Are You A Social Media Snake Oil Salesman?

In Facebook, Marketing, Social Media, Twitter on May 3, 2010 at 3:44 am

As a child I used to watch old Western movies on TV with my dad.  I didn’t particularly like movies about cowboys and gunfights, but I enjoyed spending time with my dad, so I watched a lot of them.  In many of the Westerns, there would be a slick traveling salesman, peddling a fake elixir (snake oil) purported to cure all ailments.  The exaggerated character of the “snake oil salesman” was marked by boisterous, obnoxious marketing hype, typically bogus.

Now, as an adult, whenever I see a smooth-talking, insincere person trying to sell something, the image of a snake oil salesman pops into my head.  I see it every day: on infomercials, in business, at the mall, and in social media.  Sometimes the product is great, but the salesperson is too pushy or just comes across as disingenuous.  And therein lies the pitfall for many people and businesses using social media.   Whether you’re a large corporation, small business, or individual trying to drive traffic to a blog, how others perceive you can make or break your brand’s success.  Are you coming across as a social media “snake oil salesman”?  Here are 5 warning signs you may be harming your brand:

1.   You send out a DM to every new follower with a link to your site. Chances are most people will ignore your DM, and you run the risk of being blocked and reported as spam. Would you ask someone you just met face-to-face to do you a favor?  The approach appears pushy and your motives seem insincere.  Instead, start communicating with your followers and build a relationship of mutual respect and trust.  I have many friends in social media who know that I will always RT a new blog post or support them in any way I can.  I welcome their requests, but this came over time, after we had connected and gotten to know each other.

2.   All of your posts are links to your site. This comes across as desperate and, again, spammy.  Social media is not traditional advertising.  If you only want to talk about yourself, buy an ad.  The “social” in social media implies engagement.  Share insightful content with your followers, comment on or retweet their posts, and ask questions.  As people get to know you, they will be more apt to go to your blog or website.

3.  You post random shout outs in stream asking people to follow you, check out a site or RT a post. I see this a lot with newbies on Twitter who think it’s a fast way to drive traffic to a website or accumulate followers.  It’s highly ineffective and most people will ignore you.  It’s the equivalent of the peddler on the street corner shouting at passerbys.  Social media marketing takes time, and you need to put in the effort to establish a social network and loyal following.  If you aren’t willing to do that or don’t have the time, maybe you should reconsider whether social media is the best marketing medium for you.

4.   You use exaggerated claims. These are all over social media and they give the appearance of lack of confidence in the true merits of the products.  “Become the next Donald Trump”; “Earn $3,000 in one week”; “Get 1,000 followers a day”.  This is one of the quickest ways to destroy your reputation/ brand and become labeled a “snake-oil salesman”.   If you want to build trust, be honest.  Tip: If you only have 500 followers on Twitter, don’t post  “I got 2,000 followers in one week using *XYZ* site.”  Just sayin’.

5.   You ignore complaints. By ignoring negative comments on your blog or about your product, you fuel negativity rather than mitigate it.  In the Westerns, whenever someone shouted out “Charlatan!”, the snake oil salesman’s accomplice would come along and knock them out with the butt of his gun (all in front of a miraculously oblivious crowd), while the salesman continued to shout the merits of his product as though nothing happened.  In social media, no one is there to stifle your critics (and your audience will not be as oblivious to your lack of response).  Only you can quell negativity, by addressing complaints and detractors with professionalism and sincerity.  This exhibits confidence in your product and respect for your customers/followers.

Whether you are new to social media or wondering why you haven’t been able to drive traffic to your site, take a moment to reflect on your approach and how you may be perceived.  You can have the best product or the most insightful blog, but if you appear too slick or insincere, you will alienate followers.

Picture courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/ccohen/4064733771
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  1. Very good advice, Xan! I do have a question. I spend a lot of time reading blogs of folks I follow, leave comments, and RT. I tweet when I have new posts of my own, but do realize they are like drive-by shouts (#3 above). Without a lot of blog subscribers, how do I garner twitter support for my posts without annoying people or constantly tweeting “NEW POST”?

  2. I think you can always post that you have updated your blog with a link to it, and absolutely should! Just don’t make it every post in your stream. A few times a day is great! I also see nothing wrong with DMing your friends with whom you have interacted with and letting them know you have a new blog post. If you have already established a relationship, they will be more than happy to RT to support you. I’m never offended if they don’t, though. It may just not be their thing or they have too many other posts they want to get out. The “shout outs” I refer to in #3 are people who have never engaged with me or don’t even follow. They just randomly ask others to RT or check out their site-that’s very different than posting a link to your new blog post, which is just like posting any other interesting info. You know you can always DM me as well with your posts! I would be happy to RT you my friend!

  3. Makes even more sense, now! And I know exactly what you mean. When folks ask me for an RT via DM, and we have a relationship on twitter, I don’t think twice about it. When I don’t know them from Adam, it’s weird. I will definitely try this approach! And of course DM you! Thanks you, my friend!

  4. Xan, another brilliant post! Thank you for saying the things about social media that need to be said! I have encountered each of the types of slimy individuals you mentioned and they clearly do not understand what social media is all about. Thank you for educating them. You are a great writer, I love it! 🙂

  5. Geez Xan, you are right. There are some shady, no good businesses out there who really don’t any interest in you as a person.

    It’s all junk, no valuable information.

    It’s becoming an echo chamber of robots who simply find RSS feeds, paste them into Twitterfeed and activate their Twitter account. It drives me nuts.

    But, I guess that principles never die when it comes to business. Any trick that was used before just naturally follows.

    • Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts Josh! Those companies don’t end up having much success in social media. The ones who will rise to the top will be the engaging, sincere, and customer-service oriented companies.

  6. I especially like #4: You use exaggerated claims. It’s a common practice not only for social media, but for all types of media. As a marketer, it generally makes me gag. I often wonder if people actually believe them and that’s why promoters keep using them. It’s the same claim made about spam — people wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. What are your thoughts?

  7. Thanks for the comment Robbin! I think sometimes it does work-in the short term, which is why marketers use them. But in the long run, they only damage their reputation and undermine the product. For sustainability, truth in advertising!

  8. I couldn’t agree more. I wonder if there’s any data that proves that it even works in the short run. I’d love to see the case studies.

  9. So True..I hate such Spammers

    • I do too. And it really breaks trust. I try to give the benefit of the doubt as many businesses new to social media do it unintentionally. Unfortunately, by the time they figure out why they are having little success, the damage is done.

  10. Thank-you! Great info; I am new to Twitter and wasn’t sure what to do but I think so far I have been doing it right!

  11. I hate auto DMs! I hate it when I follow someone and I get the auto DM, it’s not sincere and often feels so slimey I want to unfollow. If you don’t have the time to thank me personally, don’t bother at all.

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