Social Media Purism Stupidity is what Gets You Fired

Ten years ago, social media marketing did not exist.

There were online communities. People participated on those communities. It became possible, all of the sudden, for marketers to participate within those communities because they saw an opportunity.

And so, all of the sudden, this pure network of sorts became a place for marketers, as they always do, to capitalize upon.

In the beginning, a core group of social media marketers were making waves on sites that have since shut down, creating the foundation for social media marketing as we see it today.

This very small group of social media marketers, of which I’d like to say I’m part, established conventions required of true social media marketing. Rules like:

  • Don’t broadcast
  • Build relationships
  • Add value

Yup, yup, and yup. If you’ve heard those rules before, it’s because it’s a constant theme here. It’s been a constant theme of mine since I stumbled upon social media in 1993.

I live and breathe by these very words. It is, in a nutshell, the way to make a true impact. It also takes a hell of a lot of time and the cost for many small businesses is why I told people in 2013 to “stop their marketing,” because returns are not immediate in the relationship building spectrum–and many look for fast results that are simply impossible with the resources they have available. Still, by definition, relationships are at the core of what I do. I’ve written about it in books. I’ve spoken about it at conferences. I blog about it here. I should make “relationship” my middle name.

These early adopters in the age of social media who emphasized value and relationship building helped established groupthink. All of the sudden, a crop of bloggers who later called themselves social media experts started reiterating these very tenets. The outcome was viral. It was an education. Marketers would tell other marketers that the way to do social media the right way was to focus on the people process, something that takes time but is simply the best possible way.

I don’t disagree.

The thing is: no matter what kind of sound advice you tell someone, you will hear from someone unwilling to do what everyone else tells them to do. They want shortcuts (there are no shortcuts, says Adam Singer). These outliers will, possibly in time, fail.

But you know what? They may also succeed.

You see, doing something different, while possibly stupid, could still result in successes. On the other hand, while not necessarily calling it a “success,” it will help that person achieve his goal.

Let me share a story of a client I worked with in the past.

The article, Why Social Media Departments Fail, was inspired by a former client of mine and by conversations I had with many freelance social media consultants who experienced similar outcomes with their full time companies and clients. My client wanted to manage and grow their fan base, and they had big numbers in their minds.

The growth was slow and steady, just as anyone who actually understands social media would expect. Relationships were built with prospective customers, and products were purchased. Word of mouth was getting around.

Life was good.

But to the client, the process took too long. The client wanted more, more, more. Interestingly, the client didn’t have goals for that larger surge of growth, but didn’t want whatever he was after to take forever.

He wanted numbers, not realizing that numbers don’t do anything for him if they’re not the right numbers.



It didn’t last. We parted ways. He ended up calling social media a smokescreen.

This is not an isolated story by any stretch. I took the approach of social media purism, didn’t align goals properly with the client, and lost him. No harm, no foul. A learning experience was had.

Fast forward four years to 2015, and it’s as if I’m talking to an earlier version of myself. (But perhaps my earlier version would have an open mind.)

Let’s revisit the concept of slow and steady for a moment. Slow and steady, while smart, may also exhaust the budget. Sometimes shortcuts aren’t ideal, but they are required.

I recently made a request to break a convention, one that I’ve touched upon several times already in this article. I have learned that while I can advise people not to do social media the way they want to, it actually makes sense to respect why they do want to do it their way. (And if you are an outsider and don’t know why, don’t assume.)

I had a request from a person who wanted to do something that you’d consider grey hat–they wanted to buy Twitter followers. Not an illegal request, not an unethical request, yet a very ill-advised request (and possibly one that violates Twitter’s Terms of Service–which, by the way, isn’t that bad, considering how many marketing types have more than one Facebook account, and you know what? That violates Facebook’s Terms of Service too.)

When asking this clearly controversial question to a “smart marketer group,” (though I may argue that the first word of this phrase is inaccurate) I made it very clear that the question was iffy and a no-no.

Let’s dig in. I recommend popcorn.


It’s actually a fascinating read of groupthink gone wrong. (Oh, and if you can’t tell, the post was pulled, but not by me. For the follow up conversations, see this and this.)

I appreciate that I helped establish a foundation for social media as we know it today. I appreciate that I’m a nobody in the social media space as far as most are concerned because I had the first of three children right after I published my bestselling book on the topic (which was fully written before three of the aforementioned users even joined Twitter) and intentionally withdrew from the spotlight. Yet I have learned, having worked in this industry for a decade, that I need to be respectful of other opinions. If everyone did the same thing, we’d never be successful because it would be another case of banner blindness.

Today, it’s social media. Tomorrow, it’s politics. It’s religion. It’s veganism. It’s LGBT issues. It’s anything that someone has an opinion on.

As an infographic guru once told me, social media groupthink and witch hunts marginalize opinions. The conversation above supports that entirely. There are, in every school of thought, people who initially drove a general direction. I take responsibility for helping drive the direction of social media marketing. I’m not embarrassed to want to introduce an opposing view once in awhile, especially one that actually is sound once you consider the rationale (which not a single person had/has, as I never volunteered that rationale).

I love this quote from this Vox piece:

On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with.

Ever hear of herd mentality? You are reading all about it in the preceding blockquote and in the conversation above. Seventy percent of you are following convention and not thinking independently.

Idealized views are dangerous. Your purist view may make sense but is certainly not always right for every single circumstance.

Unless you’re working for a big brand where bucks are finite, time and money is working against you. You may succeed, but the most important person–your client, in this case–might view you as a failure.

And so, guess what? It’s not a bad thing to break the rules once in awhile. I doubt anyone would get called out for buying Twitter followers. In fact, this member of the media announced it to everyone.

Let’s not fool ourselves, people. Not every action in the social media space–or in any space–is smart. But going to extremes as in “it’d be a PR nightmare” for a small brand that doesn’t care is preposterous. And telling me to choose different friends? That’s insanity. You’re just as likely to be outed for that second Facebook account, or for that Facebook account that is a Profile but really should be a Page (yes, Dan’s Hair Salon, I won’t friend you, because you are the wrong type of account!)–or is it that people don’t really care?

So here’s my lesson for you: try not to care once in awhile. Worry about your professional growth and not of others. This is a public service announcement from someone who knows that being edgy is sometimes the way to be competitive. I’ll never do what I asked for my personal brand, but I certainly will respect it for others.


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6 replies on “Social Media Purism Stupidity is what Gets You Fired”
  1. says: Candy Swift

    Hi Tamar! You are telling something true that others may not be pleased to learn. But I did learn something from this post. While working on social marketing, we should focus more on the future effects. Thanks for sharing your ideas and experience, and good advice of “Worry about your professional growth and not of others”. I may think hard.

    1. Thanks Candy – and I know I’m stirring the pot 🙂 Sometimes, it needs to be done!

      Now if only I would have the guts to tell Colleen, Barbara, Jyri, and Stefan about this post…

  2. says: Elizabeth

    Thanks, Tamar, for this post. I agree with everything you said here and with previous comment by Candy. Social Networks today are sometimes turning into a place where people forget to be polite and to show good attitude. The only thing we can do is not to become those people. Also would like to thank your for this Twitter conversation example.

  3. says: Lucretia

    It is amazing to me that things rolled out the way they did in that event.
    Your initial post was quite clear — it was not what you advised, but it was the choice your friend made and you were inquiring if there was anyone who had a resource for people who chose that path.
    But I believe that some people type comments of that sort to appear knowledgeable to a group rather than to actually add value to the conversation. (Not that I know the motivations of anyone who participated in that thread – some of them might have genuinely believed they were being helpful.)
    I’d put it in an analogy — you said you like healthy food, but had a friend asking you if you knew where the nearest fast food restaurant was or if you could help him locate it. Instead of saying “there’s a McDonald’s 1 block away, a Taco Bell 2 blocks away, and a couple of others that are close – but will give you food poisoning, so if he’s set on fast food, avoid those,” you got repeated comments about how you must not really eat heathily yourself, you shouldn’t help him find one, and why fast food restaurants are the bane of western culture.

    Adding value is a proposition some people truly don’t get. True value is helping someone solve a problem they have – not trying to reframe the problem so that they don’t have it.

    1. Love that analogy and thanks so much for your reply, Lucretia. It’s amazing how the thought process went. Did anyone forget you can actually legitimately buy Twitter followers by using Twitter? 🙂

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