The Social Media Backlash is Here

Well, it finally happened.

Almost a decade of hubris by a new wave of marketers telling that social media was the be-all and end-all, and declaring advertising “dead” has finally turned.


Photo by Retis on Flickr

First, we have Bob Hoffman’s Advertising Week Europe speech, “The Golden Age of Bullshit” in which he defends the still-quite-alive-thank-you-very-much advertising industry from the slings and nerf-tipped arrows of “engagement” and “brand relationships” crowd.

Ok, fine.

Calling advertising dead was always over the top, and poking the bear inevitably results in a mauling. Hoffman followed up, unrepentantly, with a thoughtful blog post that yet continues his mockery of the self-appointed social media elite.

Ok, fine.

From within the comfortable confines of Social Media Marketing, I have always cast a cynical eye to what many of us referred to the “snake oil” of social: the over-reliance of engagement over results; the emphasis of soft results over hard numbers; the circling of the wagons-of-peers over the service of business goals.

But here’s the thing: that’s not the entirety of social media marketing. While he acknowledges that not all social media marketers are full of it, I do have the distinct  feeling that Hoffman has found a fun new axe to swing; he is going to use the fact that he is largely right as an excuse to beat social media into the ground in favor of King Ad, with a resulting swing of the pendulum all the way back until Madge is soaking in it up to her neck.

In the meantime, social media marketers have found religion; we are seeing multiple blog posts decrying the social media imperatives that brands need to engage as humans, that people want to be Facebook pals with corporations, all as if this were a new idea.

The latest I noticed is Jason Falls’ post, “An Apology to Brands on Behalf of Social Media Experts Everywhere.” In it, Jason (who I know and like from the Social Media blogging and conference circuit), lays out the crime that social media marketers have been committing against brands since the beginning: that our insistence that brands be “human” and engage” was a lie.

Speak for yourself, Jason. I won’t claim never to have fallen in with the “engage” crowd, but I’m not a big fan of one “guru” trying to speak for the entire industry. And since I had a cuss-word to start, I’ll keep this R-rated; we didn’t all fuck this up. In fact, most of us still think we haven’t fucked it up.

The smart people in the industry haven’t called for the end of advertising (as if we could); we valued engagement but not at the expense of sales and attainable metrics; we were aware of the scale of social media versus the rest of our clients’ and employers’ business goals.

The idea of brands being able to publish and speak for themselves online is still pretty new and still forming and changing–

— in fact, stop —

The whole reason this painful self-examination and these attempted assassinations by the never-threatened ad industry is clear: it’s Facebook ceasing to pretend that brand exposure is free, isn’t it? Just ask Jeff Esposito. This set off the hysteria in the guise of a salvo of smoke bombs to distract the world while social media scrambles to understand “paid media.” Pardon our appearance while we re-brand our industry.

–ok, where was I? Oh yes —

— Social media is still pretty new. We are going through painful transitions in some quarters. But you know what? The false social “gurus” will still be full of crap, and the people who are honestly helping companies- the majority of us – will still be helping companies succeed in their communications and marketing programs.

So, when Bob Hoffman speaks of the “roiling cesspool of arrogant, insufferable charlatans,” well, we know what small part of the social media crowd they are. So what? Clean up your own cesspool and stop making crappy ads (while you’re at it, tell Geico to pick a campaign and stick with it – what a waste of money. I vote for the lizard).

On each side of the coin, the people who are good at their jobs know the real impact of what they do, the real reach of what they try, and the pitfalls of doing the wrong thing. I don’t care if social media marketers want to figuratively light themselves on fire, and if ad people want stand by and  roast marshmallows; I’ll just continue to do work that interests me – and that I hope is good and has an impact within the wider world of marketing and communications.


  1. Matt Searles

    I feel a little like…. well I think everything you are saying is true.. BUT.. there is a way things move forward…

    You get a technological disruptive change and with that change will come both utopianism and distopianism… and that’s just how we collectively move forward… and the cool aid.. is a part of that.. it’s a part of how it has to happen.

    Where I would call BS… is that really what you want is to help businesses become better consumers of PR, Marketing, and Advertising… and that’s not what Hoffman’s doing.. he’s trying to fight a turf war which I don’t think is really in anybodies long term self interest… Not when he obfuscate what is needed for business to become a better consumer.

  2. Doug Haslam

    I totally agree with you on Hoffman. He’s igniting a turf war- it’s when the less articulate minions jump in is when it will really get ugly. Get your popcorn.

  3. Excellent post, Doug.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the Guru crowd self-immolate; one or two in particular. I would like to point out that it is wholly inaccurate to refer to most of them as “Marketers” – when they haven’t successfully marketed ANYTHING other than themselves and their products. “Self promotion experts” would more accurate, I suppose, but I still prefer “Asshats” or “Douchecanoes”, or even “Con Artists”.

    I guess one final note is that much more money gets wasted on poor advertising in a year than has probably ever been wasted, in total, on “Social Media Marketing” since the dawn of Myspace.

  4. Doug Haslam

    I don’t need anything bad to happen to people BUT I don’t want to be lumped in with any sort of “hari-happy hippy engagement conversation” crowd from either side of the fence.

  5. This is an amazing and spot-on post. Thank you for writing it, Doug. Social media, in my mind, has never been “the one thing”. It’s another valuable tool that goes into the toolkit.

  6. Jodi Dawn Gersh

    Good stuff, Doug. I’ve actually said ‘Social Media is not Snake Oil’ more than a few dozen times recently. :-)

  7. Thanks for your post. I’ve always believed that business has tried to turn social media into something that it’s not–just another marketing channel. And, I certainly don’t believe that social media replaces sound advertising, marketing, or PR. The principals remain the same and they still work when done well. But, we do need to deal with a world that has embraced social media as their preferred means of communication.

  8. I thought the social media backlash was last year. :)
    It’s pretty short money and it’s fun to play with. that said, it’s a hard sell to those who look at numbers instead of percentages. If I had to pay someone to test and run my campaigns, I couldn’t justify it.

  9. Thank you for this, sir. We need to get over the “Everything is dead” and “Everything is Amazing” dichotomy we so often fall into. Hyperbole is always wrong. Oh…wait…

  10. Somewhat reinforcing the idea that social media is a platform concern, ever-changing, and that good marketing fundamentals are always in play. Perhaps social media is dead (it seems something must be to make headlines) and becomes incorporated into strategy as faxing and email were?

    Good post.

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