Larry Brauner

In the past week, social media hype and the competency of  social media consultants have been analyzed from different vantage points by prominent writers.

ClickZ published an article, Here Come the Social Media Carpetbaggers by Rebecca Lieb.

Social Media Carpetbaggers

Rebecca pointed out that a combination of the recession, the decline of traditional media, and the nearly zero cost and barrier-to-entry into social media has spawned 21st century “social media carpetbaggers, in all flavors and colors of the rainbow.”

Which carpetbaggers?

It’s reputable marketers who have built deservedly strong reputations in other digital disciplines: branding, creative, strategy, search, media, and a host of other specialties, who are suddenly labeling themselves “social.”

These carpetbaggers are anxious to get their piece of social media marketing, and their dog-and-pony shows and social media clichés substitute for real experience, competence and substance.

Social Media Snake Oil

Social Media Snake OilBusiness Week published Beware Social Media Snake Oil by Stephen Baker which portrayed social media consulting as sizzle more than steak.

Stephen criticized rigidity, conflicts of interest, reliance on soft metrics, and in the worst of cases, pure hype:

“It’s a bit of a Wild West scenario,” blogs David Armano, a consultant with the Dachis Group of Austin, Texas. Without naming names, he compares some consultants to “snake oil salesmen.”

Beyond Social Media Snake Oil

The David Armano just cited added to the discussion in a subsequent article on his blog, Life After Social Media Snake Oil. David made some astute comparisons between the social media “hype and fuzzy metrics” and the denial surrounding the dot com bubble.

David ended his article by connecting the past and the future:

The true believers who stuck with the Web even when the bubble burst became the people you wanted to work with. If there is a shakeout in the social space, the same will happen. The true believers will remain, while others flock to the next hot field.

Social Media in Perspective

Mark Evans also picked up on the Business Week piece. Mark concludes that we need more perspective:

All the hype surrounding social media and tools such as Twitter and Facebook overshadow the fact that effective marketing and communications will continue to include a variety of tools. To counter all the happy talk from social media consultants about what could be, the biggest thing needed right now is perspective.

My Comments on What I’ve Read

I have several comments to make on the articles I’ve read:

  • Not only social media, but web development, and website, social media and search engine optimization all have more than enough carpetbaggers and snake oil salesmen. In all these areas, service providers, and even their completed work, are difficult to evaluate. Licensing isn’t required either, so they can easily hang up shingles and start practices. Sadly, they’re practicing on your company.
  • In the case of Rebecca Lieb’s marketing firm turned social media carpetbagger, it’s unfortunate that they haven’t yet developed the strategic alliances they will need to compensate for a lack of experience that cannot be otherwise mitigated in the short run.
  • Measuring ROI and developing other hard metrics was a concern shared by several authors. I protested already in my article, The Social Media ROI Obsession, that much of social media marketing is really public relations, and that the use of softer metrics may be appropriate in such a case.
  • While the absence of clear financial justification may cause the social media marketing bubble to burst, I expect that public and customer relations, as well as B2B prospecting will continue to make good use of social media.

And now, it’s your turn to comment on another hot topic. :-)

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19 Responses to “Social Media Carpetbaggers and Snake Oil Salesmen”

  1. links for 2009-12-09 | Estate of Flux on December 10th, 2009 3:02 am

    […] Social Media Carpetbaggers and Social Media Snake Oil Salesmen | Online Social Networking (tags: smbiz) […]

  2. Cheryl H on December 10th, 2009 10:07 am

    I agree with your first observation wholeheartedly Larry. At this point it seems like everyone has gotten on the web industry bandwagon. My personal opinion is that the SEO “experts” take the prize for the most prolific. From a marketing standpoint I understand that one needs to be concerned with SEO but it’s amazing how little experience some feel they need before they are calling themselves an expert. However in the words of King Solomon “this too shall pass” those that are in for the long haul just need to hold on. Thanks for the links and another great article!

  3. Market Segmentation on December 10th, 2009 10:15 am

    Hi Larry,

    I like this approach to reviewing what bloggers are saying about a topic. I do the same with my “Blog Synopsis.”

    I also admire you for shining light on social media, your area of expertise.

    I think there are too many coaches in this business and not enough doers. I talked yesterday with a candidate for my monetization partner, who basically wanted to spend five hours per week advising me on what to do.

    He thought this worthy of 25 percent of my business, when I work 30+ hours per week on it, down from the 60-hour weeks that I spent for almost two years while building content for my blog and sites.

    Why you are my favorite coach is because you actually help implement your ideas. That’s what’s lacking from most coaches on all “Internet marketing” topics.

    It’s much easier to tell someone what to do than it is to do it. I’m looking only for doers as partners. Perhaps we should all hold those who make money off our businesses to this standard.


    Linda P. Morton

  4. medXcentral (Jim) on December 10th, 2009 10:28 am

    Great post, Larry.

    Oh man! This is all becoming aggravating. Please hear me out…

    Yes…charlatans are out there. Always have been. Always will be. In every market… capitalizing on every trend. That will never change, IMO.

    What I want to hear, from all the “experts” who seem to know what an “expert, guru, maven, etc.” is NOT, is what one IS? Would they recognize the rare bird if they saw it? What makes them the authority to make this distinction? Is it because they run a “successful” “well organized” blog?

    Many of the points are valid. I’m not really arguing that here. I’m just venting a little because too many are focusing on what the definition is NOT as opposed to what it IS.

    Larry, I have a lot of respect for you. I enjoy articles from your blog and comment when I have time. And, time is one of the real factors here. Larry, how much time do you spend learning and doing your “thing.” I’d bet it is a significant amount of time because you’re impressively good at it.

    So, then I must ask; How much time does that really leave you to perform on behalf of other companies as a Social Media Consultant? Is that going to be a requirement in the end definition of what defines an SM expert?

    It’s all becoming a confusing issue. I try to make money on the side helping companies with their overall web-presence while I am working on my primary project. And, I don’t have a successful, well-organized blog. My Ning community is not a blog. It’s a community. There are tons of holes in my social media activity and strategy if viewed with a purist’s eye. But, I genuinely “get it.” Just can’t do it all…all the time. I’m getting frustrated.

    I would say to the market, in general; It’s not our job to stop the charlatans. That’s like trying to stop SPAM. What we need to do is know the difference.

    Yes, I suppose knowing what “is not” helps one know what “is.” But, let’s turn our focus to what “is.” I think that will add infinitely more value to the overall market for genuine consultants trying to earn an honest living. And, it will create a much more receptive attitude among those who don’t have the time learn for themselves.

    What I’ve written may all be blather. I’m frustrated and felt compelled to chime in.

    And, please, Larry, don’t mistake what I’m saying. I know you work very hard in this industry. I’ve been observing since your early days. And, you are a ambitious student as well as an authentic teacher (in my opinion.)

    That’s why I’m making this plea here.

  5. Kim ONeil on December 10th, 2009 11:46 am

    wow, found u while surfing, really good content, I will be spending more time here, and I shared u on FB 2! Still checking out ur articles…! nice, I may just speed up my knowledge reading ur stuff! Thx!!!!!

  6. Brooke on December 10th, 2009 3:03 pm

    Hello, We have connected and spoke on facebook a bit about these social media topics and agree with alot of what you have to say, though not all. I am new into the business but do not believe that i am a carpetbagger just because I decided to enter the industry now. This has been my passion for years but not a job and kept my blog, etc. private while running a friends business on social media sites to test effectiveness. I also partner with, whom I believe, the best in the industry. Being the one on one student for six months puts me well ahead many in the industry yet I do not have physical ’stuff’ to show for it. If anything, my clients are getting a discounted price because the site is designed and built one on one with some of the best in the industry for my ‘just starting out’ rate. So i do believe some are getting into the business for quick cash, but there are many others like me who are getting into the business because I learned more about it from popular marketing media. I do have a marketing degree so I have always followed up on current trends - I now just found a branch of marketing that I enjoy the most. I can not be the only person out there who caught the bug and is here to stay.

  7. Debbie Morgan on December 10th, 2009 3:07 pm

    Hi Larry,

    Like anything legitimate, there are those out there who try to make a buck counterfeiting. I’ve had my share of fake SEO companies. As horrible as dealing with these companies is, it keeps us on our toes. I’m thankful for people like you who are there to help educate us on legitimate marketing techniques and practices.


  8. Larry Brauner on December 10th, 2009 5:18 pm

    @Cheryl I wrote, “Not only social media, but web development, and website, social media and search engine optimization all have more than enough carpetbaggers and snake oil salesmen,” based on my personal observations. Look carefully with skilled eyes at how people in these disciplines are representing themselves online, and you’ll be able to notice how clueless many of them are. The problem is that a typical client doesn’t have the skilled eyes and can’t tell the difference. Thanks for stopping by today. :-)

    @Linda I always say that the biggest challenge in any business is people. In any case, I’m happy that I was able to help you. I remember that when we met, you were only receiving a few hundred search engine visits per month despite all the great content on your site. A few tweaks, and your traffic started taking off. Now, you get in a day what you used to get in a month. Hope you’ll find good partners for your site very soon. :-)

    @Jim First, as far as investing lot of time in blogging and online social networking, it’s true. However, keep in mind, this is my marketing. I’m not prospecting for leads in the same way as most other business people. My marketing is inbound marketing, and my “leads” have all had a sample of my work. Now as far defining a social media expert is concerned, there’s a problem. Any definition that you or I or any individual practitioner might provide will of course have some bias. This problem will not be solved until there’s an accepted organization like the Public Relations Society of America or the American Marketing Association that can by consensus set educational requirements and standards for social media professionals by which members are expected to abide. Until then, we’re going to have to wing it. ;-)

    @Kim Thank you! :-)

    @Brooke Nobody is saying that all newcomers are carpetbaggers. After all, social media is still fairly new, and most of us are newcomers. The carpetbaggers are people who come and invest little effort to prepare. Instead they flaunt their fancy offices and other trappings of their old media businesses with the hope of impressing prospective clients. Keep up what you’re doing and keep seeking the truth! :-)

    @Deb Thanks! :-)

  9. Jake Jacob on December 10th, 2009 10:19 pm


    The easiest distinction between the real and unreal in this business is one word: RESULTS.

    If you as a marketer, company, or whatever niche of this big business world you are in - the only thing that matters is that you and your consultant, coach, social media employee are achieving your expectations.

    If that ain’t happenin’ then you don’t need to make judgments as the title intimates as to snake oil - i.e. as all snakes oil sales men know they are crooks.

    And this entire world including even Google are so embryonic in the online world AND the only thing that is guaranteed is monthly change. Some of the change wipes out months of effort.

    In conclusion, my advice would be work hard in this niche, and you will do well, but in what spot you are in, open that wallet very, very slowly.

    Jake Jacob

  10. Larry Brauner on December 10th, 2009 10:55 pm


    It’s not easy for companies to know whether they’re getting results before some time has elapsed and money has been spent. So there is a risk factor, one that companies may be unwilling to take during times of recession.

    Seth Godin, in The reason social media is so difficult for most organizations, points out that social media is a process. A company must feel confident enough in their social media service provider to give that process a fair chance.

  11. 24-Hour Website Service on December 14th, 2009 8:05 pm

    This is a GREAT piece! It’s kind of brainy, but I like critical analyses of hot topics, especially with so many ‘opinions’ out there today. Social media is one of those areas where there is a myriad of opinions on what works and why…

    But you know they say that opinions are like belly buttons…

    So, it’s good to read a blog where someone is taking a harder look at social media and how it is most effectively used. I learned the hard way that it’s a process - I was one of those people who dove in without a plan and then got burned out fairly quickly. I had a sign up here and there for this and that, but not the whirlwind success that the gurus promised.

    But hey, I guess that’s what I get for listening to social media snake oil salesmen, right? :-P

    Thanks again for such an insightful blog, Larry,

    I.C. Jackson

  12. Larry Brauner on December 14th, 2009 8:11 pm

    Thank you Ivo for your kind words.

  13. Jake Jacob on December 15th, 2009 1:03 am

    Another nuts and bolts exercise in evaluating all claims from everyone is to do the simplest thing, Google them, check their rankings with Alexa, and the other basics that any prudent person would do before opening their wallet.

    I had a career in “sales” and some of that very old school, used car salesman genre and like I tell my ooooooooooh sooooo trusting spouse of 31 years, “Don’t believe a salesman.”

    Again, always, always, always, check it out as best you can before you open your wallet.

  14. Larry Brauner on December 15th, 2009 1:25 am


    This type of checking people out will help weed out the worst cases, but unfortunately, just because somebody has a strong web presence, doesn’t mean that they can help you with your particular situation.

    One reason I author this blog, is so that people can get a good sense of how I think.

  15. denim leggigns on December 15th, 2009 6:19 am

    I would disagree only with one sentence: “…the nearly zero cost and barrier-to-entry into social media…” - I think that social media costs a lot - time. And time is money. If you spend all your time on advertising by social media there is no way you can earn some money other way. So this becomes full time job - and if it isn’t payed well enough there is no sense of keeping it alive.


  16. Larry Brauner on December 15th, 2009 8:26 am

    What you say is true Paula, but as an experienced business analyst, I can tell you that traditional advertising not only has media costs, it has staff costs for planning, producing, tracking and analyzing that can be as hefty as social media staff costs.

  17. Eleanor oil on December 20th, 2009 6:05 am

    Thanks for the links and other great items! Larry, how much time do you spend on theory and in practice?

  18. Larry Brauner on December 20th, 2009 11:58 am

    For me, theory and practice are integrated.

  19. online marketing consulting on January 16th, 2010 4:42 pm

    Social media does a great job despite the criticism. thanks- Robert

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