So, Apparently Business Insider Thinks We’re All Frauds …

Woman with telescope against sky background

I read an article over the weekend that … well, “confused me” is probably understating things too much, so let’s go for “this was the expression on my face.”

It’s from Business Insider, and it purports to tell you “7 Ways to Avoid Getting Burned By a Social Media Fraud.”

OK. Let’s all take a deep breath and a step back here.

I agree with the apparent premise underlying the piece: that there are a significant number of folks out there offering and marketing their services as social media consultants or “experts” that don’t have the experience, skill, or understanding to truly do their clients any good.

I’ll even go so far as to agree that, out of that group of less-than-skilled peeps, there’s a fair number of outright charlatans — folks the author of this piece would call “frauds.”

But the list of seven points she offers as a roadmap to avoiding either group?

That, I’ve got a few problems with.

Let’s look at each in turn, then in a few days — because my momma taught me never to point out a problem without offering a different solution — I’ll share what think are the best ways to hire proficient SMCs and avoid the frauds.

BI says social media frauds “don’t get more traffic than you” and “real” SM consultants must be in the top five search engine results. 

I say “Sometimes they might get less traffic, or be banished to the end of the SERPs, but neither of these things are necessarily indicative of fraud.” There are a whole host of reasons why one site might get more traffic than another that have nothing to do with fraudulent intent. And there are lots of reasons why a particular website might be pushed down in the rankings — also not proof of flimflammery.

First things first: both of these “tips” presuppose the Google algorithm never makes mistakes, ever.

To that, I can only say “Tramadol Diaries” — a site I started as a predecessor to Trauma Dolls, that offered only sound, vetted advice on managing chronic pain and personal stories from other sufferers.

Apparently because of the word “tramadol” — a mild opioid prescription drug that I credited with saving my life but which, unfortunately, is at the heart of many sleazy online pharmacy sites — in the URL and the title, Google slapped it with a “0” Page Rank and a presence on SERPs that was way down in the double digits.

After I changed the name & the domain, it’s up to a PR2 (which I still quibble with) and a much more impressive standing in the SERPs.  Same site, mind you. Same content. Just a different name and a different URL.

Additionally, the newer a site is, the less pull it’s going to have both in SERPs and in traffic. What about the in-house consultant who’s been effectively handling all social media for a large corporation for over five years, who then decides to go solo and freelance? Her site’s not going to rank particularly well for a long time, because the age of a site is a significant factor in SERPs. Same with traffic — it takes time to build up traffic, and the fact that a particular SM consultant’s site is relatively new is not, by itself, indicative that she’s out to steal your money.

Also, the whole argument behind these two “tips” confuses social media expertise with SEO proficiency. Granted the two have a lot in common — a good SM campaign can help improve SEO, a solid SEO program can boost a social media campaign’s visibility. But they are not the same thing. Expecting a SM consultant to rank in the top five – not the top five pages, mind you, but the top five – is a little unrealistic.

And one last thing about that whole “top five” business: It’s almost impossible these days for any solo or small biz to get to the top five in a short-tail keyword like “social media.”

Even if we go slightly more long-tail with “social media consultant,” in the first ten results I get 3 individual consultants, one agency, and the rest look to be general marketing and copywriting blogs. (Results will vary, depending on where you live, of course.)

Between directories and large, high-PR media sites writing more and more often about social media consultancy and services, a solo consultant’s gonna have a hard time getting on the first page — for these keywords.

And that’s my last beef with these tips: Suggesting an absolute numerical bar in search engine results is totally, wholly meaningless, unless you also provide the keywords associated with those results. It makes me question the legitimacy of this article, and it should make you question it, too.

BI says all social media consultants who aren’t frauds have blogs.

While I agree that the presence of a well-maintained, intelligent blog is a great tool by which prospective clients can analyze a potential SM consultant hire, the absence of one does not a fraud make.

I know many highly-regarded folks who have demonstrated skill with social media who have either foregone blogging altogether, in favor of one platform or another, or who have stopped blogging after an initial start, since they were engaging with most of their audience in other ways.

Bottom line: I have less of a problem with this one than the two “search & traffic” tips above, but again, it’s too broad and based on faulty assumptions.

BI says any social media consultant who focuses only on Twitter and Facebook is a fraud.

OK, this one, I take personally.

BI’s article states:

A real social media expert will capitalize on all avenues of social media, including Pinterest, YouTube, and Flickr. They will have a strategy on how to promote your brand on each platform. You wouldn’t run for President and only ask certain people to vote for you. You want to take advantage of everything out there.


You do not want to “take advantage of everything out there.” That’s just — is “stupid” too harsh?

You want to take your company where your prospective clients are, period. And nowhere else.

If they’re hanging out on Google+, then by golly, you better be on Google+. And your SM consultant should understand Google+ and use it like Robert Scoble, baby.

If they’re busily pinning away on Pinterest, then you better believe you need to be there, too. And your SM consultant should be a Pinterest maven.

I cannot think of one single kind of business that needs to be or should be on every social media platform available, outside a few major Fortune 500 brands.

I don’t do Pinterest. It’s not that I don’t like Pinterest. I do, actually. I use it for visual inspiration in my writing, often. (Also, to get ideas for decorating my apartment and cool recipes to try out. Ahem.)

But my peeps aren’t on Pinterest, and if they are, they’re also on Twitter and Facebook.  Spending any amount of time out of my marketing-time-budget developing a Pinterest presence, in addition to Twitter and Facebook, is wasted time for me. I’m duplicating and diluting my efforts unnecessarily.

This tip, above all, makes me facepalm mightily like our linked-to friend Leo up there.

I just — no.

Bad BI.

Coming Wednesday: “What You Should REALLY Be Looking For in a Social Media Consultant.”

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick Armstrong July 16, 2012 at 11:54 am


I have always blanched when someone called me a social media “guru”. I require that any time I’m called an expert, it’s placed in quotes.

Who ever heard of a telephone expert? A telegraph expert? A… well, you get the idea.

Social media is a tool. Sometimes you can use it to great effect, but a LOT of social media pros fly under the radar for exactly the same reasons that other small business owners do – lack of time, lack of confidence. The plumber’s house is usually always the leaky one, too. If all put so much time and care into their clients, we’d have a very different scenario in the business world.

It’s usually the ones who are wicked good at promoting, or have really high follow counts without good content, that make me scratch my head. They usually have the worst advice too – but as Business Insider has shown us, generalizations are pretty dangerous.

Annie Sisk July 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Word, Nick. I think given the ever-changing nature of social media (exhibit A: Facebook – the prosecution rests, Your Honor) it’s hard to even conceive of an “expert.” It’s too new, too mutable, for real expertise. But there are better practices and less-effective practices, to be sure. Finding the right consultant is a bit of a crapshoot, and I do understand the need for an article like the one BI wanted to publish, but the one they DID publish is not that, LOL. It just falls way, way short of the mark. And as you rightly point out, folks who are serving their clients are out there serving their clients, not promoting themselves 24/7 – sometimes those top five/top ten folks make me scratch my head, too! 

Sheila Hibbard July 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Love it, love it, love it.  Perfectly said and perfectly correct.  Can’t wait for the 2nd part. 

Lisa Shaughnessy July 16, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Yes! Thank you for giving me just the right words to use the next time someone says something similar. I’m a marketer who uses social media to help my clients spread the word about their businesses. I also use print, community events, referral programs, etc but no one ever accuses me of being a “print” guru lol.

I love that the person actually said a business should be on every social networking site – really?? Do they also expect a business to advertise in every possible magazine? I don’t get why people don’t get that social medis is a marketing tool (as @NickArmstrong:disqus said).

I feel a pent up rant coming on so I will just leave it at that 🙂

Annie Sisk July 19, 2012 at 11:00 am

Thanks for the comment Lisa! Rant on, girlfriend, and leave us a link! 

Annie Sisk July 19, 2012 at 11:00 am

Grazie, Sheila! Thanks so much for commenting – I’m working on that follow-up as we speak! 

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