Debunking Popular Myths of Social Media

Social media myths

Social media is many things to many people. For some, it’s a core part of their overall business and marketing strategy. For others, it’s a key player in driving traffic to their blog. For others, it’s a new toy they’re just beginning to play with. And for some, it’s about as interesting as pond moss.

So, lots of uses and definitions, depending on who you speak to.

Yet there is one area where all the definitions can come together and agree on, and that’s the area of social media myths. The claims from people that should know better, either for a hidden agenda or a lack of foresight.

So, here are a few social media myths that we can probably all agree are out-of-date thinking at best, and dangerous advice at worst.

Social Media is Free

Bzzzzt (insert noisy buzzer sound here). This one’s been doing the rounds for a while now, and still seems to pop up, even though everything points to the complete opposite. So let’s make it simple – social media is not free.

Yes, the tools are free (unless you have the premium version of these platforms). And, no, not everyone will be looking at the cost investment from the example linked to above.

But even if you’re a small business user or solo entrepreneur using social media to help raise awareness of your brand through interaction, you have to invest a serious amount of time for any traction to begin. So take whatever salary you give yourself, deduct the man hours you put in by the financial cost of this, and that’s the bare minimum of how much social media is going to cost you.

Add to that any advertising on the likes of Facebook Ads and LinkedIn Advertising, and then how you’re going to integrate all your online stuff into your everyday marketing and promotion, and the costs start to add up.

Sure, you can bootstrap your way around social media – but free it ain’t.

Social Media Levels the Playing Field

One of the pros of social media, according to many of its most vocal proponents, is that it levels the playing field. This comes from the viewpoint that it allows the consumer – who never had much of a voice before – to air their grievances in a far more public forum, as well as have access to leading players at these brands.

The belief is that this now means the brand is no longer in control, and the little guy is now the giant. And it’s true – social media does allow the consumer to be a bigger part of the business decisions being made.

Yet there’s also the flip side for businesses. A lot of social media purists will say that small businesses and solo practitioners can compete with the huge corporations and the big agencies, because the tools are the same for everyone.

Except they’re not. A corporation with a $10 million budget for research, strategy, implementation and measuring is going to have a heck of a lot more at their disposal than a small business with $10,000 to play with. And then the scale factor comes into play – can a one-man band (or even a two or three-man band) monitor and respond to social interaction the same way a dedicated team of fifty can for the bigger guys?

The simple answer is no. So, yes, social media can level the field somewhat – but then it also means you have to get new machinery to keep it level, and that’s still beyond the capabilities of many businesses.

You Need the Voice of the Influencers

Like any eco-system, social media has many layers, and at the forefront of these layers are the Influencers. Usually these will be early adopters in the space, and they’ve become influential for identifying trends and looking at how these tools can be used for business.

The problem is, influence is based on relevance, yet many businesses still try and get the Influencers to talk about their products, regardless of whether they’re experienced in that brand’s niche or not. The mindset is that the Influencer has over 100,000 Twitter followers, or tens of thousands of blog subscribers, so it’s an easy “in” to that audience.

Except it’s not.

Because nine times out of ten (not a scientific figure), the Influencer will only share your brand or product for reward. Hard cash, or a large amount of swag. They’ll write about you once, and then move on to the next brand. Because they’re (usually) not invested in you.

But your brand advocates are.

The ones that write and talk about you every day, both online and offline. The ones that truly have your best interests at heart, so they’ll offer you honest feedback on how you can improve. Compare that to the Influencer who thinks your product is great, now just pony up the greenback.

The Influencer may get you a quick buzz, but longevity and success very rarely come from a fire sale. It does come from having an army of advocates and loyal customers, though – look after your advocates and they’ll look after you better than any Influencer can.


There’s no doubt that social media has changed much of the business landscape, and continues to do so. And with potentially game-changing products like Google+ entering the fray, the real fun could just be beginning.

We just need to make sure we’re keeping a level head at what social media can, and doesn’t, offer. If history has taught us anything, it’s that hyperbole is very often the precursor to, “Remember so-and-so?”…

image: Luminis Kanto

Sign up for free weekly content

Enter your first name and email below to get my free weekly newsletter with the latest posts, recommended reading, content tips and more.

(I respect your privacy and will never spam you)

Blog consulting with Danny Brown

Comment Policy: Your words are your own, so be nice and helpful if you can. Let’s treat the guests (and that includes you) nicely. Otherwise, you will be moderated and deleted where I feel it’s applicable. Please, only use your real name and limit the amount of links submitted in your comment. Apart from that - have at it!

    Share Your Thoughts

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. says

    Great Insights Danny. The issue that most don’t quite get (in my opinion) has to do with understanding that social media is best used as a networking tool to move the conversation back to a more static channel to expand reach through a “landlocked” content structure.

    Social media (to me) is kind of like a cocktail party where you are meeting people. You ultimately want someone to take you home and share you with their friends.

    • says

      Hi there Leo,

      The reach that social media can give you – and the speed in which it can – offers a great addition to your more “static” platforms.

      Combine them all, and the effect can be staggering. Now if only more would try that… πŸ˜‰

  2. says

    Love it.

    Social Media (I prefer Digital Social Communications, or DSC) is *not* free. Your charge to think in terms of the actual cost of time is among the first steps in figuring legitimate ROI. Knowing what it will cost to listen, engage, and act in ways which drive actual business metrics impacting P&L FTW. Real DSC ROI is powerful.

    I still believe DSC levels the playing field, but not so much from a perspective of David defeating Goliath. The way I see it, society is starting to dislike the anti-competitive actions of the mega conglomerates. David doesn’t need to take down Goliath; he just needs to help raise an army of more Davids.

    A bit Utopian, to be sure, but big business disappoints enough customers every day to go around. Given a large enough SMB base serving the market, big business will eventually find itself unsustainable without substantial downsizing. (Barring anti-competitive M&A under the banner of “innovation,” of course. Burn the sellouts.)

    And influence schminfluence. It’s a function of action. Those who are uninterested, unwilling, or unable to treat the people they deal with like real human beings should not be provided clever utilities to get their meaningless, corporate crap in front of more people.

    Social Media (DSC) is the modern equivalent to EMAIL and the TELEPHONE. It’s sad people can’t figure it out after a decade…

    • says

      DSC – I like it, mate.

      It’s funny. I was at a conference earlier this year, and for as much satisfaction there was with the ongoing format, there was also a lot of talk about how it’s lost its way.

      There’s now talk of small conferences organized by groups of attendees, because the current one no longer meets their needs.

      Little Davids, sir, little Davids. :)

  3. says

    Great post, Danny. It’s amazing how much of these myths get perpetuated through social media.

    Another one you see a lot is the “build it and they will come” mentality. Whether it’s blogging or social channels, simply having a large following or number of subscribers doesn’t necessarily equate more cash for your business. You still have to be intentional about your approach in turning your fans into customers. And for a lot of folks, that’s a lot harder than they realize.

    • says

      Ah, the great Field of Dreams mantra, Laura – great choice! :)

      Yep, I’ve seen so many brands buy fans or followers, and expect that to turn into hard cash and sales leads. Um… no. Organic and engaged fans and followers will buy; bots won’t.

      Cheers! :)

  4. says

    Well done. I used to subscribe to the ‘free’ myth, until I started to really dip my toes into the water. It is a lot of work.

    For me though, the beauty is that the currency required is effort. I may be poor, living well below the poverty line, but I have 3 novels I would like to promote. If the only option were to spend duckets, then I would be out of luck. I have time and Social Media allows me to trade my time for the opportunity to meet new people. I may fail, nobody my buy my books, but at least I get to give it my best shot. For that, I am thankful.

    • says

      And that’s the cool thing, Brian – there’s a huge amount of return (potential and actual) from social media. We just need to understand how to use it and how to measure it.

      And not expect it to be the Holy Grail on its own… πŸ˜‰

  5. says

    I am kind of disappointed you weren’t photo-shopped into a Mythbusters DVD, but that is a conversation for another day.

    In reality, this is a great post on a topic that cannot get enough airplay. The problem with the free myth is that it has been mentioned for so long in pundit posts as an affordable to play with the big boys or get what you want. That is truly a shame.

    In all honesty, many big companies don’t have the resources to become the master of all things social. No matter what the size of the company, the big thing is to size up opportunity and the equated costs.

    You also should really go where your customers are, even if it is FriendFeed or MySpace.

    • says

      And I’m still disappointed you haven’t sorted out a damn gravatar yet, mate… :)

      The funny thing with a lot of the pundits is that many of them don’t have actual operational experience of running a business.

      They may have come from a position where all decisions were made for them. Or they may simply have an over-inflated belief that they have business acumen. Either way, a lot of their advice isn’t grounded in the real world.

      Because then, they’d know exactly the point you make about opportunity and costs. Ah well…

      PS – Livefyre is coming back to the blog soon, so no excuses to hide! πŸ˜‰

      • says

        OK seriously bro the gravatar is set up it just doesn’t want to work since I switched from to self-hosted a year ago. It is either that or it hates Canadians.

  6. says

    The “social media is free” myth is the toughest one for people to grasp.

    I loved the perspective on the voice of influencers too. That will definitely help with a pitch I have coming up regarding an event a client wants to plan.

  7. says

    Hi, Danny.

    As usual, very true insights, mate. There is nothing free in social media and it sure does not level the playing field either. I have been feeling much of that difference lately. My team and I have been so busy that we have barely paid attention to our social media marketing tactics. I haven’t been blog commenting as regularly as before and I see the difference it has done to the relationships I’ve started building before and to my Analytics.

    I feel awkward trying to reconnect with people I’ve made friends with before and my ranking in Google’s SERPs has gone way too low for my liking. But, hey, that’s the price I have to pay I guess for prioritising my clients. But, it was sure good to be here again, mate.

    • says

      And that’s a perfect example of why social media is not the golden goose – damn, now I should have had a fourth header! πŸ˜‰

      Clients come first every time, mate – you’ll always be welcome here whenever. :)

  8. says

    I think most of us will readily agree that there’s nothing free about building and maintaining a strong presence in various social media platforms. The amount of time and work put into it adds up – especially if you’re taking precious time off your core business activities to do this social media thing.

  9. says

    I love reading your insights. I can honestly say, and you know who and what I am, I have never worked this hard in my life! (Well, that week at the gold mines…no, never mind).

    The JackB said it, though. The rewards are priceless. My “Influencers” (yourself and TheJackB as well) have absolutely nothing to do with our business, my “niche” or my “Brand.” They have everything in the world to do with me learning the best ways to accomplish what I have set out to do and really, they have enhanced “MY” life in many many ways. So thanks for this. Have a great day. ~Amber-Lee

    • says

      Perfect point, Amber-Lee, it’s not so much influence as it is relevance.

      That can be niche; product; audience; education; or whatever. If it instils a reaction in you, then that’s all that’s needed.

      And we don’t need a Klout score to tell us that… πŸ˜‰

  10. says

    I love this, Danny. For me, it’s about getting social. Connections turning into acquaintances, turning into partnerships, turning into more… it’s about monitoring chatter, finding and posting content, and sharing the awesomeness that is out there. It’s about BEING SOCIAL! …and it certainly isn’t free but it’s certainly worth it.

    • says

      Funny how the social aspect lets you find out exactly what your customers want, eh mate?

      Tie that information into your marketing and sales process, and damn, you might even make a business… πŸ˜‰

  11. says

    social media is a revolution in interpersonal communication. like the telephone. was the telephone a evolution in marketing? no. thus the need for a do not call list in the US.

    i love your post danny i bet you hurt some feelings. but you know my views on this 8)

  12. says

    Since quick wins and automatic expertise has never happened since humans began walking the earth, I often chuckle when I see someone claim we can do it now. It takes A LOT of frickin’ work to get a business up and running and it takes A LOT of frickin’ work to keep it running. There are no short cuts. Period. I have been working in media and marketing for twenty-seven years and most days I feel I haven’t even begun to learn about my skills or my industry. Anyone claiming expertise can show actual cash deposits from actual paying actual clients or they (like us) are just trying to figure it all out.

  13. says

    Danny, spot on analysis.

    Funny, I just got through writing about Google not being free (for different reasons) — but “free” really is the great myth of SM. For struggling entrepreneurs, capital is the most valuable thing; for successful entrepreneurs, time is. Social media eats time like a great white shark — and time is most certainly not free.

    SM leveling the playing field is one of those things where a small grain of truth creates a big lie. I think social can level the playing field within categories — between the ice cream shop that has been open 20 years and the one that just opened. Does it level the playing field between a local microbrewery and Anheuser-Busch? Not even close.

    • says

      “For struggling entrepreneurs, capital is the most valuable thing; for successful entrepreneurs, time is.”

      Damn, but that’s the gold right there, mate – nicely said.

  14. says

    To your first point…I couldn’t agree any more. I just wrote a post about the ROI of Social Media and it seems that every post I come across doesn’t really do a good job of explaining it.

    All of the “how to measure the ROI posts” leave out the actual “how” and focus on the “why”. The few I ran across that actually show numbers focus on the “return” and not really the full “investment.”

    Getting a $1,000 on $240 of Facebook ads doesn’t give you a true return because you put in a lot more resources into creating those ads than just the $240.

    I haven’t published the post yet though. Not sure whether I should do it on my own blog or submit it as a guest post.

    • says

      Hi there Eugene,

      Completely agree, mate – I wrote about some of the questions you need to ask to prep the How earlier this year:

      Like you say, there’s a lot of Why’s, and some How’s, but there can often be a big gap in the real getting-hands-dirty How.

      Look forward to reading your post, mate, and happy to host here if you prefer.

  15. says

    You’ve made an artform out of ‘real-speak’ Danny.

    Great insight as usual. Some of us, me included, do not have a physical, tangible product at this point to sell. I am doing what I do to build a platform that I will be able to spring from later. I use several of the big SOME sites to do this and I have a *gasp* ‘plan’!

    I have no dilusions of granduere that I will ever be on the same level as others, and I learned very quickly that none of this is ‘free.’ The good thing is that after I do this for another 10 years (whoa, right? I’m not kidding) the payoff will be spectacular.

    Glad to have such smart people to learn from and the patience to set myself up for success! Have you seen this approach?

    • says

      Hey there mate,

      Can’t argue with that approach at all. So many – people or businesses – forget that putting the right legwork in to start with plays a huge part in subsequent success.

      Sounds to me you’re doing it right. :)

  16. says

    Social media consumes time, lot of our energy, it is addictive and is quite a distraction. It is so addictive that we create myths ourselves! Thanks for this wonderful reminder to clear up the social media hangover.

  17. Clay Morgan says

    Danny, great post. I read it and wondered when you and I are going to stop thinking alike. Social media is so powerful, so useful – it can be a real game changer (heck, it has for many people). Yet, many misconceptions and misunderstandings about what it can and can’t do, as well as what it is and is not, remain. These misconceptions are hurting the “social media industry” as a whole, and will continue to do so until they are cleared up.

  18. Pixels and Clicks says

    Another myth that needs debunking among business owners is that you don’t need strategies, you don’t need to understand your market and the only thing standing between you and success are tools.

    To many folks, social media means simply updating your FB page or blasting tweets (I haven’t seen a lot of “advice” regarding Google+ yet but I guess the snake oil is soon going to flow)

  19. victoria buckley says

    Good post! I do kind of disagree with the unlevel playing field. everything you say is right, big business do have more resources to tackle social media,but I think small business’s have one great advantage over big corps- a personal voice. I see so many big companies who still don’t know how to take on twitter and the like. It’s a clearer decision for smart smaller entities who are nimble,genuine and able to experiment more.

  20. JanetAronica says

    LOVE the “social media isn’t free” one! Not just for the SocialBase love… but it’s so true. People say the best thing about social media marketing is that “Twitter is free”… but I disagree and am definitely one of those to say that “time is money.” Same thing goes for tools. People come to oneforty all the time and ask us about free tools for kinda tricky problems… and these things could be resolved by paying $100/month or so for a monitoring tool (there ARE tools in that price range) but instead they hack it with RSS feeds and alerts from free tools… and that all takes a lot of time. This post explains that a little more:

    Great post!

    My latest conversation:

  21. says

    @victoria buckley

    Hi Victoria,

    That’s a fair point, though I think it comes down to the person as opposed to the size of the company.

    If you look at the blog of the guy that owns the Marriott hotel chains, that’s as personal and as connecting as it comes. Then I’ve seen owners of SMB’s that are just the worst online, since they have a very tunnel vision-minded approach that they know best and that’s that.

    So, completely agree that more often than not, the smaller guys are more personal – but I’m also seeing more larger companies allow their employees and core personnel be more personal too.

    Here’s to a happy mix somewhere in-between. :)

    My latest conversation:

  22. says

    Thanks Danny! This is a great commentary on the things we seem to think when we start a social media strategy. I don’t think people realize that it’s a “full time job.” As far as influencers go… well, it’s great, but you’re right, making a connection with your customers is a much better use of your time. And if you want to reach out to an influencer, that’s all right too, or even try finding common ground with them — Like a mutual understanding of the awesome that is Gordon Ramsey :)

  23. PeterMasters says

    Great post, thanks Danny!

    I sat with the directors of one of the UK’s largest supermarkets for over an hour yesterday and I was amazed at how little they knew about social media.

    I think they were surprised at how little they knew!

    Would you believe that a company with a turn over of nearly Β£400,000,000 thinks that 1 guy should be able to create and maintain a successful social media campaign.

    They were amazed at what I had to say and at what they could achieve with a little imagination and a fairly modest budget (compared to TV & print etc).

    Their decision is to take it slowly. They’ve got a new static website being built.

    I explained to them concepts like inbound and permission marketing but I’m not sure they realized that ‘the customer is king’ now!

    I wish them well.

    I should send them this post, I’m sure it would help.

    Thanks Danny, all the best, Peter

  24. says

    The good news is, pretty much everybody is ‘aware’ of social media. And it’s true, some are ‘all in’ while some could really care less. What that wide range of strata tells me is, there is a huge amount of opportunity and you don’t need global domination to tap into it.

    The bad news is, not only does it take time but lots of it. If your time is worth $100 an hour and you are spending 3-4 hours a day ‘in it'; how quickly will you have to gain quantifiable traction to even think about seeing a return on investment? The flip side is, if you were involved in non-revenue generating activities w/in that time frame anyway, you might as well try this out and see if there is a spot in here for you.

    Influencers, we can see who really has influence and to what degree. But what if you only influence one person and that person is a true influencer? This is where I see the power of networking because you might not be the guy, but you might have access to him.

    Good post and that’s probably all I will say about that. Hope you have a great weekend.

  25. says

    @PeterMasters Was it Safeway? I used to work with their media team a few years back and they were cautious about that. :)

    It is surprising how many businesses still fear social media. I think one of the key factors is that many businesses are under the impression it needs to be a standalone offering, as opposed to an integrated one, and if they can just get over that roadblock…

    Here’s to more education, Peter – cheers!

    My latest conversation:

  26. says

    @bdorman264 Hi there mate,

    Love this quote from you:

    “The flip side is, if you were involved in non-revenue generating activities w/in that time frame anyway, you might as well try this out and see if there is a spot in here for you.”

    If it’s not costing you any more than something you’re already doing – or not doing, as you mention – is it really worth missing the potential return you could get?

    Cheers, sir, have a great one yourself.

    My latest conversation:

  27. ginidietrich says

    I actually don’t agree that you think it doesn’t level the playing field. Well, I agree with the reasons you list. But Arment Dietrich has been able to compete with the large, global firms in our backyard because of social. Before all of this, we weren’t even a speck on a fly’s butt. Now we go up against them in new business pitches about eight times out of 10. Do we win every one? No. But we at least get the opportunity. Because of social and the efforts we’ve done in the past four years, people think we’re bigger than we are.

    But the whole “it’s free” baloney is right on. It’s more time intense than anything in our field…except maybe media relations.

    My latest conversation:

  28. ginidietrich says

    @DannyBrown Sure, that makes sense. Though, we have a client who is a print distributor and was not know, at all, in the industry two years ago. When he started blogging, his #1 goal was to be nominated as the industry’s president. Guess who the incoming president is for 2012?

  29. AliceDunn says

    Guess I will hold off on social media for a while. It always seems to be too time intensif, but a lot of friends encourage me to get into social media. How about starting with just one social media website?

  30. says

    @AliceDunn I’m a big believer in being where you need to be, Alice. If that.s Facebook, be there. If it’s LinkedIn, be there. If you’d rather “control” from your own plot of land – your blog, for example – be there.

    I’d rather be strong in limited places than stretched in multiple ones.

  31. SarahEdwardsCUP says

    “social media is not free.”

    I completely agree with this, not only from a business perspective but also from a personal one. I know people who are active members of at least five different social networks for various topics and interests. I look at their sociallyat pages (which show all of the social networks you are a part of) and I’m amazed at how many things they are a part of . They spend HOURS every day updating, keeping in touch with their friends, etc. This is great for fulfilling their interests and I know they enjoy it, but when you are out having coffee and they are glued to their iPhone and ignoring the “reality” going on around them, it is very frustrating. I swear some of them spend longer on the internet than they do sleeping!!!

  32. deleted_2164790_donnaM13 says

    my biggest pet peeve has always been ‘the influencers’. Years ago, it was thought that if a certain group of people followed you on twitter, you were blessed… sorry to say I ended up blocking most of them (and then unblocking) – which drops them off your ‘followers list’. I didnt need them following me, esp as (as you say) they arent particularly relevant to what everyone (me ) is doing. ..and they’re plain boring πŸ˜‰ I”m a big fan of keeping it real, no bullshit, which is why i follow you on twitter and find your blogs a breath of fresh air.
    However.. i am gonna quibble about one point :) – i think it is completely possible (and far more likely actually) for a smaller company to keep up with their social sites and interact with their brand fans on a real tangible basis, than the larger companies. If you dedicate one person to doing just that, its not that difficult to keep on top of things – your customer base is smaller for one, if you’re a local business, you have the advantage of having met many of your fans/advocates in real life, and probably know some by name.. all bonus points compared with a larger faceless corporation that only sees the bottom dollar.