Social Proofing, Snake Oil Agencies And Brands (Oh My)

Social proofing is not a new concept and one we’ve been discussing for years. There are many types of social proofing, (just a few discussed in the first link) yet these days a lot of brands seem to be obsessed over just one.

One that is almost totally meaningless to everyone except the brand: follower/like count. It might be a little less irksome if it was an obsession with numbers associated with a source community. But nope, just social outposts. Sad.

Look around and you see a ridiculous arms race to inflate meaningless KPIs like Twitter followers and Facebook likes among others. It’s just silly and as a marketer who actually measures to conversion / revenue from the web for clients (and personally) it frustrates me when I see brands:

  • Run promotions that are basically non-sequitur to what they sell / stand for simply to increase (irrelevant) followers (giving away an iPad is basically telling the world you have no good ideas).
  • Hire snake oil social media agencies that use tools or automation to pump up publicly view-able metrics with spambots (you’re really not fooling anyone).

It’s beyond un-creative and a waste of time and resources. It’s harmful for everyone involved because none of these marketers understand how to build an activated web community, how to actually get to conversion from their initiatives or create any sort of sustainable returns. These brands will never achieve anything other than reaching an arbitrary number.

This exercise by brands and agencies is shameful practice and if your social proofing strategy includes chasing friend and follower counts (in 2011!) you honestly need to get out of the marketing industry. These people are charlatans, not marketing professionals.

What’s even sadder are attempts to try to extend what is nothing more than a social proofing tactic to a business outcome. Sure, it is easy for companies who sell products relating to the fan/follower circus to assign blanket values to these numbers. Easy, but as we keep pointing out, ridiculous. It’s easy for consultants to slap fancy labels on metrics / add pixie dust / make up nonsense formulas (when those who do understand web measurement don’t need to do this) but they generally fall apart under scrutiny.

But I’ll actually give a free pass today to brands participating in fluffing KPIs. It’s still shameful, yes, but they either don’t know any better or are getting pressure to perform this arbitrary exercise which, btw, makes them look bad to smart people. Their punishment is self-inflicted damage they are doing by hurting any actual business benefits they would have accrued through nurturing a real web community. Anyway, see how easily we have called out examples of manipulation (from major brands) in the past? It’s going to catch up with them.

It is the snake oil agencies and consultants we should be naming and shaming. Although thinking about this today, if a brand with a legitimate budget for online marketing consulting or internal hire still doesn’t know enough to stay away from swindlers, maybe these two groups are made for each other and we’re better off ignoring the whole thing. As the saying goes, a fool and his money are easily parted.

What do you think? Should we let the fluff KPI-crazed consultants and brands have each other?

None of this stuff is new. At this point, are the serious digital marketing professionals simply better off working with those interested in creating real result-oriented programs?

image credit: Shutterstock