Dear Alan Weiss: You’re Wrong About Social Media!

Vintage social media imageWhile holidaying in Spain I read two business books, recommended by @mackfogelson of Mack Web Solutions and @lstigerts of Marketing Gal during a recent #maximpact webinar: The Pumpkin Plan and Million Dollar Consulting, respectively.

(Please note: the above two Amazon links are affiliate links.)

I adored the former. The latter, Million Dollar Consulting, was interesting for a number of reasons. The author, Alan Weiss, makes some great points, and it’s clear that he is an expert when it comes to his profession and the world of consulting, but I had a few… bugbears about some of what he said. But this isn’t a book review. In fact, I’m only going to dig deeper into one area where I strongly disagreed: his thoughts on social media.

Before I continue, it’s important to point out that MDC was originally published in 1992, well before the world of social media (and even the Internet) became prominent as the behemoth that we know and love today. However, its 4th (and latest) edition was published in 2009 and has been updated to include “brand new material on blogging and social networking.” And while Mr Weiss praises the Internet (“The Internet and its accoutrements… have offered marvelous ways to improve our effectiveness and efficiency”) and recommends blogging (“Use a blog to regularly… promote your experience and ‘go to’ status”), it is clear that the man is not a fan of social networking.

While everyone is most certainly entitled to his or her opinion, just as Weiss is entitled to his own, the problem here is that his opinions are spoken in absolutes: it’s not “consider against using it” or “give it a try but be warned,” but more of a “don’t bother” and “don’t waste your time” attitude instead. Not only that, but when you’re dealing with an authority like Weiss, readers/fans will hang on every word and take every single suggestion on-board – I bet a fair few readers have said to themselves: “You’re right, Alan! Forget social media! Who needs it!”

Here are a couple of quotes from the 4th edition of Million Dollar Consulting, in order of when they appear in the book:

“Painfully Stupid”

“I’ve found alternatives such as LinkedIn to be fairly effective mechanisms for keeping in touch with people and finding traditional jobs, but they’re pretty hopeless as a marketing device for consultants who want to reach corporate, economic buyers. Limit your time on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and whatever else… because this is not where true buyers hang out or look for resources. As marketing tools, these are very low priority and often painfully stupid.” (pg. 45)

You’re certainly right about how LinkedIn is good for keeping in touch with people. I love connecting with former classmates (both at school and at uni), former colleagues, networking contacts and clients, but there’s more to it than that. There are “corporate, economic buyers” on LinkedIn – it’s just the case of finding them, the chances of which may significantly improve if you find out that, oh, one of your clients knows the exact person you’d like to be introduced to in an organisation! Put simply, social networking is an online extension of regular, good old-fashioned face-to-face networking, and it’s great to put your detective hat on from time to time and see who supposedly knows who (without even needing to ask them).

With all due respect, I think it’s more “painfully stupid” to immediately dismiss it purely as hopeless. Admittedly, it can be hopeless – if utilised poorly and improperly, which can be easily done.

“You Don’t Market On LinkedIn”

“You don’t market on LinkedIn, though you may find an old college classmate who cheated off you during finals. You don’t achieve corporate fame on Twitter, though you may attract some unemployed people who are honestly curious about how you wash your hair or start your car.” (pg. 268)

…Really? LinkedIn is bloody great for marketing. At the time of writing, I have over a dozen recommendations covering most of my previous roles and a good number of endorsements – 40+ for ‘SEO’ alone. Some people are sceptical when they see testimonials on one’s website (they don’t know if they’re genuine or not), so to see a recommendation with a real name/profile attached to it can be extremely valuable.

It’s also great for owning more positive brand ‘real estate’ on the likes of Google. When people Google “steve morgan seo” (they probably won’t find me for just “steve morgan”, thanks to a number of more famous namesakes!), my LinkedIn profile appears alongside this very blog, my Google+ and Twitter profiles and other industry-relevant profiles. So while prospective clients may not actively seek an SEO like me via LinkedIn alone, they may still see my profile via other means, e.g. when researching more about me.

And speaking of Twitter… While I’ll be the first to admit that I’m bordering on an addiction (or should that be ‘twaddiction’?), I’ve found great value in the platform. At the time or writing, my biggest prospective client is someone who found me via the grapevine that is Twitter, and over the past year or so has been consistently impressed with the information that I share to my followers (which maybe sometimes does include a tweet or two about washing my hair – you’ve got to have a bit of personality, right?)…

“Use social media to socialize. Use marketing media to market.” (pg. 268)

But that’s the thing – yes, social media is used to socialise, but that socialising can be a form of marketing in and of itself. That’s why it’s called social media marketing! You can show off your knowledge and expertise; share articles and blog content that you’ve written; share good, relevant content of others in your industry; (potentially and carefully) share a sales message or two… in addition to a few tweets about the music you’re into at the moment and the places you’re visiting. There’s a much bigger picture to it all.

“A Huge Time Dump”

“Social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or whatever are just that: social media. For consultants trying to reach corporate economic buyers, they are a waste of time. As a test, I currently have 1.5 million contacts on my LinkedIn account (an experiment that I began six months ago), and 99.9 percent of the communication has been information about what people are doing, job hunts, silly questions, and attempts to get my help from those who have no intention of paying me for it. Worse, this can be a huge time dump, which detracts from real and important marketing gravity.” (pg. 318)

And this last statement is what leads me to believe that you, sir, (with all respect meant), are doing it wrong!

LinkedIn isn’t a quantity game. 1.5 million contacts? No wonder you were hassled and irritated by 99.9% of its communications!

It’s more about establishing and expanding on your current network. I’m proud to say that I know pretty much everyone single one of my c. 400 contacts personally. Yet when I get a request from a random person, I decline it. Because what’s the point if I don’t know – and therefore cannot endorse – the individual in question?

Crikey… Staying on top of the goings-on of 1.5 million people is a huge time dump – I won’t deny that. Even 400 is a lot. If 99.9% of the communication was not worthwhile, then the remaining 0.1% of 1.5m works out to 1,500 people, which I’m sure is much closer to all the people you’ve met, known and worked with in a professional capacity in real life during your career. Don’t knock the social media platform because your experiment got a little out-of-hand and failed – it doesn’t mean to say that it will be the case for everyone else, because it simply won’t be.

One thing I will agree with you though is this: Facebook – for a consultant – is more likely to be a waste of time. LinkedIn and Twitter I get (and I personally feel that they work for me), but as Facebook is primarily used by many in a non-professional capacity, I don’t think it would work well for many consultants as a marketing channel. Even if a buyer did find you via Facebook, it’s not really a great way to be found and seen. I mention this because some people get sucked into the social media holy trinity (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) and think that just because it’s free and pretty easy to setup a profile, and just because a lot of people use the medium, that they should have (or have to have) a presence on it. That’s just not true.

And I’m certainly not denying the fact that you absolutely must use the likes of LinkedIn and Twitter to build up a million dollar consulting business, because… that’s obviously not true, either. You managed it years ago, well before social media became the marketing obsession that it has become today. However, just because social media hasn’t worked for you, it doesn’t mean that it won’t be fruitful for others hoping to follow in your footsteps and also grow a million dollar consultancy.

Mr Weiss, if you’re reading…

I’ll be delighted to know if this ends up in front of you. If it does, please do leave a comment below or send me an email – I’d love to know if you’ve tried LinkedIn, Twitter et al again since 2009 and the publication of the 4th edition as well as whether or not you do still hold the same views. Judging by your Twitter profile (@BentleyGTCSpeed), it looks like you are actively using Twitter at present. So who knows… Maybe I can get you to reconsider your thoughts on social media for the 5th edition…?

For everyone else…

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with me or Weiss? I’d love to know. Please share your opinion in the comments below.

[‘Vintage social media’ image credit: Fernando Weno]

Update: Alan replied via Twitter, and his response was… a little shocking! His first two tweets came across as a tad hostile if you ask me, but he softened up a little by the third. Here they are in all their glory: tweet 1 / tweet 2 / tweet 3.


  • Emma

    July 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm Reply

    Loved his Twitter responses…

    • Steve

      July 5, 2013 at 12:23 pm Reply

      Tell me about it! I’m going to update this post later with links to them…

  • Dave Wakeman

    March 23, 2014 at 1:33 am Reply

    Hey Steve-

    I’ve read MDC and I felt it was a great book for someone trying to set up a solo consulting practice.

    As a whole, Weiss’s marketing gravity wheel is excellent. I think you make a tremendous point in the fact that people might just take Alan’s advice and never touch social media.

    Of course, I might draw a middle ground and say that if you are trying to build a bit of credibility and trying to position yourself as an expert in your field, it is important that you do some of the other pieces of the marketing gravity concept like writing, blogging, speaking and focus less on social media.

    But, from the books, you might not know that and if you are really literal, you would are definitely more likely to miss that jump in logic.

    Anyway, I appreciated the post…I think it makes a really good point about making sure you learn but still use your own judgment on what works best for you.


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