Social media completely over-hyped by marketing press

Like many a few years ago I viewed the dozens of videos claiming the interweb was trumping all other media at nuclear-pace. In particular was one video designed beautifully to position its creator and author of a social media book, as a legendary expert in an industry not yet 2 years young.

I tried to find the source documents to support the author’s claims. And as is typical of much that purports to be real online, there were none. Just a slick use of statistics stated within high production values of a video, so they must be real.

Realising it would take a lifetime to gather the correct statistics myself, I was about to give up when I found a brilliant article by Gisle Hannemyr in Norway. He is a researcher and lecturer at the Institute for Informatics, University of Oslo and created the his first website in 1993.

Gisle Hannemyr, author The Internet as Hyperbole
Gisle Hannemyr, author The Internet as Hyperbole

He’d had the same concerns I had and had done something about it. He published a brilliant article called The Internet as Hyperbole. It examined the over-hyped claims of adoption rates of the internet versus existing technology, like television. Take a minute to read it, you’ll be fascinated.

This was part of the resources we used to create this video about social media.

But moving forward to the latest piece by Mark Ritson whom I quoted in last week’s post about social media numbers.

Mark has done an experiment whereby he tracked the number of articles about social media by the marketing and advertising magazines in Australia.

He says: “Given the average Australian marketer is spending 5 per cent of their budget on social media and the average consumer dedicates 8 per cent of their (media) time to it, we would expect a similar ratio of coverage in the marketing press.”

What do you think the percentage of articles about social media is versus the coverage of other media channels?

10%? 20%?

Try 50%

That’s right – we are being hoodwinked by the trade press into believing the social channels are far more important or successful than they really are. The digi-zealots are conning us big time. And that’s because they are living in fantasy land themselves.

As Ritson said: “As the recent debacle about the Oreo Superbowl ad (a Twitter post during the blackout: “You can still dunk in the dark”) demonstrated, only in social media land can a two-line Tweet seen by 150,000 people be deemed more effective than a 60 second TV ad for Budweiser watched by over 100 million people.”

I did an experiment once whereby I tweeted a piece of research that claimed most tweets were just pointless babble. It was never retweeted and I was attacked for doing so. Then I tweeted a piece of positive research about twittering and the twitterati retweeted it with enthusiasm. Gotta luv a self-fulfilling fan base.

But I have to go – need to post this article on my social media. I hope someone reads it…


  1. Hi Malcolm.
    Couple of points to throw into this debate.

    Firstly, it is normal for trade media to put more reporting emphasis on a new and growing part of their industry. After all they have reported exhaustively on traditional marketing tactics for a very long time, why isn’t it worthwhile to be reading about new methodologies? Also, I would expect similar reporting emphasis in other trade media, such as retail where online technology is drastically impacting their industry, esp via mobile devices.

    Secondly, seems you’re a victim of your own argument about no evidence. Do you have many examples to back up your statement “we are being hoodwinked by the trade press into believing the social channels are far more important or successful than they really are”? I get the sense that much reporting is advisory and “lessons learnt”, referencing companies who are using SM to enhance their overall marketing efforts – without outrageous claims of success. There are also some spectacular cases of failed social media campaigns that are extensively reported.

    Yes the marketing landscape is dramatically changing with so many more channels, technologies and customer behaviours to consider. But if the trade media is ‘hyping’ social media marketing over other established channels, love to read a critical analysis of specific examples of the hype you refer to.

    All the best. Tim

    • Hi Tim

      Thanks for your post. Sorry for delay in replying, but had some personal things overtake me last couple weeks and I’ve ignored my blog.

      Having published and edited 2 marketing trade magazines in Australia (both now defunct) I can assure you the level of exposure being given to social media is unlike any new channel before it – and it’s way over the top, as Professor Ritson has established. And he is way more qualified than you or I in this space.

      As for articles – almost every article I read is full of hyperbole and glib generalisations designed to somehow establish credibility. Almost none answer the questions about ROI.

      I teach thousands of marketers a year and continue to ask for successful case studies, but they are very few and far between.

      Social media has a role to play in marketing, more so in customer service, than in sales. But when the likes of Sir Martin Sorrell, Coca Cola, Unilever, P&G, General Motors and Professor Mark Ritson struggle to get a decent ROI, we need to examine the Emperor’s New Clothes more closely.

      • There’s a hell of a lot of ‘spotlighting’ on SM to prove itself. I was merely asking if you’d point out some examples of articles that contained said hyperbole and fanciful claims (in a reputable trade mag of course).
        At least we agree SM has a role to play in marketing mix. That’s really what it’s great for – amplifying the big “selling” ideas that get filmed, written about, photographed, sung to, and displayed in so many different ways. For a complete ROI, we need to measure campaigns that are now truly multi-media/multi-medium.

  2. Tim,

    for me the classic example was the Old Spice guy campaign. Because it went viral and was seen by so many people it was deemed a success. Problem was it never made the company anymore money.

    For a few of us infidels, that made it a failure. Guess it depends on how you measure success – likes or dollars.

    Hmmm, “the marketing infidel” I like that, has a nice ring to it, that might be my new nom de plume.

    • Luv it! There is a link in my blog today about the failure of Old Spice Guy. I’ve also written about Viral Lite – which is what most alleged viral marketing really is. How can lots of people seeing a video once be successful? All advertising experts will tell you an advertisement needs to be seen at least 3 times in a short space of time to even nudge the surface of customer conscience. Can’t have it both ways.

      • “There is a link in my blog today about the failure of Old Spice Guy. I”

        Tried that link and it was broken, Got a page not found message.

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