Criticism of Social Media Marketing

Snake Oil SalesmanTwo oft-used criticisms of marketers in the social media space is that we are either

a) Snake oil salesmen (or women); or

b) Because we have a hammer, everything looks like a nail

From Wikipedia:

The snake oil peddler became a stock character in Western movies: a travelling “doctor” with dubious credentials, selling some medicine (such as snake oil) with boisterous marketing hype, often supported by pseudo-scientific evidence, typically bogus.

and Wikipedia:

as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” OR Abraham Kaplan‘s, in 1964: “I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”

For the most part, these can be fair criticisms. There is a lot of hype in the market place right now with many people claiming they can do this sort of work (social media marketing). However, I’m happy to announce that I am the living embodiment of both these criticisms – and that many people reading this may also be, even unknowingly.


  • I have dubious credentials – but social media is such a nascent discipline that not many people have ironclad credentials
  • I use boisterous marketing hype – but there is so much cynicism around social media marketing that in order to break through with some clients, you must be bullish as to its efficiency
  • I support it with pseudo-scientific evidence – but again, this is an emerging discipline so much of what we do is guesswork.There’s plenty of research saying that a Facebook fan is worth this much and a Twitter follower this much, research houses pumping out points of view backed up with seemingly scientific rigour and hyperbole laced case studies. It ain’t much, but its the best we got.
  • Much of my support may well be bogus – but there is very little you can say “this will work for you” just because it happened somewhere else. This is true of all channels in your marketing plan
  • I believe, strongly, in this space – and that, given the right resources of time and/or money, the social channel can solve many business issues.
  • I fondle the hammer – as a sector “expert” within a large agency with huge clients, if I’m not an advocate and trumpet blower for my discipline, who will be?

Maslow's HammerI hope my passion and knowledge for the space shine through. I know that my talented team can deliver on our collective promises. But if you ask me if I can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt whether this works, I have to say no. If you accuse me of fondling a hammer, I have to agree. From what I can see, there are a lot of nails out there and lots of pieces of wood that need them.

3 Responses to Criticism of Social Media Marketing

  1. Brendan says:

    Dead right – I often feel like the snail oil salesman because I keep reading people calling us that!

    Take this for example:

    Then there’s this list:

    I don’t know anyone with all those attributes. Do you? I doubt the author does either!

    So, all we can do is try and develop the best ways of working that are founded in theory, practice and experience. Keep hammering!

  2. Remarkable candor.

    I am with you though. To me, the most salient thing you said was about the time investment needed in this channel. It is PAINFULLY slow in showing returns, imo.

    The quicker and more effectively those who work in it can communicate this to clients/internal audiences/bosses/etc the quicker the rep as snakeoil salesman will fade away.

    Tks Ed. Entertaining post.

  3. Sharon says:

    Love the honesty in this post. IMO many of these points could be applied to traditional marketing/ PR efforts (if we’re all honest with ourselves). Thanks Ed!

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