Jim's Marketing Blog

Marketing ideas to help you grow your business

Social media smoke blowers: How to stop them hurting your business

I recently wrote a post asking you what your main marketing challenges were, so I could cover them in future posts.

One of the most common questions, was to do with the ocean of information being offered online, by people claiming to be social media experts. Today’s post is all about how to tell those with genuinely useful information, from the fakes.

Social media smoke blowers

It’s extremely easy for someone with little social media skill, to pretend they are a social media expert. All they need is a blog, a photo of them in front of a screen (looking ‘dynamic’ and preferably wearing a headset) and a few social networking tricks.

Here is a selection of what I have personally experienced from some smoke blowers:

  • I was emailed by the author of a book on how to make money on Facebook, who didn’t know what to do as he’d sold fewer than 100 copies. This social media marketing expert had no idea how to market his book, via social media or anything else.
  • I was called by a social media trainer, who is well known on the speaking circuit. He wanted to know if I had any work I could give him. This guy specialises in telling people how to attract high quality sales leads.
  • I was emailed by a blogger, author and speaker, who wanted to know if I could get her a free version of my blog theme. I explained that it only cost $60 and she told me that times were tough. This same person is selling online courses and ebooks on how to grow a successful business. She offered to repay me, with retweets!

So, how do you tell the genuinely informed experts from the rest, when you are new to social media and seeking to use it effectively for your business?

Protecting yourself from smoke blowers

I believe the best way to protect yourself from taking bad advice is to do a little research first, then apply some common sense.

For example:

  • If the only testimonials they offer are from others, with similar Pinocchio business models, be very cautious. (A Pinocchio business is one, with no visible means of support.)
  • Always remember that the rules of business apply online, just as they do offline.
  • Don’t let their numbers fool you. 100,000 Twitter followers means nothing. You can buy followers. You can buy software to build massive follower numbers. You can just randomly follow thousands of people, get a subset to follow you back, unfollow them all – then repeat until you have a huge following. If someone seems to lack credibility or you think they are promising impossible results, don’t let their social numbers fool you into ignoring your instinct!
  • Someone claiming to be a social media author or radio host/personality, still needs to be checked out:
    • Thanks to self publishing, my 7 year old son can claim to be an author.
    • Oh, and thanks to free services like blogtalk radio, he can claim to be a radio ‘personality’ too.
    • In both cases he would be telling the truth, but it would have nothing to do with his ability to help you improve your social media results!
  • If it seems too good to be true, it almost always is (yes, even on the Internet).

Consider the source

Always check the source of information before you act on it. Never let easy to fake social media numbers or lofty titles fool you into taking damaging advice or get you to part with your money. Not every social media expert or social networking ‘superstar’ is a fake. Some offer useful information, which makes commercial sense and offers a logical return on your investment.

Just be extremely careful of those promising amazing results, with no logical business path.

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  1. First up, I love that term Pinicchio businesses.

    Second up, my tip would be to see if the expert is an expert at anything other than how to sell yourself as a social media expert. Seems to me theres a lot of chatter and link spraying and very little on ROI.


    • You’re point about the focus on ROI is a good one, Garry. All of the experts I value / trust in social media focus on how to get a measurable return on your social media / social networking investment.

  2. Ha, that Facebook author is hilarious, mate – how the heck can you consult on a platform you have no idea what you’re doing on? Ah, bless the Internet!

  3. I am not shocked that many of the self-proclaimed masters are really clueless — but it does surprise me that they would expose their shortcomings by blatantly asking for help.

    • Hi Ike. Welcome to the blog. If they have ever read my blog, they’ll know I have never ‘called someone out’ or bad-mouthed anyone, so maybe they knew they could trust me never to name them? Thanks for the feedback.

  4. Fun read, Jim. I see some problems, though.

    While your anecdotals are hilarious (umm … or, sad … ), what you’re saying ultimately sounds like “trust no-one; verify everything”. Fair enough.

    Problem is, with so many disparate pieces of information flying past us each day, the thought that we can even find the time to get to the point in conversations with posers who what to barter for something that costs $60 is silly.

    What that leaves, in simple terms, is a walled-off attitude, and existence … the direct opposite of what marketing, and especially SOCIAL marketing require.

    What THAT means, if one follows the argument closer to its (ha!) “conclusion”, is that we’ve entered an existence where everything needs to be transactional and impersonal, at which point the very notion of social anything means nothing.

    I first wrote about this a couple of years ago: (http://answerguy.com/2010/08/12/chris-brogan-social-crash-theory/). At the time, I picked on Chris Brogan for failing to drink his own KoolAid.

    Chris, I’m happy to report, has re-centered himself, and of course is SO successful that it wouldn’t matter if he’d failed to do so. But he’s recentered on the quality of his missives, not on the thing I warned him about in that piece. And you know why? BECAUSE AT SOME POINT YO HAVE NO CHOICE.

    This social media stuff is tough, you know? Take it from me; I’m an expert ;-)

  5. Jim, great post, ‘specially the examples of smoke blowing.

    A big-time SEO expert publicized his wife as a Twitter expert who could advise others. So I checked her Twitter stream. She had posted only a handful of tweets in the several months preceding and had at times gone a full month with nary a single tweet.

    But the husband’s promotional email was very persuasive (for what it’s worth).


    • Hi Diana. You just demonstrated a great example, of spending a little while to check out someone. It sounds like a good job you did, too. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  6. Always check out their references and how long they have been experts for. I’m seeing the same people prop eachother up all the time like you said and these references mean nothing.

    People need to read this.

    • Hi Ayo. Thanks for the suggestion. I agree – It makes total sense to do a little research, before doing something that could be toxic to your business.

  7. My advice would be to actually talk to your service providers before you work with them. Have a conversation and trust your gut instinct. I don’t care how much money you’re about to spend, people shouldn’t fall under the “last minute purchases” category.

  8. Great post, Jim. I’m looking forward to reading you more, both past items and what you publish going forward. Meantime, consider an article I wrote nearly 18 months ago titled “5 Lies About Social Media Marketing” (http://bit.ly/UqyDec)… at the time, a lot of people took exception with what I had to say, but you know what… just like your words ring true here today, so too did mine when I wrote my piece.

    Thanks for adding to our collective knowledge base, and please do keep up the great work!

  9. Hi Jim,
    Well done on blowing the lid off many of the kool-aid drinking snake-oil sales people out there, whether in social media or not.

    It’s never about collecting numbers and always about results.

    Thank you for writing this post,


    • Hi there Adrian. You’re absolutely right – it’s about results and if it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed. Thanks for the feedback, sir.

  10. Jerry Henderson

    December 7, 2012 at 12:09

    I want to commend you for making a very good point and having the gumption to say it.

    One of my clients hired a top social media guy back in the fall and paid him thousands, for nothing. This guy came in, told us some stories and told us to use software that we were already using. He’s at all those big conferences shelling out ideas and and is useless.

    He’s likable and a wonderful story teller, with no substance.

    • Hi Jerry. Thanks for sharing your client’s experience.

      I have heard similar stories from companies, who were made lofty promises from well-known social media experts, with nothing to show.

      By default, the best known gurus are great story tellers and usually very good communicators. That’s how they spread their message.

      When it comes to delivering measurable, bankable results, most are hopeless. We only need to observe their own business models, where they spend most of their time away from their families and loved ones, to see where the problem rests.

      I’m always curious when I see these people, unable to use their social media skills to build a sustainable business OTHER than the speaking circuit and obligatory social media book. No one spends so long away from their loved ones, unless it’s a last resort.

  11. Great article!

    I cringe every time I hear or see the word “expert”. For one thing, I don’t think anyone can be an expert on something that keeps on changing.

  12. Hi Jim.. excellent article as always.. Its funny.. I have also seen someone claiming to be a social media expert as they have sent over 50,000 tweets.

    I have also had so called social media experts calling me for advice when they have just had their clients twitter account suspended due to a total lack of knowledge.

    It never ceases to amaze me how easy people part with money, how easy they are to trust unknown people who just happen to have a large following which as you have pointed out we can all buy for a few dollars.

    Great post.. hopefully this may wake a few people up..



    • Hi there my friend. Yes, there are some very odd individuals out there, offering extremely dubious advice.

      Thanks for the feedback, Mark.

  13. I’d add to look over their CV – on their own site or on LinkedIn. As a trainer myself I have hands-on experience from leading global blue chip digital campaigns but am frustrated by my competition on the training circuit who are often commentators rather than practitioners.

    • Hi there, Chris. Welcome to the blog. You make an important distinction there, between commentators and practitioners. Thanks for the feedback.

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