Jim's Marketing Blog

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The slow demise of the clueless social media rock star?

I’ve written previously about the way some social media gurus are totally clueless when it comes to anything, other than building impressive looking social media followings.

Well, even though influential people like Steve Rubel and Shel Israel are talking about the end of the road for social media consultants / gurus, some things never change.  I’m talking about the massive number of clueless social media gurus.


I spoke yesterday with a web developer, who told me about an email he received from a well-known social media figure.  This person was trying to bag themselves a free website from him and unknowingly, sent the same begging email to a number of developers, who knew each other.  The email was forwarded on to me and I assume lots of others.  It is one of the  most cringe inducing emails I have ever seen.

It was also strangely familiar.

You see, one of that person’s closest social media associates called my office a few months ago, also looking for a freebie.  They promised to retweet all my posts and recommend me to their huge online network, if I would “just” give them a free marketing consultation. That’s the exact same offer their friend made in their begging emails to the web developers!

I politely said “no.”

NB: I find it’s common for people whose own time is of little financial value, to assume others give their time away too.

Anyhow, during our call, the guru explained that although they are regularly featured on all kinds of lists and in some top blogs, they earn almost nothing and spend most of their time speaking at conferences, for which they are usually paid little more than expenses, often nothing at all.  Commercially, this guru admitted knowing “very little when it comes to strategy!” Their only ability is to know how to build what seems to be a large following, which generates low pay – No pay speaking gigs.

The problem with clueless social media gurus, as opposed to genuine social media experts

The reason this matters, is that those 2 clueless social media gurus have a combined following of over 150,000, who they offer business development advice to; something they have demonstrated very little knowledge of!  No wonder we are now seeing social media rock stars moving into salaried jobs.

Before you decide who to listen to when it comes to the development of your business, check them out.  That means more than counting how many followers they have.  Some of the smartest people in business and social media have modest sized social networks, but extremely successful businesses!

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  1. Al Pittampalli

    June 14, 2011 at 14:37

    It’s true, the demise of the social media consultant is inevitable. The movement has spread far along the adoption curve over the last couple of years and the companies that embrace it, no longer need someone to tell them what twitter is, or how to use facebook. Much like the influx of unqualified real estate agents right before the real estate bubble in the 90s, the rush is coming to an end.

  2. I think the social media guru can probably assist in helping people gain in quantity – numbers of friends or followers, but until those start to get converted into leads, potentials and business opportunities they are nothing more than trees obscuring the forest.

    A media guru that is able to provide a qualified and high quality following, now that’s worthwhile. You’re very right Jim, when you say that it’s time to look beyond the numbers of followers and try and see the bigger picture

    • Hi Tim. I’m curious, how do you feel about the term “guru”, when someone is referencing themselves?

      • Oh dear the term “guru”… seems like a word people are happy to throw into internet writings (a bit like myself in my comment yesterday, oops) but if someone was to use it in in a real conversation, it might be hard to take them seriously

  3. First off, I would be wary of anyone characterizing themselves as a “guru.” WQhen I hear someone call themselves a Guru, my unclination is to say “oh yeah.” But I think your post and mine were looking at different issues. I was noticing a trend where a great many social media consultants are going in house and that many companies have started to hire internally. My piece was really about highly qualified professionals landing newly created permanent positions. There are people in any profession who do their work badly. I think vendors and consultants have always been pock-marked by bad practitioners, but that was not the topic of mypiece.

    • Welcome to the blog, Shel!

      Yes, the word “guru” or self-referencing to oneself as a social media “rock star” can usually be used as a way to filter out the less effective people. In the section of the post where I mention Steve and yourself, I was referencing the movement of social media consultants, including some high profile people, into salaried social media positions. It will be interesting to see if this continues. Thanks for the feedback, Shel.

  4. Wow! Isn’t this the kind of thing Gary Vaynerchuk was criticised for last week. See Jay Baer’s post: http://www.convinceandconvert.com/social-media-marketing/clowns-charlatans-and-social-media-name-calling
    I made a comment of Jay’s blog that just like people who jumped all over the blogging bandwagon, soon fell off, there will also be the social media dropouts and now you’ve said it.

  5. Hey there mate,

    First, been a while since I commented, so my sincere apologies (but always reading!!).

    I think the main problem is, many of these “leaders” have very little business acumen. They’ve come into the space from a weird, behind-the-scenes background and saw an opportunity to talk about what is essentially nerdy stuff, while not having much of a clue as to how you transfer that nerdy stuff into business needs.

    You come into anything with a strong previous history, and you’ll stand apart from the wannabes. Because while they’re busy growing their Twitter numbers (woo-hoo, you got 100,000 sheep), the real deals are busy getting 100,000 customers for their clients.

    And on it goes… ;-)

    Great stuff as always mate!

    • Hi Danny.

      You make an excellent point regarding business acumen. The reality is that some of those guys are a lot better at building a flock, than they are at building a sustainable business.

    • Speaking of “business acumen,” Danny, am I the only one who sees the similarities between “influential” social media rockstars who make big promises, spinning thin value and diminishing returns into gratuitous, filthy lucre, and big business, which has been pretty much doing the same exact thing for the last 50 years?

      Karma, imo. Let the corporate Titan(ic)s steam ahead with business as usual. When they consume the last of the coal, they can start burning the furniture, the drapes, and each other.

      Meanwhile, people in little row boats, who have been pulling survivors from the water all this time, will have developed renewable-powered outboards allowing them to outmaneuver the insincere laggards.

      One can hope, anyway.

  6. I’d be interested to know how many people they were following to gain the followers….

    • Good point, Dennis. I know a UK marketing guy, who mass follows tens of thousands of people over a period of months to get auto-follows, then he unfollows them. He currently has almost 70,000 followers and follows about 20,000. He’s a complete fool. He has zero influence and he’s probably unaware people in the industry are laughing it him.

  7. I couldn’t agree more, however I have seen a number of people selling time as social media professionals / mentors who have very few followers, which also should ring alarm bells.

    Follower numbers are simply vanity and do not constitute a business.

    Thanks for yet another great blog post Jim

  8. Excellent Article sir. Building the right followers is a difficult process or it has been for me. I want people who are interested in what I have to say and I want to learn from their experiences as well. It seems quite a few of those folks with 100k+ followers are just bots following other bots. They spam each other with MLM offers all day.

    For myself, I believe I have the right balance of business and technology experience, so I have been aggressively pursuing my own “Personal Brand”. This includes doing pro bono work, but I believe it adds a lot of value to my offerings and will lead to additional paying consulting work.

    • Thanks Mike.

      It’s all about balance and deliberately electing who to follow; rather than following everyone, just because THEY follow you.

  9. While lurking through LinkedIn last week I came across a discussion in one of the “professional” groups that we are associated with and I found it odd that this discussion was centered around the “like my page and I’ll like yours” mindset. Quantity is not the issue…it’s still quality. But people don’t get it b/c they’ve heard and seen so many of these “gurus” claim that having more followers is better. However, without a thought provoking status updates that generate banter, what’s the point of having followers. I hope that this post and others like it will educate business owners to understand that they need to nurture and cultivate their social media networks so that they grow on a foundation of trust and informative topics, not just this high school mentality of “like me and I’ll like you back”

    • You’re right, Cindi.

      People are impressed by numbers. The challenge is that in social media, ANYONE can game the numbers.

  10. We have a number of social media celebs in my town and I learned early on they made little money if any. I wondered how they went to every conference and event and learned most lived at home with family or with working partners to make ends meet. When one asked how was I able to make a living in this business, I told him/her that I spent my day making my client popular online not myself.

    I’m shocked I’ve been in business this long though:) I was sure I would have been out of business two years ago! I believed in 2009 that everyone that wanted to be online would be by the end of that year and that my business would diminish. I am still going strong…

    Nevertheless, I still prepare for the “end” as bigger marketing companies offer Social Media packages (though some are awful)with their long standing traditional incentives and businesses hire “in house” Social Media Managers. I realize I am not a Danny Brown:) I would like to be able to continue in this industry though in some capacity as I have a real passion for it. So I hope I am able to get one of those salaried jobs when the time comes! Let me know if you see a good one!

    • Chandra, you’re way too smart and charismatic to be Danny Brown ;)

      Thanks for sharing your experience locally with the social media celebs!

    • Hi Chandra,

      Here’s the funny thing, though. For people like you, who get business and know that it’s the client whose name should be in lights, and not yours, there will always be work for you.

      Because companies are really looking at credentials now as opposed to potential. You bring that to the table, you’re already ahead of the game.

      PS – I wouldn’t want to be me either, I have to work with @TroyClaus… ;-)

  11. “Some of the smartest people in business and social media have modest sized social networks, but extremely successful businesses”

    I love that last line, a poignant point to sum up your post and the state of play I think, nice work Jim. Much like the old ‘quality over quantity’ line and to lean a little on Danny’s remark – give me one lion amidst your sea of sheep any day.

    I think too many folks are far too easily and perhaps unwittingly lead down the fools gold school of thought in equating large followings to mean those at the head of the flock are authoritarians and thought leaders of that particular niche. Whilst there are some truly awesome examples of those who actually are (a number of whom are posting here) it is a sad reality that at times, it is often the blind leading the blind. We can however take stock in knowing that much like natural selection, the wheat will eventually be separated from the chaff and order will once again be restored to our e-galaxy :)

    Another brilliant post from Jim, kudos!

  12. Whereas the clueless really need to go away, I do not think that a worthy consultant will be out of a job anytime soon. There will always be those businesses that do not want to handle this in house. Ok maybe not always, but for a long time to come. Plenty out there are happy to have it done for them and then there are those who, no matter how long these application are around, will be way behind the curve, and will gladly pay someone to construct it for them.

    I think to say that social media consulting is nearing the end is putting the horse way before the cart.

  13. What’s funny is I’m not even a social media guy. (Neither is Danny, I think.) What I really am is a brand management guy – with an okay understanding of how organizations work. That’s one of the prisms through which I see social media for the business world. I think that’s why I can see both the full breadth of the social space (strategy and opportunities) AND the depth (tactics and best-practices) the way I do.

    I have another advantage: Although I have worked on the agency side, I am mostly a client-side guy. Having worked closely with just about every type of corporate group or department, I understand two things many other “social media consultants” don’t:

    1. That different departments within an organization have completely unique sets of objectives. Sales, marketing, product management, HR, PR, Bizdev, customer service, etc. They are goaled differently, rewarded differently, and they will thus all social media to completely different ends and in wildly different ways. So things like buzz, likes, follows, retweets, shares, etc. aren’t just social media “metrics” for me. I see them through the eyes of these departments. I understand how they fit, what they mean, what their value is. I also know how to build programs for each department AND how to make them all work in concert. That’s a very different perspective and depth of knowledge from the average guru, who two years ago was focusing on blogging, SEO or digital MLM.

    2. I’ve had a decent amount of experience with change management in a broad range of organizations. I’m no Michael Wagner, but I know how to cut through political BS, turf wars, etc. It’s hard to build anything with and for a company unless you have that kind of operational knowledge.

    That said, I’m also not the guy you want to hire if you need someone to get under the hood of this platform or that. I don’t write scripts. I don’t customize Facebook pages. That kind of specialized work isn’t my department. So… different degrees of expertise (or insight, know-how, or whatever) for different functions. I tend to have the most value at the upper end of a social media program structure. There are some amazing people though whose expertise in SM is far more specific than mine. ;)

    • One thing Olivier didn’t mention there, is that he has a very good book out right now, called: Social Media ROI


      That’s not an affiliate link. It’s just that in an era of fake social media “gurus”, it’s important to showcase those who really know their stuff!

    • Not a bad resume for a faux Frenchie… ;-)

      I think you hit the nail on the head and add to the point about experience, mate. Understanding business as opposed to just being in business is quite the contrast.

      Cheers! Or is that salut? ;-)

      • Billy Delaney

        June 18, 2011 at 05:07

        Best comment I’ve heard about business in ages,
        “Understanding business as opposed to just being in business…”
        This is the line in the sand isn’t it?
        Thanks Jim for another stirring post, and Danny Brown for a line I’m going to steal and use someplace else…

  14. I’m having a hard time understanding how ANYONE, let alone people with a bunch of Twitter followers, have the gall to ask someone for free services in exchange for a tweet or a Facebook update. This is so disgusting to me.

  15. A discussion of what social media is usually goes like this: It’s not just the popular big sites that you hear about every day. It is the planning strategy of using any currently available online tool to generate awareness and a following for your company. So SM comes down branding and marketing – words that existed long before Mr. Zuckerberg was born.

    I dislike having to use it, and I wish the phrase SM would die. The words “engagement” is being used like an amazing new thing that we just discovered. I was always taught that is just business. Business engagement is rhetorical – just like business ethics.

    At the same time new ways of marketing online are constantly being created, and there needs to be a level of expertise between the person who invented the hammer and the person that wants to live in the house. That is where most of the people on this comment thread come in – the social media experts who don’t want to be called social media experts.

    • Good points, Patrick.

      I like how you called out the use of the word engagement and how some people are treating it like a new concept.

      When I started out in marketing, 25 years ago, we knew that the best way to earn a client’s business, was to engage them as a contact. In ’87 my former boss used to say “Don’t sell, engage!” – She was ahead of her time.

  16. As my brother in law frequently reminds me: “Hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

    Of course, he means that tongue in cheek as every Tom, Dick and Harry will ask for things for free and be surprised you aren’t willing to give.

    I believe it just one more showing of the WIIFM attitude that seems to permeate society these days.

    • Hi Andrea.

      As the example in the post demonstrates, along with dozens of comments, it really DOES hurt to ask, as related to here.

      That kind of low-class begging, makes you look bad – really, rally bad.

  17. I’ve never really understood the rational behind following 000’s and 000’s of people. It seems totally crazy to me.
    When i’ve asked people about it they say that its the polite thing to do and that they value all their followers to they follow them back.
    To me, that makes no sense. Its impossible to read through that many tweets even with all the tools under the sun so what they’re actually saying is that by following me i’m just added to an already massive pile and therefore will never be recognised or valued.
    Surely the approach to take in any networking is quality not quantity so you should follow just those that you’re really interested in and allow your followers to grow naturally by posting interesting stuff.
    I also find it funny how i’ll get Followed by a social media “guru” for a while then dropped (i assume because i didn’t automatically follow back). I mean, how shallow is that?

    • It’s simple Russell: If you “follow” 10,000 people, you are not following anyone.

      People who lack the courage to select who they follow, seem to be following tens of thousands, but use software to list the few dozen they really pay attention to.

  18. Funny thing is a year or so back some people made a few shillings teaching about social media and some a few may have added value and understanding. Now everyone (well, not quite everyone) wants to be a social media “guru”, but the bus has gone. Anyway, there is only so much training you can have because there is no substitute for experience, which means doing it.

    Social media is (are?) the latest favorite product of the snake oil purveyors. Their use of the word “guru” just makes me laugh. And as you say, Jim, it is a handy instant filter.

  19. Interesting and valuable insights as usual Danny.

    As someone who has studied business and marketing, built businesses and worked as a Business Adviser offline. I have to be honest and point out a lot of these called Guru’s and Experts don’t have the level of knowledge or insight they claim to have. The case you highlight is a perfect example.

    It shows a complete lack of business ethics or understanding. I find the approach offensive and disrespectful. You are an experience and recognized authority in this space. If you wanted to gain a significant hike in your follower base or income you could achieve that in a short period. And pick up the increase in revenue too. But you’re playing the long game. Once you cash in on the trust it is very difficult if not impossible to get it back again. Great businesses are built on a clear strategy,innovative tactics and a constant focus on providing vale to customers time and time again. People trust you and they like you because you do business in the right way.

    As you point out you don’t need a large follower base to build a successful business. Hopefully with consistent effort and hard work and the right products and services I can build a successful business. And I know whose business model I want to emulate and whose knowledge and business ethics I respect.

    Thanks Danny

  20. I agree that creating a social media marketing plan that not only penetrates your customer base, but that is also successful, it more than just gathering lots of followers. The ability to give genuine advice that really can benefit companies is key in being successful. A company is only going to use a person or company for their marketing tactics as long as those tactics work. After a while of failing attempts can also give an individual or company a bad reputation and brand.

  21. This is so true! My social media team isn’t just concerned about numbers, but more about engaging my audience. Since I’m an executive business coach, it’s totally pointless and unrealistic for me to have 10,000+ followers… but rather a few hundred really engaged ones.

    Thanks for this article! Will be reading this blog lots.

  22. Why oh why am I not surprised you started out saying you had a conversation with a web developer about this!?!? Do we walk around with “will work for free” on our foreheads or something?

    It seems we get weekly requests to do free work, or work for recommendations to our thousands of followers, or work for a stake in the company, etc. Seriously, good development takes lots of time, why would anyone expect it for free? These “gurus” don’t want to give their work away for free!

    • Sounds like this is more common than I thought, Jennifer.

      Have you ever had someone try and get a free site from you personally, in exchange for exposure to the idiots legions of followers? (No names please.)

      • More times than we can count, Jim! In fact, we just got a request today for something that has been proven to work but for which the other party didnt have to pay…simply for the reason that “there are many already out there available for free”.

        We have had some agree to payment terms, then be way late in paying only to say “but we gave you great word of mouth, and recommended you to many is this how you treat us?”

        • Thanks for getting back with your answer.

          Sadly, Jennifer, I find your story easy to believe following my own experiences with these clowns and listening to other people’s experiences.

          Thanks again for your feedback. I really appreciate it.

      • I get requests for free sites, free social media strategy in exchange for exposure all the time. The thing I find funny is they are coming to me to get exposure and in return are offering me the exposure I just built for them. No thanks.

        • I LOVE this from your comment, Brian

          they are coming to me to get exposure and in return are offering me the exposure I just built for them.


  23. Wow – this is great!

    I’ve been thinking along the same lines A LOT recently, Jim. Nowadays, everyone is a guru or expert, especially in social or “new” media. I rarely lead in with social media services because people don’t take it as seriously, thanks to the fakers. Instead, I handle SM strategy as part of a bigger, more “end to end” service offering.

    I too have been tickled by gurus with massive followings. You’re right: a more focused personal touch is more believable and respectable quite often.

    Awesome article!

  24. Hey!

    You should know that I steal from all of you bitches, but I never get away with it : )

    It’s like, I’m not a Social media anything but I play one on TV.

    Olivier’s book his not for the weak hearted either, there is much to work through if you choose to go the road less travelled.

    Great fun watching all the banter back and forth, but lets face it, Social Media is almost boring today. There are sooo many people just starting and they consider themselves the go to people out here in this great space.

    For those who have been around, we know who to follow and who to listen too, and you know who you are.

    Thanks for all that you do, if it wasn’t for Olivier, Jim & Danny, most of us would still be wondering aimlessly trying to figure out what the hell just happened : 0

    Many Blessings gang,


  25. Chasity Mcintyre

    December 12, 2011 at 05:42

    In ’87 my former boss used to say “Don’t sell, engage!” – She was ahead of her time. It will be interesting to see if this continues.

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