Are Most Social Media Experts Empty Suits?

By Hank Blank

I have always been an advertising person in its former and current evolutions. I have worked for many of the top agencies in Canada and the U.S.

The advertising world can be a world of hype and personal promotion. The stakes in the show are high.

No matter what agency, no matter what country, no matter what office you would run who made a lot of noise and took up a lot of sound space, but in the end turned out to be an empty suit. They had the great suit, the great jokes, and the great connections … but in the end, when it got down to work, little original thought. They followed the herd and the herd initially followed them. They were lemmings.

But it was very difficult to hide in those days. While advertising is an art, it is also a science and fact and research based. When they were given a segmentation study to interpret and present recommendations the empty suits withered. You couldn’t do the analysis in 140 characters.

Once the initial layer of the onion was peeled the empty suits were quickly found out.

In social media it is a little harder to identify today’s empty suits. My measuring stick is my past experience of clients who could take you apart with their knowledge. Social media makes that assessment a little bit harder. It is not their fault as social media is the epicenter of hype so many people in today’s get caught up in the frenzy.

I have always said that social media is akin to a fire hose. It gushes information and changes at the infinite speed of the internet. I agree with Brian Solis, who I saw at a LinkedIn event in OC recently, when he said that we can’t keep up with our social media evolution.

What amazes me about many futurists of today is how little they know of the past. When I ask them if they have heard of Marshall McLuhan, they draw a blank. They don’t know a person who coined the terms the “Medium is the Message” or it is a “Global Village.” Television is hot, print is cool. They stand the test of time even though the test of time was the 60’s. I don’t even bring up Alvin Toffler and his thoughts about too much change in too short a period of time, Buckminster Fuller or others.

I also remember a little more than a decade ago when we had the dot-com boom when companies with no revenues were capitalized as being worth more than General Motors. Then we quickly had the dot-com bust and lots of casualties on the street. You can read about them in the biggest dot-com busts. We had advocates and zealots then and we have them now.

Today’s “Social Media Experts” quote stats to support the growth of social media and the fact that it is ubiquitous. Then I read that many of those mail boxes are empty. Nobody is home.

In 2010, I read an article called “Guess who doesn’t tweet.” Almost nobody.

A couple of weeks ago I read that many social media accounts are dormant. Nothing has changed.

Many social media experts rarely touch Main Street and talk to clones of themselves. They live in a homogenous community of like minded people. They should travel more without their smart phones. Tweet less. Talk less. Listen more. Watch more. Talk to people more.

I like to get my knowledge from people who have a broader perspective than just one channel and be guided into the future by people who know more than just one road.

A few months ago I saw a well-respected “social media expert” who has written many books. They talked about the mechanics of their process. They said that their content wasn’t original, but came from a couple of sources. They said that they automated their tweets, didn’t respond to retweets, and had other people doing this for them. Then they talked about how this “built community.” What popped into my mind was the thought that I hoped they didn’t parent this way.

Although social media is vast and pervasive it is also unruly. Most CEO’s I talk to consider it a necessary evil more than necessary.

There are no widely accepted ROI tools that are the standardized norm in the industry like you used to have Nielsen reports, Starch reports, or Nielson ratings or a myriad of quantitative research tools. The world was often over analyzed.

Now we have hype and opinion from people who wouldn’t know a GRP from a SKU or an electronically optimized press release.

Maybe it’s time for them to fill their experiences with broader perspectives for true insight.


You can connect with Hank on LinkedIn here or follow him on Twitter @hankblank here. He’s also on Facebook here and YouTube here. Specifically, here is one of his “Networking Tips for People Who Hate to Network.”




  1. Steve "@PodcastSteve" Lubetkin on March 29, 2012 at 10:52 am

    It continues to amaze me how many people are self-proclaimed social media experts, or gurus, or ninjas, and when you dig deeper, they have no engagement whatsoever in social media channels, all they know how to do is set up Facebook pages, or open a Twitter account, but they have no experience ENGAGING in interactions or conversations.

    Social media is no big mystery. Collectively they are just COMMUNICATIONS CHANNELS. Used properly, they can lead to new interactions among real people. Used wrong, as many companies are being advised to do, the will hurt your online reputation by tagging you as only being infested in flogging more product.

    There is an old saying that if you meet the Buddha you should immediately kill him, becaus anyone claiming to be the Buddha isn’t. Companies should pherhaps apply a similar test to the next social media ninja they meet.

    Steve Lubetkin, MBA, APR, Fellow, PRSA
    Managing Partner, Lubetkin Global Communications LLC
    Broadcasting Over the Internet
    @PodcastSteve on Twitter

  2. Rick Stoner on March 29, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Thank you Hank. This is a brutally honest take on an epidemic in the marketing industry at the moment. The amount of ‘empty suits’ working in social media today is rampant, particularly those pitching small to medium-sized BtoC brands by over-promising to get their foot in the door and get the invoices churning. Attaining true engagement through a brand-hosted social media community (regardless of the channel/network) is a difficult task that requires a true understanding of the audience at-hand, a content development strategy from communication pros that know the industry inside and out, and often times a fundamental shift in the client’s company culture. These are just a few of the tenants that should be confronted long before any Twitter account or Facebook page launches, assuming one has done the discovery work to make sure the audience is even on those platforms in the first place. I’d encourage anyone sitting on a social media presentation to listen in, look beyond the buzz words and hype, and ask question after question until you’ve reached an understanding of what the business case is for the social media strategy being pitched.

    Rick Stoner
    Social Media Strategist
    Bader Rutter