Social Media Continues to Miss the Mark: The Overemphasis on Popularity


It’s been years now since I first became frustrated with people working in the social media / blogging world who put an overemphasis on popularity as though they were snotty little schoolgirls. Back then it was more about all the blog “influence” lists or rankings based on faulty metrics (like the Power150 or Edelman’s social media index). Things aren’t any better today I’m sorry to say. In fact, they’re worse.

I came across an article this morning on Twitter that discussed how companies are overvaluing Facebook “likes.” And I agree with that completely. In the end a “like” doesn’t equal a customer. It doesn’t even mean you have a lead. Hell, I could “like” a $40 million dollar mansion or a $10,000 designer dress or the new 2011 Porsche 911. It doesn’t mean I’m in the market for it. I could “like” a website after reading one good article, and not give two shits about ever going back there. In the end, a “like” means very little.

Actually, a “like” is just another way of whipping out your trusty litter ruler to see who’s bigger than who. It’s not new. It’s the same thing we see with Twitter spammers — the type who follow tens of thousands of people they know they can’t realistically follow because they’re hoping to either get or keep followers of their own. It’s all about who appears to have more friends, fans, followers, or whatever you want to call them today — who has the biggest list. And in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

Large generic groups of people “liking” you or “following” you aren’t nearly as valuable as a smaller group of people with a genuine and regular interest in what you have to say, sell, or do. But somewhere in this social media mix we lost the concept of targeting. And over the years we’ve failed to get it back.

At this point I’m little more than embarrassed for the “social media professionals” that participate in these popularity contests or convince their clients that they should care about them. It’s no wonder social media’s taking so long to be adopted fully as a normal part of business. They’re still missing the mark. And who’s actually benefiting from the hype around these popularity-based lists, “likes,” and such? The social media sites that came up with (or stumbled into) friggin’ amazing linkbait tactics to drive their own traffic.


  • Jay Baer says:

    Thanks so much for the link Jennifer. I’m delighted that you agree with my post. Your popular with me, and I don’t care what the math says! 😉

  • Dave Ross says:

    Very true. I run social media for an organization I’m involved with, and I’ve noticed most of our Twitter followers are people & organizations in our industry looking for retweets or trying to drive up their own numbers.

  • An excellent post! As a publicist, I’ve often hesitated to advise clients to build strategies based on increasing “likes” or “fans” but couldn’t articulate why. Now you’ve done so for me. And funny, but I’d been thinking about this very topic lately in the context of my 11 year-old son and the “popularity” issues in middle-school. Thanks for adding fodder: I may just link to this post at some point soon!

  • Bob Samii says:

    Jenn, I agree. The metrics around social media are not always great indicators but maybe they’ve become so popular simply for the sake of reporting. When you need to benchmark and analyze competitors, it’s much easier to look at top-level metrics (followers, fans, etc.) and report “popularity” than dig into influence and engagement metrics… some parallels can be drawn with SEO as well… in general, people are more interested in page views and uniques, than digging into bounce rates and average time on site (metrics that are not very sexy).

    • The main problem is that these metrics are used as little more than linkbait by supposed social media professionals — giving businesses a false sense of their value. They do it in part to build hype around social media in general and because popularity metrics can be easily manipulated. It’s something many of them do for clients, and hyping up the false value validates their professional existence. Yes, in that sense it’s similar to SEO folks especially earlier in the game. But building an industry on smoke and mirrors is foolish, and if anything social media folks should have learned that from SEOs example rather than repeating it.

      As for influence, it’s immeasurable. It will never be possible to truly measure it, and social media folks need to stop pretending that they can. You cannot know every reader’s or visitor’s opinion on an issue and how you’ve changed or reinforced it. That’s influence. You won’t ever be able to see every action people take as a result of you. That’s influence. Instead they look at retweets and links and likes — all things that require very little effort, and therefore little to no actual influence. And not measuring influence is fine. But they need to stop blatantly lying to clients and the public about what they’re measuring — popularity masked as so-called influence, with no acknowledgement of the fact that almost every single popularity metric around can (and is) heavily manipulated. Sexy or not, lying is never acceptable.

  • Mindy Allen says:

    Your site is fantastic! When I first got into social media I was at a job (buyers agent for a real estate broker) where suddenly it became a requirement that I handle the social media and seo our company site. I had never done it before and read everything I could on the subject, opened up a few blogs and an account on every social media venue there was to test the waters. I followed all the advice and I have to say that now, 5 years after I first started my “experiment” I realized that about 80% of the advice from so-called social media “experts” amounted to no more than time wasting garbage, and sadly business people are eating it up! Now I am opening my own business and am trying to focus on what’s real…like the ease of use, quality and content of my site, asking whether the social media I am using is manageable in the time I have to give to it (i.e. can I be consistent)…and the quest for that lead me here because sorting out fact from fiction when it comes to social media online is getting harder and harder.

    • I agree with you completely. Most “experts” are way off-base on a lot of issues. Either they’ve never seen success over the popularity numbers, so that’s what they focus on (which is utter bullshit), or they’ve found real success with a client or two and then they become evangelists for the tools that worked for them and act like they should be used in a similar way by everyone else (also utter bullshit). And a lot of it is just echoing something someone read, heard, saw, etc. rather than being useful or in any way original. But as bad as it is in social media, it’s much moreso in the SEO world. I’m glad to hear that you saw through a lot of it, and very sorry they wasted so much time until that happened.

      It sounds like you have a good plan in place now — finding what works for you, making choices based on the time you can actually devote to doing it “right,” and emphasizing quality and value to your customers, readers, etc. I wish more people would follow suit!

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