Selling Social Media: Another Pyramid Scheme?

Want readers for your blog?  Want twitter followers? Want to be a social media rock star?  Isn’t that the way to fame and glory?

As marketers construct a laundry list of simple “do’s” and “don’t’s,” usually in “top ten” format under the assumption that none of their target audience has an attention span capable of anything more, new lawyers are entering the social media universe daily.  They don’t want to be those pathetic people who nobody notices, who have no existence online. That won’t do at all. And so they seize hold of the bandwagon with both hands a get on board, hoping to accumulate rock star numbers overnight and, well, be somebody.

Welcome to the Amway Effect on social media.  Via Jure Klepic at HuffPo :

Has social media influence become nothing more than a giant multi-level marketing plan, much like Amway? …The one thing that has always been questionable about their business model is that the definition of success at Amway, and other companies like them, is not just being able to sell tons of products or building a great one-on-one personal business; it’s the ability to get others to sell products so you make money off of them.

The same thing is happening in social media influence. The definition of success is not just being able to influence others to take a certain action or to have others follow you because they believe in what you are saying. Success in social media has now become defined as having massive amounts of people following you. This is true no matter what steps you took to get those people to jump on your bandwagon.

There are lawyers online who have accumulated a following, people who either read their writing or follow their twits, because they have decided that it’s worth their time to do so. They didn’t do anything to make it happen, other than be themselves. Their following grew organically, and it took time, often years, before they amassed any notable following.

But you can’t wait years. You’re want it now. You have no interest in being a twitter nobody or write posts that no one reads.  You’re here for the recognition, and dammit, that’s what it’s all about.  For this reason, you turn to the gurus, the experts, the people who say they can make it happen. Even for you.

Meet your guru:

This multi-level approach to building influence has gone to such an extreme that social media itself may now be at a crossroads, where one path leads to obsolescence and the other leads to relevancy. Unfortunately, many forces are already at work to make social media marketing become deflated. One example of this is the so-called “social media certification program.” Most industries have a trade organization where representatives from multiple companies get together and jointly develop industry standards that lead to a certification process. In social media apparently you just have to put together a program and say you are bestowing a certification for the low price of only $1198. No governing board, no statement of qualifications for those developing the program, and no actual perceived industry benefit for actually achieving this certification…just an opportunity to spend your time “learning” instead of doing, and to give your money to someone else.

Quite a trick, right? For the low, low price of only $1198, you too can be a certified social media guru, even if your social media existence today is nil. It’s like magic.

Where do “instructors” for these “certification programs” come from? The link-building lists that propel people to the head of the instructor / speaker line can be manipulated as easily as a Klout score, simply by linking with each other. You, too, can become a leading expert simply by finding a group of like-minded people and inserting yourself on their list all the time. Google and SEO will take care of the rest when someone is looking for an “expert” source for their next certification program or conference.

Yes, it’s that easy.  And the beauty of it is that people who are brand-spanking new to social media won’t have the slightest clue that yesterday, your “instructor” was the assistant manager at Dairy Queen and today they’re teaching lawyers how to be rainmakers. How cool is that?

To the extent that there is anything to be gained (beyond the waste of time and money, or whatever education and enjoyment you may derive from social media), it’s a product of establishing something real, thoughtful blog posts, illuminating twits (and they do appear from time to time).  There is no trick to it. It takes some thought and a bit of effort. No social media guru can do that for you, and you don’t need a guru to teach you how to be real.

At My Shingle, Carolyn Elefant wrote about my buddy Eric Turkewitz, who she curiously called the “Forrest Gump” of blawgers. After reciting a litany of the reasons why Turk’s social media existence matters, and the great things that he’s enjoyed as a result (none of which involve becoming fabulously wealthy), Carolyn writes:

Yet all of these serendipitous experiences flow from Eric’s blog, where incidentally, he breaks every “rule” about blogging written by the marketers. Eric doesn’t just limit himself to topics related to New York personal injury law or 200 fifty word posts that basically string keywords together.  He doesn’t outsource  his blog writing to ghostwriters or professional content providers.  He doesn’t tweet incessantly about every word that he puts up at his blog, or even blog every day like clockwork when there’s nothing to say. He doesn’t avoid expressing strong views that may potentially be unpopular with potential clients.

And guess what? Precisely because Eric breaks the blogging rules is why he’s found visibility beyond any marketer’s dreams. 

You can’t buy what Turk has accomplished. Or Carolyn, for that matter. You have to earn it all by yourself.

H/T Kevin O’Keefe