For over a year maybe two I’ve seen “social media” highlighted in search marketing land, as if it were the next stage of SEO or SEM. Some called themselves “social media optimizers” and some tried to coin the term “SMO” for “Social Media Optimization”. Lately my impression is those selling their services as social media experts are simply calling themselves “social media consultants” and “social media experts” these days. Fine enough, but what exactly do they do for a living?
A long time ago we called such people “social butterflies”, because they flittered from place to place trying to basically know everyone and have everyone know them. They relied upon a base of social support for their success. “It’s not what you know, but who you know” applied, but so did the old adage that you would could replace 200 of these people with one person who actually knew how to do something and had the attention span required to actually do it. Sometimes I think that is the fuel of the disruptive technology startup - displace the slow incumbents, who not coincidentally employ most of the social butterfly employees. More than one person has pointed out that social media traffic has little value.
Opinion aside, what exactly is it that Social Media Experts do? Today, courtesy of TheNextWeb, we see that some sly trickery exploits a flaw in Feedburner, and enables you to inflate your subscriber counts quickly and easily for free. People are reporting going from 43 to 2500 subscribers overnight via this cheat. Is this a service offered by Social Media Optimizers? Is this what was behind the veil of secrecy for SMO… pay my fee and I’ll get you subscribers? Obviously subscriber counts are success metrics for online marketers. How many companies have paid for such services, and admired the resulting “success” as reflected by Feedburner subscriber counts which were actually scammed?
The cool part of this story is that … you got it… this can be checked retroactively. Companies that paid for such trickery without a clear stated understanding that it was a scam, can expect to see those inflated subscriber counts vanish as Google fixes the loophole. Will lawsuits ensue? I don’t see why not… a scam is a scam. If a consultant hacked a service to achieve metrics which she then sold as performance metrics to justify a client fee, she’s..well… a thief, basically. I suppose terms of engagement included disclaimers and acknowledgements that the web is fluid and backlinks (and subscribers) are not glued in place and can change at any time, but since this exploit is traceable I doubt those are valid excuses for scamming the client.
Good luck collecting a judgement, however. From what I have seen, many of these “social media experts” openly acknowledge they can’t afford $1000 registration fees for industry conferences, pimp their websites in the brokered paid links marketplace, and monetize their pages with aggressively plastered Google ads — arguably the lowest paying monetization plan on the planet. If they are willing to do so much for so little, they obviously don’t have deep pockets.
It’s not all bad for social media people. I think this is an excellent time for the real social media experts to state their value propositions… demonstrate their true value as consultants by responding to this industry event with details of what they actually do besides exploiting loopholes and gaming popularity rating systems like Digg. I have no doubt the good guys will shine once they present their valid cases for engagement. I’m also pretty sure we’re going to see a whole bunch of “experts” go back to their nanny jobs, their real estate associate positions, and their work-at-home article writing enterprises.
If you feel this post of mine was a call to action, please defend your position in the comments. I’d love to hear some quality discussion from people in the social media space. If you do, please remember I already know you can write well and are good at participating in “the conversation”, so please refrain from just responding for the sake of responding and try to actually say something meaningful, ok?