Social Media Snake Oil

Snake oil
Actual snake oil liniment will do as much for you business as some “social media experts.”

In the 19th century, snake oil salesmen would travel the country selling “miracle cures.” There is actually a traditional Chinese medicine made from snake oil which has some pain relieving properties, but the snake oil salesmen of America were not so particular in selecting compounds with actual curative properties. Why go to the trouble of finding the real thing when the story will sell the product for you?

Today we see the same thing in social media. Digital social media marketing can be incredible effective if done correctly. It can be a medium cost, high bandwidth method of communicating with existing and new customers.

Like snake oil, however, most people peddling “social media marketing” wouldn’t know effective marketing if it made 12-15 impression on their face. They trade on the fact that you don’t know it either, so they flim flam you with buzzwords and fancy graphics so you don’t realize that your money is completely wasted on them.

There are three things you are trying to do with marketing: make people aware of you, develop brand familiarity, and communicate with existing clients. The value of social media is that you can pull people into an information ecosystem and then push information to them which makes them more familiar with you and teaches them to respect your expertise.

3 Objectives of Marketing:

1) Make people aware of you

2) Develop brand familiarity

3) Communicate with existing clients

This is especially powerful because it can build your reputation among people who are not yet in the market for your product or service. You can make them say, “I’m not ready to buy a house, but when I do, I must work with this guy.” OR “I’m not in the market, but I need to send this to my friend who is.” It is also important to make sure that they click on your link when your fancy SEO strategy puts you on the front page of Google with 8 other businesses.

This is something that community publications like Groton-Mystic Neighbors do very well. With compelling content, they draw the attention of the local audience. Sponsors can then leverage that existing attention to create repeated impressions and share their expertise through articles.

Social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram can also be employed this way. It’s a little more challenging because you have to build your own audience, but they can still be powerful platforms.

If you use them correctly.

Let’s look at how to do social media wrong.

How not to do social media

That wrench looks a little rusty. Maybe it needs some snake oil.
Using the wrong tool the wrong way.Source

For the purpose of this article, I wanted to find a social media page that showed how not to do it, but I didn’t want it to be someone I might know, so I went to Ohio. Fortunately for me, many Realtors have been taken in by snake oil salesmen, so it’s not hard to find an example.

Please note, I am sure that Mr. Andrews is a good person and an upstanding member of his community. I imagine he’s a fine Realtor as well. I have to imagine because his social media presence, which he appears to be (over)paying for professional management of, does nothing to clarify if it is or is not. Should he read this article, I hope he will take it as a sign that he should find a better social media management company, and not take it as a personal aspersion.

Who are you?

Meet Robert T. Andrews from Medina, Ohio. From his social media presence, I know that he’s been in real estate for 10 years and does some volunteer work in the community. I’m sure he’s a great guy who does good work, but I can’t be sure because his social media presence doesn’t tell me. It establishes no brand for him.

His web site features a generic bio that sounds like every other Realtor’s bio.

My name is $Realtor_Name, and it’s great to meet you. I’ve been proudly serving the community of $Community_Name for $Years_In_Business years, and my family and I love to call this place home.

I love serving my community as $Description_Of_Volunteer_Work. It’s great to be able to give back.

The purchase of your home is one of the most important decisions your family will ever make. With my experience and dedication, I will help you make the best choices and avoid the pitfalls of home buying.


-Every Realtor’s Web Site

His Facebook page contains 4 photos of him. If I were to run into him a supermarket, I would not recognize him, even if I likes and followed his page and saw every post.

Engaging content

Mr. Andrews Facebook page has a mix of two kinds of generic content: house listings and article links that could be best described as drivel.

The home listings might catch the eye of someone currently in the market, but many of the people who would follow this page are either friends or former clients. A former client already bought a house and probably won’t need one for a while. Friends are following the page to be nice. In other words, the only people following a Realtor’s page who care about home listings are other Realtors.

But Mr. Andrews has been in the business for 10 years. He has a great deal of expertise and experience in the business. I suspect he has quite a few great stories. Let’s see what articles we find between the property listings.

Robert Andrew's Cuban recipes? Do any of them teach you how to cook with snake oil?
When I think of Robert Andrews from Ohio, Cuban recipes is the first thing that comes to mind.

The purpose of content on your business social media is to flesh out your identity. “Oh, he’s not just a Realtor, he’s a D&D player.” It humanizes you to potential clients and makes it easier for them to become comfortable with you.

When the interstitial content on your social media is entirely random, it is disingenuous. It feels fake. It feels like you hired a low end marketing company to use software to put random content on your page… because you did.

The worst outcome would be if someone sees this and really is into Cuban food then tries to engage Mr. Andrews in a conversation about it when they meet him. Suddenly, what a potential client thought was a point of common ground becomes and awkward misunderstanding.

Demonstrate expertise

Social media gives you the opportunity to share your expertise in long form though video and text. As a Realtor, you can teach people about the market, home staging, inspection issues and so much more.

Mr. Andrews Facebook page offers none of this. Instead, more generic articles…

An article that Mr. Andrews probably did not write. More social media snake oil.
I’d love to tell you if Mr. Andrews wrote this himself, but the link is actually dead.

If Mr. Andrews wrote this article himself, then it would be a fascinating insight into his mindset. He probably did not. I say “probably” because his professional social media manager has a bad link on his page.

I am un-happified by this result.

Even if the link was good, however, it disingenuous content. The accompanying text on the post suggests that he is giving advice on goals. If he is merely sharing an article that he found interesting or valuable (or if his marketing agent is trying to make it look like he is) then it would be better to say something like, “Here are some great ideas. They’ve really helped me get closer to my goals, and I hope they can do the same for you.”

Let’s also notice the use of #goals and #lifelessons. For those of you who are not net savvy, those are hashtags. Someone interested in learning about goals can search for #goals and will find posts and profiles which contain such content. Hashtags draw readers. I might use those two hashtags because I do talk about goals and life lessons.

Mr. Andrews is not looking to book motivational talks. He’s looking to sell houses. Why is his marketing agency using these hashtags? Because it will misdirect traffic to his page, inflating view and interaction numbers so it looks like they are doing a better job, without doing a darned thing to actually help him sell houses.


Don’t fall for snake oil

Social media is not some mysterious arcane secret of the ages. It follows the same basic principles of marketing as all other forms of marketing. If someone tells you that digital advertising is complex or cannot explain it in a way to make you understand, don’t give them your money.

At the very least speak to someone who can help make sense of it for you. If you are looking at a digital marketing opportunity that sounds good but you’re not sure if you understand it, contact me. I’ll be look at it for you and help you make sense of it at no charge. The most important thing to me is some flim flam artist doesn’t take your hard earned money in exchange for useless trinkets and tech-talk.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.