Social Commerce

Top 10 Social Media Myths

At the recent LIFT social commerce conference in Georgia, Eric T. Bradlow, co-director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Interactive Media Initiative, presented top ten myths of social media. It’s a super back-pocket list for any marketer thinking of investing in social media – and a useful evidence-based antidote to social media hype.

Here’s a summary and my take on the myths…

Myth No. 1: Today is the golden age of media metrics.  Sure, we have more data than ever before with digital, but are our metrics any better?  More data does not mean more knowledge, and more knowledge does not equal more insight.  Good metrics need to be both theoretically informed and answer practical questions.  Social media metrics rarely do either.

Myth No. 2: Data mining and data modeling can drive strategy.  Data will never trump simple theory, and simple conceptual models of behavior will always be more more useful than complex data models.  Understanding your customer beats measuring them.

Myth No. 3: Customer engagement is always good thing.  Engagement has been touted as the silver bullet of media metrics.  But there is no single engagement metric; engagement means different things in different circumstances.  And unless you’re in the entertainment business, engagement sucks. Most people don’t want to be engaged, they want results – whether information, solutions or purchases – and want them as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Time on site is usually a bad thing.

Myth No. 4: One-on-one marketing is the future of B2B and B2C Markets.  Personalized marketing is the promise of digital, but one-to-one marketing is guilty of what psychologists call ‘fundamental attribution error’ – the error in attributing constant likes and dislikes (such as media/content preferences) to individuals instead of contexts.  The fact is that response is dependent on context, not individuals; this whimsical nature of customers makes one-to-one marketing impractical.  Add to that the fact customers can react badly to the “tricksy” feel of personalized marketing, and prefer to be in the driving seat and choose themselves from a standardized range of solutions, and one-to-one marketing loses it’s shine.

Myth No. 5: Focus on ethnic/gender/lifestyle marketing. If you segment markets based on demographics, psychographics or sociographics, there will pretty much always be more variability within segments than between them, making the segments an artificial overlay on reality.  Worse, you can end up chasing stereotypical statistical “means” that are “mean”ingless; nobody has 2.2 children.  Chase solutions not means.

Myth No. 6: Viral marketing is where it’s at.  The truth is that viral marketing hardly ever works either in terms of shifting stock/generating leads, and is unreliable (and usually ineffective) in boosting exposure (very few people pass on any media content (cf. Duncan Watts)).  Better a well constructed referral program than a viral marketing campaign.

Myth No. 7: Mass marketing is dead. Mass marketing is far from dead and is still the most effective solution for reaching large numbers of people.  Sure, traditional media is fragmented, but that fragmentation is nothing compared to the fragmentation in digital (and social) media; 100 million+ sites/10 billion+ pages.  You’ll a lot a people to share recommendations to reach the coverage of a mass media campaign.

Myth No. 8: The Long Tail rules! It turns out that Chris Anderson’s popularization of the nice idea that it’s better to sell ‘more of less’ (sell lots of low volume products than strive for a blockbuster  – or in media terms go for lots of small media channels instead of a big blockbuster channel) does not stack up with the evidence.  Blockbuster products advertised in blockbuster channels are your best strategy.

Myth No. 9: Ad creation is a delicate art form. Creativity is an art form, but it can be stimulated and informed by science.  Use what works as creative stimulus and test creative solutions for effectiveness.  Darwin and Einstein both saw creativity as a two-step ‘generate and test’ process. Creativity is the successful exploitation of ideas generated at the intersection of invention and insight to produce social or economic value.

Myth No. 10: Content is king. If content gets created in a forest and there is no one around to see it, is it king?  Distribution is king, not content – content in front of the right people at the right time.  Better to have mediocre content widely and well distributed than great content narrowly and poorly distributed.  Mass seeding is needed for social media to be effective (cf. Duncan Watts).


Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

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