On May 24, Peter Shankman, founder of HARO, created a bit of a stir in the blogosphere when he wrote “Being an expert in social media is like being an expert in taking bread out of the refrigerator. You might be the best bread-taker-outer in the world, but you know what? The goal is to make an amazing sandwich.” Which is to say, Peter doesn’t think much of the social media experts, gurus, mavens, etc. that are flooding the market calling themselves professionals.
I sat down with Peter on Skype and asked him a few questions in regards to what I found to be one of the most interesting and controversial posts I’ve read about social media in a while.
SMW: Hi Peter, thanks for meeting with me. Your post sort of went a bit viral over less than a week, with a lot of comments from both sides—people that agree and people that disagree with your views on social media. Can you explain what prompted you to write this article and criticize people working in social media?
Peter: I wrote this piece in response to something a company told me—they had hired a social media so-called expert and the complaint was that this person did nothing over six months and they eventually fired them. When I asked them what made them a social media ‘expert,’ their reply was that “The person had 2,000 followers on Twitter.” Really? You can have a claim to fame as a social media expert, and it makes no difference. People that [are complaining most about what I wrote] are the social media experts, not the marketers or heads of marketing.
SMW: I thought it was really interesting that you compared social media to the dot com bubble.
Peter: That’s not exactly what I said. What I said on my post was that we’re going through similar things as the dot com era, but what I mean is that we’re getting new job titles that don’t mean anything. I’m telling people that we need to start getting smarter. I’m not cynical about what’s going on in the social media space because good things are happening. But, social media matters if you can link it to sales. No CEO ever believes that cool trumps revenue which is what I think a lot of these social media people are selling.
SMW: So does that mean that social media doesn’t play a part in branding, or branding by social media isn’t as useful as we think it is, or could be?
Peter: No, there’s a tremendous place for branding, yes to branding. But, again, why grow a brand?
SMW: Because you want more sales?
Peter: Exactly. Because you want more sales. Look at Apple. They love their brand, everybody loves their brand right now. If their sales started dropping, would they care or anyone care? No, Apple [could care less] about their brand. You can do both, build the brand and build sales. Social media has to be about more than just building the brand; you have to think about the endgame.
SMW: You got a lot of negative responses, and in my opinion, a lot of people who didn’t understand what you were talking about, or who, I feel, misinterpreted you. Why do you think that happened?
Peter: Some people had scathing responses, and didn’t like what I wrote, and that’s fine. A lot of CEOs saw what I wrote, and a lot of social media people saw what I wrote, and essentially they said to themselves, “Holy S**T, now I have to justify my actions. Essentially I became the snitch. And, some people just like being haters.
SMW: What do you think social media is good for, then?
Peter: Social media is good for a lot of things. It’s an option for making people aware of a brand, a chance for greater customer service, in a way to get other people to buy in.
SMW: Do you think there are companies that are really failing in this area?
Peter: I’m not calling out individual companies, but a lot of airlines really aren’t using social media properly. Everyone is getting on social media because they want to have a presence there. You can [have as many followers as you want] but if I contact those companies on their facebook, twitter, phone call and e-mail and they’re not responding, it’s not working. A presence online isn’t enough. A good example of someone doing social media right is Hardees: everything they do generates back to sales. The technology is there to get people to buy burgers.
SMW: Do you think people’s opinions of social media have changed significantly since the early days?
Peter: No, we’re still blinded by the light. There’s lots of smart people out there, and the people that didn’t complain about what I said were all social media managers and VPs of marketing. They essentially agreed with me.
If you want to read Peter’s full post on social media experts and why social media is just a bigger part of the picture of digital marketing, you can read it here.
Brennan Sarich is a practitioner of public relations and digital strategy in Toronto, Ontario. He is a freelancer with several years experience and specializes in online content, event management and social media. Visit his blog www.brennanpr.ca/blog or follow him on twitter @bsarich.