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.

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