Social Media is for Fakers

Photo cred: Ben Fredericson

Sitting in the subway at 12:00am, reading the chapter titled “The Cost of Social Norms” in Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, I realized what it is that bothers me so much about businesses in social media.

Businesses cannot honestly exist in the “social” realm.

I’ve touched on issues I’ve had with the “I’m here to be your friend” mentality that professionals and businesses take in social media communities.  I just can’t agree with the idea that everyone is really that close with each other, and that everyone gets along so well based on sincere feelings…  not when there’s money involved.

While Dan wasn’t discussing the issues I bring up here, the concepts that he studied and shared in his book are highly relevant.  The subtitle of the chapter that I read was “Why we are happy to do things, but not when we are paid to do them“.

Ariely goes on to explain that people simultaneously live in two worlds:

The Social World

The interactions we have in the social world are founded in emotions and relationships.  It’s why we’ll cook a full feast for our family on Thanksgiving without expecting anything in return.  It’s why we hold the door open for others.  We do these things because it makes us feel good and there is no immediate reciprocation required.

The Market World

The interactions we have the market world are different.  In the market world, we do things based on the financial returns that we get.  The exchanges we make in the market world are based on a cost-benefit analysis.

So what does this have to do with social media?

Well as Ariely explains, “When social and market norms collide, trouble sets in.”

Many interactions that are considered “best practices” for businesses using social media, are made to look like “social” interactions, but they’re really not.

Look at the common advice you hear about joining the conversation, building trust, engaging in communities… it all sounds like it’s in the “social world” when in reality they are in the “market world”.

The very fact that businesses are concerned with the returns that they get from their time spent on social media, makes it a purely market based interaction.

Ariely uses the example of a guy who takes a girl out on several dates and pays for dinner each time. He grows impatient because he’s spent a lot of money and hasn’t gotten laid.  A situation that seemed to be purely social, was really founded in market values, and all came crashing down then the true motivations came to light.

Making exchanges in the “market world” isn’t a bad thing.  Making them out to be purely “social” interactions? That’s wrong and can cause trouble.

And so I ask…Is social media for fakers?

Is it for those who can pretend to be your friend?  Is it for those who can paint the image that they care when really their actions are motivated by market forces?

The very nature of business makes it impossible to have truly sincere social interactions…maybe we should start treating it that way.

31 thoughts on “Social Media is for Fakers

  1. Love the post. But as I mentioned before, I am obliged to be against it. I don’t think *all* are fakers. People like you, me, syd, Colby, etc aren’t. We dropped f-bombs in tweets all day.

    The ones that cross the biz/social world are those who tweet with a stick up their ass and try to sound all profession all the time. Do I follow some of them? Yes. Be needless to say they provide some benefit for me now or in the future.

    I think we are all aware of it. We just chose to deal with it or not give a shit. Good post.

    PS- as I was writing this a student asked a new girl “tienes in facebook.” haha faceboook pimpin. Bilingual style.

    1. Alright, Pat. Let’s go.

      Yeah we drop f-bombs, tweet abour our favorite microbrews and talk about our personal lives.


      Other times, we are taking actions that do exist in the market world. How do you think I’ve gotten hired based on my Twitter reputation?

      And you hit the nail on your head when you admit guilt to yourself, “they provide some benefit to me…”

      But this isn’t about us. That would lead into the whole “what is professionalism?” debate which could be carried on for pages and pages.

      Can business be social?

      Eh. Yes and no.

      I see small business promoting local economy and other local small businesses, even competitors. What’s the market world incentive for that? Or the social initiatives some businesses take. Sure, they hope to get news coverage to drive business, but it’s not a guaranteed return.

      Are these things social? Can we have a 50-50 social-market mix on interactions? Or does everything have to be so black and white?

      PS – that’s why I always change my Facebook language. Learning new languages ftw.

      1. You’re right Colby. But I’d like to take it a step further and say that the marketing/social mix isn’t just from that. Ultimately it stems from incentives.

        Where as some incentives may be biz oriented and others may be social, that is what it stems from.
        I use my twitter for both. My incentive is to meet people, and hopefully meet those who are helpful for me and my future. Sometimes it is just to meet new people and other times it is to meet people that bring value to me and my future.

        Where I think all can benefit is learning how to humanize the business aspect of this mix. McDonalds needs to stop tweeting like McDonalds and start tweeting like a person. Just as college senior shouldn’t tweet like they are some uptight tard.

        I believe a mix is there and everyone creates that mix, except for exclusive accounts (biz accounts etc) but even then, an idea of social mixing with marketing works for all. I believe when people find those formulas for proper mixes then we will have a true definition of social media. Until then, we’re screwed unless more people stop tweeting and interacting like they are the president and more like they are at home.

      2. But that’s the very issue that I’m talking about. A business isn’t human and to act like they are is misleading.

        Look at the most successful social media campaigns. They didn’t get there because they were human… they got there because they were either really damn entertaining or really damn helpful.

        They didn’t try to act like your friend that’s benevolently looking to help you. They approached it from a “market world” mindset. They provided clear value in hopes of getting a return.

    2. True we might drop F bombs. True we might have fun with it all. True, we end up being friends…

      But the reason we’re here, and the reason we networked in the first place, was because of our careers. It was because of money…even if indirectly.

      I’m not talking about transparency in personality… there’s plenty of that in the social media space (as much as there isn’t). I’m talking about transparency in motivations.

      What motivates people and businesses to participate in the social media space? Is it social? or is it market?

      1. True on both comments. The point of humanizing is when companies say, “hey we are looking into it give us a few minutes.” versus “your concern is important to us.”

        Obviously they are business but I’d rather see them tweeting and communicating as a person behind a co
        Outer representing a brand than sounding all dumb and robotic.

        Our immediate incentives are the same. Personal gratification. The way we go about it is different. We find the fakers when we meet them in person. I know a few off hand I can think of.

      2. And to answer your question more directly:

        Personal gratification is what motivates. How we all achieve that goal os where I think market vs social mix varies.

  2. Conversation marketing is not about creating a social relationship where a business acts as a friend. It is about letting customers know that they are being heard and that they matter to the business beyond one-time transaction.

    However, businesses can be social by engaging in activities that do not bring them instant revenue. The ROI on them is the same as with other forms of advertisement: the total value of resources spent (time + money) divided by the revenues from customers who have learned about the business through that campaign.

    1. It’s one thing when it’s made clear that it’s a market based campaign.

      The whole concept behind engaging in social media is that you shouldn’t pitch your brand or be too forward with selling.

      Doesn’t it seem like we’re pretty much baiting in people by building up trust as a “friend” only to ultimately make a sale?

      1. No. It’s not baiting to make a sale. Social media interactions are no different from sponsoring an event to promote your brand in hopes that someone will buy your product.

        Building online relationships between the brand & its customers became popular once marketers realized that people are more willing to buy from their friends. Yes, it is an abuse of a basic psychological instinct, but it’s not bait & switch because your offering of services doesn’t change.

  3. Maybe I’m missing your point, but it seems to me that “Cluetrain” addressed this a long time ago. People want to hear from other people, not “marketers” trying to sell things. I rarely follow corporations or agencies unless they identify who’s blogging/tweeting, for example.

    When I promote Grady College or UGA online I’m doing it because I believe in our programs, not because I’m paid to; far from it, I get no direct financial gain from social media participation. And I don’t promote it when it’s not relevant (for example, we don’t do radio, so I wouldn’t tell someone interested in radio to come here) because I’m putting MY name and reputation behind what I say.

    So, no, I don’t think we’re all fakers, and I think the ones who are get called out eventually.

    1. See, but the very fact that you’re paid to do it eliminates the objective nature of your thoughts and opinions.

      Aside from that…I don’t think you’re a faker in that you’re pretending to care about things that you don’t actually care about.

      The fact that you look at it as “promoting” means that you understand that it’s a “market” based exchange. It means that you see it for what it is and so you are not a faker.

  4. I think there is some serious overlap between the social and market worlds, especially with businesses that span both. An example might be a nonprofit. While a nonprofit organization doesn’t necessarily earn profit in the sense that a for profit business does, but there is certainly profit to be earned. It’s more about social profit and social currency. More “social currency” means better reputation means more donations. This is a slightly different situation than the one you describe, but it serves to show that sometimes the line between fakers and real conversationalists gets blurry.

    For example, does this post exist in the social or market sphere? Probably a little of both. The title is very provocative and screams link bait (and there is nothing wrong with that), calling for people to read and share. But I think that for most people who do business online, there is a blending of their personal and professional lives. So that which gains social currency has potential to bring monetary currency with it.

    1. Non-profits are an interesting case.

      True, the motivation of the company as a whole is (usually) honest, and based on social standards.

      The method in which they market themselves and drive donations? Those are market based exchanges, regardless of what they’re for.

      As Ariely explained in his book, a seemingly social exchange automatically becomes a market exchange with the introduction of money.

      As far as this post…I did choose a controversial title true. I did so because it’s a controversial topic. I could really care less about how much traffic or links it brings in. My blog in general is professional and I realize the benefit it provides to my career. I don’t write for any sort of financial gain though. I write for social purposes of sharing my thoughts and getting you to think differently.

      An interesting point to consider though, are blogs that have ads. A blog that was once completely social, can quickly become a market based exchange with the introduction of ads, or other monetization practices. It’s no longer purely social and so how people perceive it will change.

      1. I suppose I just question whether we can designate purely social and purely market interactions/exchanges. It seems to me that the lines cross all the time. I haven’t read Ariely’s book, though. Perhaps I will.

  5. It’s humans who work in businesses and at the end of the day, it’s nicer to work with people you like than scumbags. Yes, ROI is required for business – but I don’t think that negates peoples desire to interact on a real level with others in the name of their business.

    1. I’m not discounting the value of making business a little more human. I think in business, you should be able to enjoy informal interactions and feel comfortable.

      What I’m discussing here, is building trust as a person when you’re really just creating leads.

  6. David, having networked face-to-face for years in Chamber of Commerce and other business events, I can tell you that people go out to meet other people with the hopes of generating new business prospects/opportunities/leads. In that process, people sometimes even form solid friendships.

    I have several very close friends who I met while networking. So what may start out as “creating leads” can sometimes end up as a friendship. That’s all social media is, a communications tool for people to get to know other people. Everyone has their own intentions but so what? If people can do business online, why should you care? Unless, of course, you’re not doing any business yourself and you wanna start hating those who do.

    You think people only pretend to be your friend on social media? Fake people are everywhere, perhaps even in your own family – get used to it. And if you think everyone on social media is fake then close out your accounts and get on with your life. It’ll still go on without you.

    Nuff said.

    PS – stop reading silly social media books.

    1. The difference being that at a networking event, it’s clear that everyone is there primarily for business purposes. Online, when “engaging” in communities, it’s not so clear that it’s a market exchange.

      I understand that friendships can result from biz connections. I’ve made many. I’m also not saying that people shouldn’t do business online. I’m saying that they should stop approaching business online as a purely social exchange…because it’s not.

      Very true, fake people are everywhere. That doesn’t mean I can’t call them out when I see them in my neck of the woods.

      This book actually isn’t focused on social media at all. It’s about behavioral economics and how people make decisions that are both irrational, and predictable. I highly recommend you read it too as it’s been incredibly insightful.

  7. Yep, social media is full of fakers. Everything is.

    Some folks are upfront about it; some only show their true colours once they have our trust.

    The question is, how you react after that.

    Me? I stop following them, unsubscribe from their blogs, and question their bullshit rhetoric in “It’s not about me posts.”

    But for the ones that were honest upfront? I’ll buy from them, promote them if their stuff is good, and be a loyal customer until they break my trust too (which, invariably, happens).

    Of course, then you have the pure awesomeness of thousands of strangers coming together to raise more than $100,000 for charity via social media, and that kind of humanity can’t be faked.

    Of course, you have to wonder though, when someone like Perry Belcher can be a success in social media… 😉

    1. Your example of people coming together to raise money is a perfect example of how social media is amazing in bringing together “social” actions for a good cause.

      I’ve wondered too how a guy who was so publicly convicted of crimes online, could still appear at events and go on doing business.

      …it’s like people are blind.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment Danny. You’re one person I know isn’t faking it.

  8. Simply–everyone has an agenda. In business, in personal life, in our lives in general.

    We are biased in every moment of our lives because we all exist.

    What motivates us is based on each individual person and their goals. I came on twitter to see how it is, and soon realized it could help my career. I made friends on it and also advanced my job prospects.

    The line is blurred between social/market or just personal/business. Before you loosened your tie at 5pm, went home read the paper and ate dinner.

    Now, you may technically step out the door of your office at 5pm, but you never really leave.

    1. It’s true that these things have blended.

      What Ariely explains in a different context however, if that a social exchange quickly becomes a market exchange with the introduction of money. In market exchanges, we look at our interactions very differently from how we look at “social” exchanges.

      Can it be both? I’m not sure…

      1. In that sense, aren’t all things market exchanges? I might not be exchanging or talking cold hard cash, but I’m talking my time, my thoughts, my energy.

        Aren’t those all worth something?

  9. Absolutely. Online channels consist of many of the same types of folks in offline channels.

    They lie, they cheat, they steal, they beg, they borrow, they succeed, they fail, they love, they hate, they wish, they cry.

    As Ryan points out, we all have an agenda. Myself included, and every single person commenting here.

  10. David,

    A few things. First, Predictably Irrational is one of my all time favorite books. This RSA video adds more thoughts on the social vs. market world and what motivates people:

    Second, I do believe that brands can be social, online and offline, and engage with their audiences. It just depends how it is done. A corporate Twitter account, even if it is used to share a lot of helpful information, is still market-driven and doesn’t seem very human. As you pointed out in the comments, most of the successful social media campaigns are not very human. But think about what IBM does: the company encourages its employees to blog and tweet as themselves. Yes, they represent IBM, but they share a lot of personal information. They don’t have to try to be humans because online and offline they are who they are, not who IBM tells them to be.

  11. My friend Matthijs and I have this conversation all the time. Brands tend to go one way or the other. They are either your best friend or your worst salesmen. That said, the best practice (or at least the one I strive for) is the middle. A lot of modern brands genuinely want to help, educate and connect with their customers, but never for a second that conversion is the goal. The “I am only trying to help you” is clearly b.s., but what a few smart brands are zeroing in on “I am trying to help you AND trying to sell you”. I don’t know why people aren’t just upfront about wanting to do both, hell people would probably trust you more. The Social World and the Market World have been opposite ends of the spectrum for a while now, but is it crazy to think we might eventually get closer to a Social Market?

  12. Here’s the thing. Sales people have the natural ability to have a sales-oriented mindset (very typical of traditional business.) Social media is more of a market-oriented concept, right? It’s like mixing oil and water.


    The best in sales are those that are able to relate to customers, build a relationship and sell the bottom line. My dad has been doing it (successfully) for years. You know my thoughts on authenticity and genuine types in this space. It’s not if you drop f-bombs = being true to yourself. It’s about relating to the customer (target demographic.) I think people that interact with businesses know at the end of the day that its about making the sale. Sure, we tout business cases that “engage.” But what’s the business objective? I think we are seeing that many brands are becoming reactionary (only responding when being spoken to) and that’s the worst type of customer service.

    You need to own the industry you’re in, not the product. That’s why not every business is suited for this space. It’s why selective transparency plays a huge role. View the medium as another customer service/marketing channel – not as the sole message for your brand positioning. You’ll fail. It’s about building a multi-channel approach that works for YOU – not for your competitors.


Leave a Reply to Lauren Fernandez Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s