Why Winning Social Media Friends Doesn't Guarantee Influencing People

Winning Friends isn't Equal to Influencing PeopleAccording to many social media innovators, the channel is Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” on steroids. They say that it is a new form of marketing that is all about building relationships and attracting people to your business.

I’m so tired of hearing that social media “is all about the conversation.” Maybe I am still in the “don’t get it” group, but the last time I checked the purpose of marketing is to promote your business. Since social media is a form of marketing, doesn’t that mean that it’s partially about promoting your business?

The problem I have with the social media guru battle cry “It’s all about the conversation” is that it misleads people.

You can spend 18 hours a day 7 days a week chatting online without acquiring a single customer. But, the cry continues to resonate through the online community.

I have always believed in following the money to determine authenticity. If someone tells me about a great deal, I want to know if there is a financial incentive for him or her. If there isn’t, the recommendation has more credibility. When I followed the social media money, I found that the ones yelling the loudest about reaping results from conversations appear to profit from advertising dollars and speaking engagements. It puts things in a different perspective.

While they are telling you not to actively market your products online, every time they post a link to their blog, they are promoting their business. If you scroll through their tweets, you find a series of “I’m waiting at really cool restaurant before giving my really great speech” or “Visit my blog to learn how to behave in social media” messages.

You can learn much more by watching what they’re doing rather than listening to what they are saying. Truth be told, they are marketing geniuses. They have created a model that simultaneously increases their income while reducing their competition. Incredible!

If you are trying to sell a social media strategy, you many want to rethink starting with “it’s all about the conversation.”

Unless you are selling advertising or speeches, it’s not.

Social media for the rest of us is all about targeted marketing. The conversation is important and will help your company grow if you are chatting with people in your target market.

Social media influence is falsely measured by the number of friends or followers. If you monitor the public timeline in twitter, you’ll find plenty of opportunity to buy followers. If you read the public forums in LinkedIn, there’s postings that say “I will accept your invitation if you invite me to network with you.”

Benchmarking by friend or followers creates desperation in people that want to belong. It reminds me of the beginning days of business networking. Quiet conversation at trade conferences’ social events was replaced with “here’s my card, may I have yours” hit & run networkers. (Okay, okay! Maybe the conversation wasn’t that quiet with the alcohol flowing freely, but it was more about getting to know people than collecting pieces of paper.)

I would rather have 50 friends or followers who know me well enough to challenge me when I go off on a tangent and inspire me when my page is blank than 50,000 who do nothing. When I look at social media activity, companies that target their customers are better examples than the ones simply participating in the conversation.

If you are thinking about entering the social media channel, the first step is to decide what you want to accomplish.

If you want to sell advertising and join the speaker circuit, acquire as many followers as you can and motivate them to click your links.

If you want to sell your products or services, choose your friends and followers carefully. Invite them into your inner circle. Provide value with insider information and special promotions. In social media, as in life, it’s about the quality of your relationships, not the volume.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jeremiah Staes

    I think this goes down to an even more basic concept that is important on or offline.

    Most have no idea who their target market is. They GUESS at it, they work with “Confident Assumptions;” but ask the real questions and many seem to get offended. How dare you question them with the concept of a data-driven decision!

    Most businesses are pound foolish, spending millions without results but are supposedly penny wise for not spending even a day reviewing who actually wants/buys what they need. This is the critical first step that ego gets in the way of.

    So I agree – as an online and social media professional – that 50,000 followers are useless unless they’re in your market. There always will be a blend of personal and professional followers; but setting that aside, for the marketing part, it’s much better to talk to 1,000 people who care than 10,000 who don’t. After all, this is supposedly our advantage over industrial media – that the people we’re engaging are the right people as opposed to a shotgun approach – but old habits and the human nature of egos wanting lots of followers for the sake of followers tend to overtake most folks.

    Not to justify but to explain – many times, that large number is what sells and that’s what clients want, the large numbers. It’s really hard for most either traditional or social to grasp the concept of targeting as outlined above, even people who’ve been doing it for a long time – sometimes, those are the worst. The allure of “big numbers” is just too much.

  • Debra Ellis

    You’re right. Big numbers are terribly tempting, especially when the media watches them so closely. We need to find the balance between numbers and results to satisfy everyone. Now, if we could get everyone else to buy in…

  • Beth Harte

    Debra, I think there’s a bit of confusion out there around “it’s all about the conversation.” Thank you for bringing up the topic, because it’s nice to see another perspective around the world we are now living in as business professionals.

    Typically when social media folks (I am one) state that they mean conversation with customers or prospects. Not with every Joe/Jane Doe on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn (although that seems to happen quite a bit with some folks). Companies have been ignoring their customers for so long that 1) customers are having conversations with other potential customers about them or 2) customers are sharing negative or positive experiences and the organizations aren’t listening, having a conversation, saying thank your and/or fixing the problem/issue.

    You are right, numbers me nothing unless they are people that might buy your product or service or at least recommend you.

    I am not a fan of the term “social media marketing” because it leads business people to believe that they can get tons of new leads just by being on Twitter, Facebook or having a blog. They are sold by SMM consultants that it’s that simple. And the reality is that that it simply doesn’t work that way…just because a consultant or organization knows how to use these these tools doesn’t mean you get marketing or how to build relationships that end in a sale for your business. Not only that, but social media is a lot of hard work.

    Honestly, I will say I think others “falsely measure” social media by the number of followers someone has. They put people on pedestals just because they have tons of followers and that’s just as wrong. Most of the people who truly believe in the business benefits of social media and engaging in conversations with their customers aren’t living in that world…they work hard, they have conversations with their customers/prospects and they are very focused on what they are doing in the social media space. But, then again, maybe that’s just the people I know… 😉

    Beth Harte
    Community Manager, MarketingProfs

  • Debra Ellis


    Thank you for your perspective on the term “social media marketing”. I think that you are right that it misleads people. I may continue to use it, but with clarification.

    The biggest challenge I see for social media is that it is new and uncharted territory. It’s like a gold rush with everyone dashing to stake their claims. A few, like you, study about how to improve it instead of how to capitalize on it. The rest are measuring success by easily accessed analytics (number of followers) and selling their snake oil to unsuspecting companies. Most of this will disappear as the channel evolves. Until then, we have to deal with the noise.

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