How To Fight The Social Media Stigma
How To Fight The Social Media Stigma
How To Fight The Social Media Stigma

“So, you like, Tweet for a living?” The thinly veiled mocker quietly asks.

“No, I mean, like, seriously? That stuff is kind of a waste of time, isn’t it? Well, at least you get to be on Facebook all day.”

The veil is dropped and the disdain shows its face. You’ve just met the social media stigma – the reason nearly half of all brands are not sure of social marketing’s value.

“This social media stuff sounds fun, but is there really a point?”

Doubt and Fear Ahead - Shutterstock - Andy Dean PhotographyYou’ve heard this before. You tell them about the sea change. You give them an analogy about a flood coming. You tell them they can either build a levee or grab a surfboard. The analogy worked better in your head.

“I want real ROI. I want proof that Facebook will help me sell more widgets.”

You think of case studies. You scramble to think of statistics. You marvel at the demand there must be for widgets. Your mind spins in the million different ways you can answer this question.

You think:

It’s not about Facebook. It’s not about Twitter. It’s definitely not about Chatroullete. Or surfboards.

It’s about the risk of missing out.

It’s about the risk of leaving your customer alone with your competitor in a space your customer really, really seems to like.

But they want numbers. They want the business reason. They ask again: “Why social media?”

Tell them because:

Because whether you like it or not, your customers do.

But still, the stigma lives on. Was it something we said?

… Can’t You See? Sometimes Your Words Just Stigmatize Me

Cynics, naysayers, and doubters like to apply the following erroneous logic to social media: It looks like it is fun, so it can’t be work.  And they say that people have an allergic reaction to unnecessary jargon. Words like “ninja,” “guru,” and “rockstar,” cause people to roll their eyes and dismiss the business value social media might otherwise bring to the table. Their mechanic doesn’t refer to himself like that, why does a social media practitioner need to?

But credibility doesn’t come from the name of something – it comes from the ability to get things done. And like a mechanic, it also doesn’t come from the tools it comes from the proper use of them.

If we relabeled all the un-serious names we’ve given things (these concepts aren’t new, only our names for them are) with real-world nomenclature would other people start taking the medium more seriously?

It almost doesn’t matter, because:

Wallets, Mouths, and Things People Open

At the end of every communication – regardless of medium – there are people who are ready to either open their wallets or mouths. Social media is no different, but it doesn’t always get the respect it deserves as a medium.

But there are real people – with wallets and mouths – that are interacting on social media every day.

Would you ignore this if you replaced “social media” with anything else?

There are people, with wallets and mouths, watching TV.
There are people, with wallets and mouths, listening to radio.
There are people, with wallets and mouths, reading magazines.
There are people, with wallets and mouths, using social media.

Isn’t it worth it to be there with them, wherever the people are? They’re going to be opening one or the other.

IMAGE: Doubt and Fear Ahead by Andy Dean Photography on

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About the Author

Andrew Hanelly
Andrew is SVP, Strategy for McMurry/TMG and for one semester in college, was a sociology major. He writes at Brain on Digital, as @hanelly on Twitter and here on Google+.
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  • Seath Choeun

    Do you think there is a stigma behind using social media?

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  • Great point there, businesses isn't required to be in a social media just because everyone's into this social media craze. Now they have to rethink if its working for them.

  • Great post Andrew,
    I like the deadly stats that quickly summarize why social media is important.

    I think you can trace a lot of the skepticism about social media to two key issues.
    1. Everything new naturally receives a lot of skepticism. And to most people, social media is a very new concept.

    2. Those of us in the field I think sell it as being too easy. We talk about the tools being free and relatively easy to learn, and that's true. But actually making social media pay off can be much harder than it looks, especially if you don't want to become an expert at it. For example, the book Twitter Power by Joel Comm will really help you get started on Twitter, but the plan for making it effective Joel lays out I feel is completely unrealistic. I read the book twice, and spent a good three to six months on Twitter before I really began comprehending how I could make it pay off.

    This stuff takes a lot of time and effort. Let's not make it sound so easy.

    • ahanelly

      I think you're on to something, Patrick. I feel like we want to position social as an easy add-on to a marketing strategy, but it's much more than that. We wanted to sell it quick so we sold it (internally) as “this isn't hard, it doesn't take much, it's easy!” That created an association with social media that there wasn't depth, which clearly, there is. Thanks for the comment.

      • Thanks for the reply. I definitely think social is “much more than that.” I just think most people haven't even realized how much more it really is.

  • thesocialanswer

    Wow, I loved this. You put in to words what I haven't been able to for some time when talking to customers about social media. It isn't instant, it isn't easy (to do it right), but it IS worth it. Just like regular marketing. Bravo.

    • ahanelly

      I appreciate you saying that. Like other media, social is unglamorous, tedious, but most importantly, effective.

  • As a Social Media specialist, I really appreciate your thinking.

    Facebook (for instance) has created the new town square. Maybe people didn't buy your latest frock or soda-fountain drink when standing around in the square, they sure as heck were talking about it. AND… would you rather build your new bricks and mortar store in the middle of a corn field and HOPE that roads are built to get people there OR build it in the busiest street corner in the country.

    I choose Social Media.

    Charlie Seymour Jr

    • ahanelly

      I like the town square analogy.

  • ShellyKramer

    I think I might love you @hanelly. This blog is smart and sassy and, well, reminds me a lot of the shiggedy I might write. Wallets and mouths. BRILLIANT.

    Your newest fangirl (stalker).


    • ahanelly

      I appreciate you overrating me like this.

      • ShellyKramer

        I only said it because someone told me that if I did, you'd buy me a beer. #beerho

  • Great post. I'm constantly looking for more weapons in my arsenal for approaching business clients that are familiar with the benefits of social media. The ones who refuse to adapt are going to be wishing they had in the very near future. Thanks!

    • ahanelly

      Sort of like the old-school cartographers who refused to update their maps, insisting the world is flat. “How many of those do you plan to sell???”

  • Just look at what happened with the Gap Logo this week. Good times.

  • The world of social media does come with many skeptics, but that is because many expect instant success. What people need to realize is that Social does work, if you make it work, invest time and effort into it and you will see success.

    • ahanelly

      Exactly, Nick. It's not a switch you can flip and then sit back and collect money, it's a new hustle that requires a lot of elbow grease. The way I see it is like this:

      1. It's very easy to get started. So people think “hey, it's no big deal. I'm on Twitter. That wasn't so bad.”
      2. So, this is it? Well, nothing seems to be happening here. “Let me be more sporadic in my interactions and neglect this just a bit. I was hoping for more of an instant fix.”
      3. Ok, this doesn't work. It's a waste of time.

      The amount of effort you put in on 1 and 2 largely determines what you think when you get to 3. If you hustle and work at it, good things can happen. “You only get what you give.” (Who would have thought I'd be dropping New Radicals references in a post that references Notorious BIG?)

  • I refuse to take criticism from anyone who uses like as, like, verbal filler. ;)

    Great post though!

    • Well, like, read someone else's blog. Heh.

    • ahanelly

      Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

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  • “When the pain becomes great enough, action will occur.” Unfortunately most live in a reactionary mode. Think Dell, Think Nestle`, Think United Airlines. Dell now gets it!

    These are exciting times…when was the last time you called your AD rep for FREE space in the newspaper, magazine, or TV? Yet, Social Media Marketing is your strategy to brand and to engage.

    From Information Age to Recommendation Age. Press on and leave the naysayers behind. Good post. I like the mouths, wallets and things people open, so true, so true.

    • ahanelly

      I love the quote you posted. At a certain point, it comes down to this: are you willing to ignore the place where your audience is congregating?

  • freeforall0001
  • Friends used to tease me that I built a business around 'Twittering' or 'FaceSpacing' as they liked to refer to it, until I took one on as a client and quantifiably increased their revenue.

  • Excellent! My husband just got offered to jobs to do social media for a couple of companies, people should start to accept it. I use it for my personal business and blog!

    • ahanelly

      I think it's where the “work” is because it's where the action is and that will only continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

  • Love it! Marketers are constantly trying to monetize where the attention of the people goes. Fundamentally why would social media be any different than traditional media? Ultimately, the crowd who understand the medium of social media can also understand the differences with traditional media.

    While social media channels garner more attention traditional media's mindshare is on an obvious decline. So would it be considered smart to at least explore social media as a serious way to connect with people with wallets and mouths there?

    Good stuff Andrew.

    • ahanelly

      Thanks Adam. You said in two paragraphs what I wasn't quite able to say in the whole post, but yes, exactly.

  • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

    Hear, hear! It is a daily struggle to explain what I do, not only to potential clients but family, friends and just about everyone else. Even if someone is a rabid Facebook user themselves, they can't always understand how it could be used to help their business – or that there are people like me who can help them figure that out. And that it's not just about Facebook…..that's a whole 'nother post!

    • ahanelly

      It's funny because the very fact that they (siblings, parents, friends, etc.) are using it is what brings the value. Because people use it, it matters from a budgeting perspective. Usage has caught on in the mainstream, and media buyers are starting to recognize that more and more. Thanks for the comment, Stephanie!

    • From my perspective, it's small biz that's most reluctant to join – and sustain, the irony being or course that Social Media is one channel that can amplify efforts the strongest, given the right customer-centric strategy. Maybe larger businesses are more apt to adopt SM because of historical spend in more traditional media, and larger budgets (more flexibility to experiment) overall. Thanks for the list of useful resources!

      • ahanelly

        I agree with you, Heather. Small business owners that I've talked to tell me they don't have time for it – which is true in a lot of cases because they are busy running the day-to-day operations of their business. However, if they look at it as an investment rather than a ploy, they may find the time (or money) for it. I helped a business owner in my hometown get in to using Twitter to announce specials to a college-student audience and he quickly became obsessed with it. He got creative, too, giving out secrets passwords via Twitter to get free drinks, free cookies, etc. The students were spreading his message, increasing his exposure to their local networks, and most importantly, coming in to buy his product. It doesn't always work out this smoothly, but this guy was certainly a convert.

  • THANK YOU for writing this. I still struggle with this one whenever it's tossed my way. When you work with social media, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that not everyone is going to immediately see the value that you think is so obvious. Which is funny – after all, I don't know that any of us were convinced until we dove in and saw it for ourselves.

    Your post will definitely give me a solid jumping off point from here on!

  • THANK YOU for writing this. I still struggle with this one whenever it's tossed my way. When you work with social media, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that not everyone is going to immediately see the value that you think is so obvious. Which is funny – after all, I don't know that any of us were convinced until we dove in and saw it for ourselves.

    Your post will definitely give me a solid jumping off point from here on!

  • I get a lot of “so you're on facebook all day?” and when I try to explain it, it feels like eyes start glazing over… :)

    • ahanelly

      Right? That's what inspired me to write this post. Since so many consumers use social media just to “kill time,” they may not appreciate the underlying business value contained therein. It reminds me of a quote which I'll paraphrase: “If you're not buying anything, you're the one being sold.”

      • yes, business owners think social media needs to have a ROI monetary value, and sometimes, that just can't be proven!

  • If the ROI in social media wasn't any better than anything else, would you still participate? This might come as news to some but the advantage of social media isn't ROI. It's scale, manageability, and reach. So instead of taking your boss this new shiny object and selling ROI reference the stats above and say “Apparently that's how people want to interact with our brand.”

    • ahanelly

      Thanks for the comment, Matthew. I agree with what you've said. And as social as a medium continues from novelty to necessity, I think we'll see more people jump on board. But by the time the medium matures fully, we'll have another “new” medium in town to hate.

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  • Thanks for the post!

    It is indeed a central issue, 'how to show ROI of social media investments?'

    Like you pointed out, the results come only by engaging in social media, and not just about which tools are used by whom, but how exactly.

    This calls for an actual social media strategy, with clear objectives on what is the company trying to achieve. Visibility? Getting feedback? Finding their key customers?

    What usually helps with building this strategy, is first mapping out your social media environment. Some brands might be in a great situation with lots of positive buzz going around as it is, while others might be non-existent or the opposite (largely negative buzz).

    … aaand here is where I invite all to check out this blogpost (with a jump via Twitter in case anyone wants to follow us) regarding the issue of social media mapping by social media analytics:

    • ahanelly

      Mikko – Thanks for the comment. You're right that tools are only toys or decorations until they're used properly. I'm going to follow your link and check out your resource. Thanks again for posting.

  • Niels

    Interesting article, but the links are not working.

    • ahanelly

      Thanks Niels. Should be fixed momentarily. I screwed something up when posting this. Now I'm to blame for the social media stigma.

      • Niels

        Great, thanks :)!

    • Fixed. Wonky WordPress links in list hiccup. Sorry about that, Niels.


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