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5 Social Media Myths

2009 December 17

While the emergence of Social Media has been amazing, much of the talk surrounding Social Media has become divorced from reality. Social Media is, and will most probably continue to be, a small (albeit important) part of the overall marketing picture.

Unfortunately, the way Social Media is being hyped will probably do more harm than good – a backlash is inevitable.

The root of the problem is that Social Media people don’t seem to know much about the rest of the marketing world.  Sometimes, they seem to imply that the world’s premier marketers have been in the grips of some mass hysteria for the last 50 years and they need self proclaimed social messiahs to part waters and show the way to the promised land.

Social Media myths are very easy to dispel with even a modest attempt to look at the facts.

Myth #1 Old Media is dead: Since 1996, Digital Media spend has gone from 0% to 10% of total advertising both in the US and globally (according to ZenithOptimedia).  At the same time, newspapers have dropped by roughly the same amount..

The rest of the media world has been flat.  TV has dropped a few points, Magazines have gained a few, Outdoor and Radio have been relatively stable.  None of the major media will die anytime soon.

Social Media gurus often cite selective anecdotal evidence.  They point to a company that went bust, or that a magazine went to a digital format.  Undoubtedly, these things have happened.  However, the same can be said for social media as well.  MySpace and Friendster have certainly seen better days.

As I wrote in an earlier post, despite the hype, there is no demonstrable trend away from traditional media.

Myth #2 Broadcast is dead: Another myth is that people don’t want one-way communication but want a dialogue instead.  Socialnomics author Erik Qualman proudly declares that he doesn’t even own a TV.

However, this Nielsen report (pdf) found TV viewership at an all time high in 2008.  Another interesting fact is that while nearly 30% of US homes have Digital Video Recorders (DVR), less than 5% of viewing is timeshifted.  It turns out that people enjoy being entertained. They even might sometimes prefer to talk to someone they are watching TV next to, rather than online.   Moreover, it seems that when they do watch timeshifted TV, they often watch commercials.

Just to put this point in its proper perspective, 5% of viewing is significant.  If a TV show can garner 5% of viewing it’s a hit!  However, the other 95% remains 19 times more meaningful.

Finally, It’s an open question how much of social media is actually dialogue and how much is broadcast, as Neicole Crepeau points out in her excellent blog post.

Myth #3 Editorial is dead: Digital Technology allows for greater consumer choice.  If we don’t like the content that editors choose for us, we can arrange information for ourselves, through RSS readers or other technologies.  Social Media gurus assume that because we can arrange information for ourselves, we will always want to.

The factual basis given for this myth is usually the same as for the two previous myths.  They point to some failure or give an example why someone would want to choose information for herself.  However, there are no facts to support a general trend away from editorial content. As Barry Schwartz points out in The Paradox of Choice, having more options isn’t always better or preferred.

As information multiplies, the editorial role is actually more important. Media fragmentation gives us more control over who we choose to pay attention to, but that just increases the value of those who can gain our trust.

Digital Media allows us to research the facts for ourselves more efficiently, but we certainly can’t do that in every case; nor would we want to.  If it was so easy, Social Media gurus would get their facts right more often.

Myth #4 Brand advertising is dead: Businesses advertise for many different reasons.  Some campaigns focus solely on stimulating sales, others do not.  If direct response was all they cared about, advertisers wouldn’t spend so much time and effort tracking brand perception.

The truth is that consumers respond to brands that they like and trust.  Brand advertising makes direct response more effective, salespeople more productive and products stand out on shelves.

For products that have short product cycles, advertising can translate directly into sales.  However, durable goods advertise to consumers who are years away from a purchase and business services often depend on retaining clients over a period of years.  Many marketers have to deal with consumer behavior that is far more complex than simply counting clicks.

Direct response advertising has been around for decades.  It has been, and will always remain an important part of the picture and digital technology makes response much easier to measure.  However, as I’ve pointed out before, that doesn’t negate the need for brand advertising.

Myth # 5 There is a trend towards Social Media: Just as evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould pointed out that there is no trend towards “evolutionary progress” but towards diversity, the real trend is towards media fragmentation and it’s been going on for a very long time.

While Social Media is important, it is doubtful that it will ever make up more than a small part of the overall marketing picture. (See more on this topic here).

We can reasonably expect both Social Media and its impact to grow, but eventually that growth will level off.  Trees don’t grow to the sky.  If Social Media can achieve even a few percent of the enormous global market for marketing services, it will be an enormous business.  However, believing that Social Media’s gain will come at great expense to everyone else is just not thinking seriously.

A Future Role for Social Media – Big Seed Marketing

For Social Media to become successful, it will have to integrate successfully with other marketing services.  Good marketing unlocks synergies between marketing channels.

Duncan Watts, although a virtual unknown in Social Media circles, was the initial pioneer of Social Network Theory and is someone to be taken seriously.  He is also the primary advocate of Big Seed Marketing.

The concept is based on the mathematics of Social Networks, the fact that a substantial effect can be initiated anywhere in the network (e.g. delays at a regional airport can disrupt major hubs) and also on Solomon Asch’s research on how majorities influence minorities. (See How Ideas Spread).

Watts advocates using mass media campaigns, because that is the most efficient way to reach the most people.  His research suggests that campaigns can be greatly extended using social media.  In effect, that Social Media can multiply the efficacy of conventional campaigns.  Major brands such as E*Trade and Miller Beer have adopted the strategy.

Those who have a stake in Social Media would gain much greater benefit thinking seriously about how they can improve and extend existing marketing campaigns rather than casting aspersions on what other media contribute.

– Greg

77 Responses leave one →
  1. December 23, 2009


    That assumes that advertisers are shifting their budgets in a substantial way. There is no data to confirm and much to the contrary. You can read more about this topic here.

    – Greg

  2. December 23, 2009


    Very good points, well argued:-))

    Happy Holidays!

    – Greg

  3. December 24, 2009

    As good guy, smart and humble guy, Joseph Jaffe said at Brandhackers the other night in NYC, it’s not an Either/Or thing, it’s an Ampersand thing. Social AND other/traditional. Because that’s the way people BEHAVE SOCIALLY…via whatever means they can share, and there are many of them. Yes, early adopters of new technologies are by definition those who tend to LEAN INTO the new, be it hype-real or hype-hype or a a combo of both. But the lesson looking back is that they’re leaning in to somewhere we’re all headed, with or without the hyped or real technology…TO THE FUTURE, THE THING THAT MIGHT MAKE THINGS BETTER. And, ah, you gotta say that the numbers for Facebook and Twitter and the social media space are of the volume and substance and ROI-construct that c-suites are leaning into, too. So, while there are always going to be healthy market corrections in the road ahead, even possible bubbles to be burst or deflated, chances are that we’re going in that same direction where our innovators are already leaning: forward to something new. I tried wrapping my arms around this in these two pieces I wrote, with some FUN example cases on the 2nd one, enjoy:….

  4. December 24, 2009


    There a lot of truth to that, but I don’t think it goes far enough. It’s really an integration thing.

    It’s kind of like when you build a friendship with someone you would say I’m going to use the telephone & e-mail & face to face meetings & social media. You would integrate your available communication tools based on the purpose of what you wanted to communicate.

    – Greg

  5. Jeff Flemings permalink
    January 5, 2010

    Awesome post, thanks for some much-needed objectivity.

  6. January 5, 2010


    I’m glad you liked it. Many didn’t (although I have a feeling they earn their living from social media marketing.

    – Greg

  7. January 7, 2010

    There’s no arguing with your solid accumulation of relevant facts – you are now the Official Myth Buster!
    Buried within the hype, however, is the fact that SMM actually does work, although not, perhaps, as well as or for “free” as people say. The cost in time is a large investment. It’s important to not ignore more traditional media outlets as you point out, and thus to use every available outlet to reach out to people. Even within just the online world, for example, SEO on its own is not the answer, nor is PPC or SMM. What works best is to use all the techniques you can figure out how to use, and if you can’t figure it out for an important one, hire an expert to show you. Marketing has always been about finding the right audience and these days, with all the fragmentation you highlight, it’s more and more about using the right medium to find the right audience.
    If you are going to leap in and run a SMM campaign, you may find the process we use to run ours useful as it does indeed work:
    Thanks again for a great blog!

  8. January 7, 2010


    Nice to see you again. I hope you had a nice holiday.

    You are absolutely right. Social Media Marketing is a valuable part of any marketing effort, although not to the exclusion of the other valuable parts:-))

    – Greg

  9. January 7, 2010

    Hi Greg;
    Thanks for the kind wishes. Hope you had a great holiday season and all the best for twenty-ten. Keep up the great blogging!

  10. January 7, 2010


    Nice assessment of social media in a relevant context—as a small part of the overall marketing landscape.
    Take away for marketers is that they have never had greater choice with more complexity to distribute messages or build relationships.
    One of the biggest questions they now face is who is the most qualified resource to help marketers connect the dots in this increasingly integrated world that will deliver the highest efficiency and ROI.
    As always, there’s plenty of opportunity with this significant challenge.

  11. January 7, 2010



    That’s a good question which might not be answered for a long time. My own personal feeling is that everybody will need to integrate social media into what they do. A few specialists will make it, but most won’t.

    – Greg

  12. January 8, 2010

    Greg – I can see your point of view. Social Media is hyped up in a way that is confusing to most and for the companies that are new to the game it can be extremely time consuming. The reason why it is so time consuming is because; there are limited professionals who can properly carryout Social Media campaigns.

    The basic functions of Social Media are simple though, they are to Communicate, Collaborate, Educated and Entertain. So, in short Social Media is Branding. It is also platform for providing information, resolving internal and external issues, feedback and conducting training to eliminate time and money spent. If used properly it can decrease the number of call center reps by using a Blog or YouTube video educating your customers on the set-up or provide user information on your products or service. Setting up a Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace page can give you customers and employees a platform to discuss issues or new development ideas by giving them the opportunity to collaborate. You can even conduct employee trainings around the globe using YouTube or Skype cutting down on travel expenses.

    While Social Media is not the only answer to all of your marketing needs, there needs to be a focus in this area. The advantages to Social Media stretch far beyond just marketing, if Social Media is something you are using or considering you should look at all of the advantages, not just marketing. When Social Media is appropriately carried out it can have an impact on your overall business.

    For an example of how Social Media can affect your overall business take a look at Dell. This is one GIANT that is using Social Media to its fullest advantage.

    Check out their Social Media website at This website was created to encourage customers to share ideas about what they do and what they wanted from Dell. Ratings and Reviews are implemented on because customers want information from each other.

    They also have a Facebook page, Facebook-Dell social media page for small business driven by a desire to “give back” to the community some lessons they have learned in social media.

    To find out more about Dell’s success in Social Media check out the interview by Richard Binhammer conducted by TopRankBlog:

    If companies such as Dell see a great value in Social Media and have made it a success, it is worth spending a little time researching, testing and implementing Social Media in to your business.

    -Joseph Keith

  13. January 8, 2010


    I’m not anti-social media, I’m anti-myth.

    Anyway, lots of good points.


    – Greg

  14. Sarm permalink
    January 10, 2010

    Greg, Hope you are doing good. There has been quite a good reflection on the facts and myths you state out there. However, One question, How can traditional media and social media can integrate together to work for the betterment of the society rather than turning both concepts one against the other?


  15. January 10, 2010


    That’s a very good point. In my view, they have to integrate.

    I wrote about it here:

    – Greg

  16. Sarm permalink
    January 10, 2010

    Greg, Thanks for your insight on this. I read your article. It was really great. However, it perhaps could be solidified by stating the roles of the actors that are involved, the problems that have to be overcomed between both these media, the roñles of user behavior, for that matter.

    Perhaps, also it is important to consider the technical developments that have occured over the years that may provide some kind of a leverage between the two media in order to instill any synergies between both the media.

    Possibly you have material that would answer these queries. So, I look forward to more insight on this.

    Keep up the great jobs!


  17. January 10, 2010


    Thanks. The story is still being played out. However, I don’t think technology will have much to do with it (the technology of social networking isn’t very sophisticated). Rather, the economics of business partnerships will drive the process.

    Anyway, it will be exciting. That’s for sure.

    – Greg

  18. January 31, 2010

    Hi Greg,
    Good article. Realizing you focus more on the major corporations of the world, and I am not, I still benefit from the information you write about. In my short time frame of experience and limited buget for advertising, I believe a beginners main focus should not be in social media – but to use it as an addition to other avenues.
    “small and learning” 🙂

  19. January 31, 2010


    I’m glad to hear that it’s helpful.

    btw. How are you marketing your company? Trade shows? Direct response?

    – Greg

  20. Diane Wasilisian permalink
    February 1, 2010

    Hi Greg
    I believe the younger generation who has not had the experience in other marketing mechanisms are now coming out as guru’s because that is how it works in business. Each new generation comes with new ideas and tools because that is how they communicate and react. When we do marketing it is hopefully to get someone to take an action or remember the brand when they go to purchase something. For the younger generation it is social media but at the end of the day is it the only thing that will meet the needs of the different audiences probably not but as someone who is diving in because I believe if you are not plugged into the new group of buyers and discussion happening on the internet you are going to loose out. But do I think the standard marketing tools don’t work anymore no, I think they have their place but honestly I through more direct mail away than I care to tell you.

  21. February 1, 2010


    Interesting points. However, the simple fact is that Social Media isn’t getting the results that match the hype. It’s definitely going to be part of the landscape going forward, but it probably won’t play even close to the role that its advocates hope that it will.

    – Greg

  22. March 19, 2010


    Great piece. You consistently hit it out of the park. Thank you once again for bringing logic to a world of hype. I am a fan of social media and am using it daily, but I believe that sound marketing depends on more than the use of one tool.

    Best Regards,

    James Snider
    Global Marketing and Social Media Marketing
    “Making sure social media marketing is ….marketing”

  23. March 19, 2010


    Thanks. Those are very kind words.

    – Greg

  24. April 5, 2010

    The FACT that you get 75 responses so far from a social network tool, does tell you that it is something that marketers should not ignore. If you are able to create a relevant topic for your brand , conversations will tales place. 5 years ago, I might agree with you that traditional media and advertising /marketing being around for 50 years is rock solid, but technology and social patterns partly due to the technology that allows for instant sharing DOES have an impact on communication. I am not saying that advertising and marketing is DEAD, far from it, but to close an eye or a ear to what is taking place out there and how consumers are actually becoming a strong voice in brand selection, we do need to embrace changes and rethink carefully of how we can be more effective. Sure Social Media. networking, marketing is the BUZZ word now. I do not think it is going to overtake or replace the marketing scene but marketers DO NEED to embrace it and evolve and have Social Media Strategy. It is not about how much lower it cost but how to actually have quality and positive dialogue with your actual customers than just see numbers. It is a lot more hard work than placing an ad or event.
    Not sure is is myths, but facts that we marketers should seriously think about.

  25. April 5, 2010


    I agree that social media is becoming increasingly important. However, I’m less sanguine about the hype that surround it, especially the annoying inability of social media practitioners to speak intelligently about anything but social media.

    In the end, presenting a distorted picture of the value of social media won’t do it any good.

    – Greg

  26. Mike Pascale permalink
    June 13, 2010

    Hi, Greg!

    Very informative as usual. One point:

    “As I wrote in an earlier post, despite the hype, there is no demonstrable trend away from traditional media.”

    The exception, of course, is newspapers. Seattle, Detroit, Denver, Chicago and so many more major and minor cities have seen their half- to over a century-old major papers die and/or absorbed into one just to stay alive. We can see in the rise of Craigslist and the downfall of traditional classified advertising that one part of the “oldest media” is sadly diminished. (Note too the demise of the printed AutoTrader for the web-only site.)

    Granted, they are not “dead” and I hope will always survive to some degree in paper form, but they are shells of their former selves. Magazines may be next but we’ll see.


  27. June 13, 2010


    You’re absolutely right. In the original post that I linked to, I even put (except newspapers). The main problem is that a sizable proportion of newspaper revenue came from classifieds and that’s all moving to the web.

    However, I thinks magazines have a much better future. I say why here:

    – Greg

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