems to have been attending the recent #LikeMinds conference in Exeter. Whilst I disagree with the way he makes his points, an experience like this could well give you the view that there’s a lot of back-slapping and acronym-loving in this industry…

  • Martyn Stead

    Oh dear. A perfectly reasonable request that Yiannopoulos should provide some evidence to back up his rant is met by the petty response “Dude. This has got to be the weakest, most defeatist, most half-hearted rebuttal I have ever read. Have another crack at it. Please.”

    Those who make a living from emotional baseless tirades clearly recoil from evidence much as his “blood suckers” would from a cross.

    In common with lance Concannon, I also commented on the Telegraph piece last night, and have written a blog about it today:

    There are competent, hard-working people in Social Media and there are charlatans; exactly as in every other business and, dare I say it, journalism too.

  • Mike McGrail

    Nice to see somebody responding, thanks for that Gordon. The issue is in fact people that call themselves ‘gurus’ or go around claiming to be able to add value to a business with no relevant experience or proof that they have used the social media channel to truly positive effect for any business. Milo’s blog post is a little over the top and the suggestion that two interns with laptops are all you need is truly daft! There are people out there who can add value to the marketing needs of a business, they are not people that call themselves gurus. My thoughts on gurus are well documented over on The Social Penguin Blog –

  • Jo Porritt

    Good grief. Give it up Milo. As Gordon says – your post was a rant. Not good journalism, so “Dude. This has got to be the weakest, most defeatist, most half-hearted rebuttal I have ever read. Have another crack at it. Please.” is laughable.

    We all get your point re the charlatans. We agree. Now move on, and next time write about something you understand, have researched and have intelligent commentary for.

    This is why I would never pay to read a newspaper online – no bloody wonder YOUR industry is scared of us.

    Jo @brandguardian

  • jon clarke

    All quite laughable. There’s no such thing as a guru. Storm in a social tea cup. After 20 plus years in advertising, 11+ in digital I’m still learning as everyone should be. Always changing, always evolving, it keeps the industry alive and us all in a job. Next topic please.

  • James

    In defence of social media;
    It can be useful and cost effective

    In defence of Milo;
    Social media activities can suck up resources and, in the last couple of years, events and conferences have filled up with the kind of “gurus” Milo described.

    I work with a lot of start-ups and SME’s and, whilst I think Milo didn’t put it across in the most gentle manner, the message that any bright PR/ marketing person (note “bright”… not a moron, but equally not excluding interns) can be “trained in social media” in a very short space of time is spot on. Social media tools were designed to be easy to use… thus social… not difficult, so only “gurus” can use them.

    And let’s be honest, when you really look at the social media “influencers” (power diggers, celeb twitterers, massive bloggers etc.) it does seem like a bit of a racket… how did so much influence land in the hands of so few? I think the social media “gurus” have had a lot to do with it. Whilst I wouldn’t call them blood suckers bad guys, I wouldn’t rush to call them good guys either.

  • Dan Thornton

    The original article is the same linkbait ranting that Milo has done for years. My only concern as someone who freelances in digital marketing at the moment is that a very small number of people might mistake it for informed opinion.
    No-one should ever describe themselves as a ‘guru’, ‘thought leader’ or anything similar, but good freelance specialists are a valuable asset. I’ve worked for a number of large brands on the client side, crafting internal guidelines, best practice, scoping analytics and ROI measurements, and optimising what is being produced via all digital channels – and after a period of time many companies are able to take these practices internally. So by hiring a freelancer, they get the benefit of experience without going through a hiring process for a role which may well be extraneous after 12 months.

  • Mikko Rummukainen

    I’ll freely admit that at times it is a bit irritating to come across social media professionals, who refer to themselves as e.g. ‘Social Media Superstars’, especially if the only thing they are capable of delivering is saying ‘Facebook is good, your company should be on it’. This is exactly what eats away at the credibility of those who really do have something to say about how a sound social media strategy is built, executed and monitored.

    At this point of ‘the industry’, it still feels that the client-side of the table still has very different levels of in-house knowledge, and so it seems to me that having good consultants on the topic is quite important especially now. Companies who honestly do not have a clear picture of what to do with social media outlets, the ‘how, when and where’, can’t go wrong with letting out a little blood for a truly competent social media expert.

  • Katy Beale

    The reason there’s some “blood sucking social media gurus” out there is because everyone has been panicking recently – heard more than a few times: “give me a social media strategy!”. I’d normally think, great, you’re thinking beyond the normal channels, but social media isn’t a magic cure all. Go back to the beginning and think about insights, strateg, needs – and it’s possible social media will be part of the answer.

    I couldn’t agree more about not just giving social media over to the interns. Social media is part of a whole package – of not just marketing, but also learning, participation, etc. and needs to be thought through strategically. Be all means, have people across the company execute it, but with an overarching plan. You only need to look at examples like Nestle Facebook page to see where it can go wrong…

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  • Lisa Devaney

    It is just stupid not to ask someone who deeply understands social media for some expert advice. It is foolish for a brand to jump into the medium without careful planning and thinking, and in the last 5 years some fantastic social media consultants and agencies have developed who are worth their salt. Most of the new social media types I respect never call themselves “gurus” it is other people that label them that way. The Telegraph’s Milo Yiannopoulos is taking easy shots at a new developing industry, and is typical of those who judge fast and critique, putting down anything progressive before it happens. The same thing happened when the Internet got started in the early days, nay sayers like Milo making fun of something new. Still, this journalist is no stranger to social media with nearly 5K followers on Twitter for @Nero. Maybe he’s a social media guru.

  • Mark Schroeder

    erm, just in terms of rebuttals Milo, yours here wasn’t exactly massive

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