Social Media Experts: The Paris Hilton Business Model At Work?

by: Susan Oh

“A lot of useless people are making money off of people trying to build useful things,” sighed my friend I’ll call SD, a smart manager of developers at a digital company, who true to nerdsome self, loathes any kind of public attention.

Our conversation unfolded after I told him about my exhausting week at a tech conference, during which one of my team members introduced me to a social media expert and online marketer  that he insisted had a lot of influence based on her number of Twitter followers. To my surprise, immediately upon exchanging names, she offered me cash to network her in with other journalists. For the act of selling my colleagues and  former co-workers, many of whom I considered friends, I was offered $150 per handshake. I thought that was akin to Michael Arrington’s assertion that  taking a paid networker to Silicon Valley is like showing up at a holiday party with a prostitute, except I’d be the one pimping.

In the beginning of my learning curve with social media, I’d gone to tweet ups and social media events, most of which required that I pay $10 a ticket for a watered-down drink and  conversation. I’ll admit that my view may be jaundiced by my first (and last) outing at a particular social media event with a nice- though a bit socially awkward- bunch and at least one insistent social deviant who kept harassing me for a business card, saying, “I think you’re ignoring me and I’ll let you know it’s dangerous to your health to do so.” I also met a career criminal there whom I later found out was on probation for forging Mayor Daley’s signature on business licenses. I digress. The evening was social, but not so much about media or tech tools. “So is this social media?,” I recalled asking myself.

I found myself continuously annoyed by the number of people who have a “Paris Hilton business model” working for them: self proclaimed prophets who are recognized just because they’ve made an effort at being so. But if you have to say it – like Executive Motels or Quality Restaurant – maybe it just ain’t so.

Said SD: “In general I find it very weird how an entire monetization model has popped up around SEO manipulation, linkbaiting, and false prophets- it’s like the algorithms are being taken advantage of in return.” On the finance side of things, it seems to be a reversal of the high-frequency trading emergence. There is a lot of money to be had in manipulating transient states.

Aside from just the annoyance of the look-at-me culture, SD’s issue was that “a lot of people are losing out while they’re trying to build good things and these bottom feeders are eating off that.” Buzzfeed also had a recent taster post on the subject. He says, “Offering social media expertise as a value proposition is going to be like saying you’re an email expert in 1990. At first [social media] is weird and new to some people. Thus, companies lacking an understanding will solicit help to figure it out; but over time it will just be another means to an end.”

In these circles, by default everyone thinks they are insightful prophets, but really, what value do they bring? So-called social media experts are more or less bandwagon jumpers who don’t recognize that this is just another medium of communication, just as email was in 1990. But now, “experts” play it off like some secret magic sauce made by a select saavy coven. There seem to be many who have created a reasonable business model on this, selling consulting services to older, established companies or traditional brick-and-mortar outfits in a mostly stagnant industry that hasn’t budged in decades until now.

SD pointed to rise of infographics as the start, but there are literally people making hundreds of thousands of dollars over doing nothing but repurposing information that is likely to posted again, in the range of $300,000- $500,000 region for doing nothing. How is it that all of the people building things are losing money to people who do nothing but reference those things?

Now, there are legitimate tech startup experts and social media practitioners who really are good community builders- those who serve their consumers by engaging them in ever inventive ways in order to create better services and products with input from their community of customers. Good social media practitioners start conversations that need to happen in the public sphere. That’s how value is created- ideally, with the company being rewarded with more loyal customers and, in turn, sales.

But the legitimate social media expert is becoming as rare as a unicorn. Ever humble, they’d never call themselves experts. Instead, they let their work and followers speak for themselves. It’s like branding yourself as a tech start up or online marketing expert just because you ran an Ebay store once upon a time. It’s a stupidly brave new world where someone has the guts to build an entire empire around SEO and linkbaiting- or have a billion-dollar company that makes no revenue. The mind boggles.

Just look at Hollywood agencies that represent stars, tweeting on their behalf to deliver celebrity endorsement deals. ViperChill.com is that kind of expert who takes the approach: “I have figured out the secret to making money using social media. Pay me and I’ll tell you, too.” Even hired guns can lead companies astray; Chrysler fired its social media reps for that very reason.

It comes back down to all the parasitic groups of people that have sprung up around making money off of others who are just trying to build meaningful sh*t. If you’re really busy making meaningful things, you literally have no time to deal with this stuff, right? No one who is actually building things of value has time to think about this. There are lots of people out there who make money for reasonably stupid reasons, like tweeting on a company’s behalf on a $5k-per-month retainer. So, exactly how does your tweeting about my restaurant or rental service make me money? The proof is in the coffers.

Ultimately, solid business fundamentals rule supreme: any senior decision maker who has seen technologies come and go will be evaluating the technology simply based on whether it results in more sales or not. So that is the ultimate bullsh*t test. What kind of numbers has this practice created?

“I think there are definitely new tactics, skills, and strategies to be learned and this is where value can be added,” said SD. He listed off things like marketing automation (i.e. Eloqua, Google Analytics, and SEO), but “the opportunity also exists for people like self-professed experts, who are adding little value. There is a whole other world out there- apparently, one full of people who can make a reasonable living off of the gaps in this market, capitalizing on certain transient faults.”

Like how an unstable economy and a decidedly sharp shift in notion of the American Dream spawned a Paris Hilton, who, by the way, was selling tweets for $3,000 a pop. Her numbers on Good Analytics weren’t bad, the article mused, but Charlie Sheen’s tweets had a bigger impact when he was Tiger Blood-delusional.

 

 

About the author Susan Oh @Technori
Susan Oh is a journalist whose stories have been aired on or published in mainstream media outlets globally. She is Senior Columnist at Technori.com.

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