Social Media: WTF?

People conflate social media marketing with everything from messaging to blogging. Here's some clarity. (series: part 1 of 3)

November 30, 2016

Three part series: Social Media: WTF? | Social Media Marketing: Hype vs. Reality | Is Social Media Marketing Worth It?

People conflate social media with everything from messaging to blogging. Here's some clarity.

There's a lot of confusion over what people are actually talking about when discussing social media and it matters when you're trying to figure out how it fits into your business.

Oversimplifying it a bit, social media is a medium where multi-way, non-linear group communication is the norm. It's a many-to-many, opt-in model. Opt-in is an important point here. People SEEK OUT others along similar lines and topics of interest. No geographic barriers. Few social or economic barriers. Social media is, in essence, groups of people choosing to have conversations about what may interest them at any given moment.

Top 5 players:

  1. Facebook (1.8 billion active monthly users)
  2. YouTube (owned by Google) (1 billion)
  3. Instagram (owned by Facebook) (500 million)
  4. LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft) (467 million)
  5. Twitter (317 million)

With all of these people, marketers salivate. But ultimately, reaching those people becomes a choice between so-called "organic" (meaning: free) discovery of clients and potential leads, versus paid exposure to the same audience. 

For marketers, the holy grail is free exposure - but we all know nothing is free. What are the hidden costs, both in time and effort? The "unicorn in the room" has been the myth that you could simply start a page or channel and you'd get an instant following. 

Maybe if you were a pop star or TV personality and already had a following in the real world, you could just put up a page and people would come. Or maybe if you hired an ad agency to create a social media campaign that has an interactive component you might get some buzz. But with all of the noise, how do you stand out?

The truth of the matter is that simply making a page on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter and posting randomly will probably get you less exposure than putting on an old-timey sandwich board or hiring some neighborhood kids to walk around your town handing out flyers.

Back to our definitions. In contrast to social media, broadcast media is a one-to-many, interruptive model without the means or expectation of direct feedback. Examples include:

  • All forms of advertisement (TV and radio ads, print ads, outdoor ads, pay-per-click (search), advertising on social media, etc.)
  • Direct outreach (email, postcards, flyers, etc.)
  • Re-marketing (e.g, "click on my site, then see my ads on other sites in the same ad network," a la Google Adwords)

All of this is "pay to play."

Now we get into concepts that are sometimes lumped into social media but are either flatly not, or fall into a gray area:

  • Websites (B2C are often transactional, B2B are usually informational)
  • Content marketing (e.g., blogging, news, articles -- used to demonstrate expertise)
  • Comments (we'll talk briefly about those in a moment)

And social apps primarily used to facilitate communication:

  • Messaging (SMS, Facebook messenger, SnapChat, WhatsApp, etc.)
  • Enhanced communication (Skype, GoToMeeting, Facetime, etc.)
  • Productivity (Slack, Facebook Work, Dropbox, Evernote, etc.)

So when someone says she is an active blogger, that's great -- but it's not social media, it's content marketing -- she is carving out a niche and talking authoritatively or passionately about a topic of interest. Likewise, when someone says he uses Facebook messenger to reach out to a potential client when they are in town, it's not social media marketing. It's using the new tools at our disposal to communicate with another human.

Just because you can hold something up to your ear doesn't make it functional in the way you want it to be... so stop talking into that banana. It's never going to work.

One Small Rant: Comments

Some folks claim that comments make websites and blogs social. I call "BS" on that!

What comments do is open you up to lunatics who can hijack your post. Ever seen a comment thread turn self-aggrandizing or become an angry rant by faceless strangers? Yeah, me too. So, one option is to moderate the posts. But then you're stuck moderating posts and are now controlling the conversation - which isn't very social of you, now is it? So, maybe you don't really want comments after all. And that makes your site or blog content marketing and NOT social media, as we've discussed above. Either way, anyone really interested in what you have on your site or blog will share the article or connect with you about it via your posted contact info.

Comments are like a drive by, like someone shouting out of the window of a passing car: will you ever hear from that person again? Will they ever come around again and see what others have said in response? Who knows. Who Cares?!

But what's worse than comments? A comment system with no comments.

We've never liked comment systems for marketing sites. By now, many of the big players are taking down their comment systems, saying that they have found the comments add little value. Comments on some sites work, like on news sites or (real) social sites. But it's really sad when you see 100 articles by a top tier firm that has a comment system... and no comments. Tumbleweeds.

In part two of this series, we'll explore: Social Media Marketing: Hype vs. Reality


Animus Rex builds world-class websites and provides no-nonsense, well-considered advice like this to all our clients. Want to know more, or have a question? Please reach out. We're happy to help.

Thanks and be well,
- Todd

If you have any comments or questions, or just want to say hi, please email me at


This series:

Want to explore further?

How In-House Counsel Use Social Media - The article takes a positive view on in-house counsel use of social media, but it does point out that "74% percent of in-house attorneys are deemed “invisible users”: they use social media in listen-only mode" and "in-house counsel increasingly read and value blog articles." In other words, SM is good for paying attention to industry trends and news, but otherwise, in-house counsel lawyers aren't really using SM for self-promotion.

State of Digital & Content Marketing Survey 2015 - Quoted several times in this series.

Every Social Media Consultant is Lying to You - "Legal is not a social issue." The author points that there are issues of privacy when it comes to lawyers being on social media, as well as the fact that it is extremely unlikely that people are using social media to find specific lawyers. [P.S. We love these guys. They're smart.]

Why lawyers don’t always need social media - This post states that social media and blogging can often be too general, especially when you're trying to reach out to specific potential clients. Social media could be a waste of time since a more direct approach can yield better results.

Why social media engagement is overrated - This LinkedIn article is more specifically about social media engagement, it emphasizes that engagement on social media in itself is not a strategy, nor is it an indicator of success. Engagement also requires time and resources that could be used towards an effective strategy, considering that engagement may not always lead to the results that we want.

Fans, Follower, and Connections: Social Media ROI for Law Firms: this is a white paper with some really useful stats and charts

There's still a substantial amount of lawyers (54%, according to this report) that believe social media marketing is all "hype" and isn't very useful for lawyers, even though some statistics show otherwise.

And a few on the Pro side for a little balance

This blog post brings up why lawyers should have a social media presence: clients and potential clients expect lawyers to be on social media, social profiles give clients an opportunity to brag about their lawyers, and social media can build brand awareness.

How Can Lawyers Use Social Media to Their Advantage? Uses for social media: marketing your law practice, helping your firm set goals, networking/building authority, using social media as courtroom evidence

"54% of consumers [e.g., B2C lawyers] say they would be likely to hire an attorney who is active on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and SnapChat." Lawyers: 54% of Consumers Base Hiring Decisions on Your Social Media Presence


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