Has social media influence become nothing more than a giant multi-level marketing plan, much like Amway? Now don't get me wrong, I love Amway just as much as the next guy. When I'm looking for cleaning products, vitamins and supplements, beauty supplies or nutrition and wellness products, I have no problem ordering from an Amway rep. But the next time someone offers me the "unique opportunity of being in their downline," I think I'm going to scream! The one thing that has always been questionable about their business model is that the definition of success at Amway, and other companies like them, is not just being able to sell tons of products or building a great one-on-one personal business; it's the ability to get others to sell products so you make money off of them.
The same thing is happening in social media influence. The definition of success is not just being able to influence others to take a certain action or to have others follow you because they believe in what you are saying. Success in social media has now become defined as having massive amounts of people following you. This is true no matter what steps you took to get those people to jump on your bandwagon.
This multi-level approach to building influence has gone to such an extreme that social media itself may now be at a crossroads, where one path leads to obsolescence and the other leads to relevancy. Unfortunately, many forces are already at work to make social media marketing become deflated. One example of this is the so-called "social media certification program." Most industries have a trade organization where representatives from multiple companies get together and jointly develop industry standards that lead to a certification process. In social media apparently you just have to put together a program and say you are bestowing a certification for the low price of only $1198. No governing board, no statement of qualifications for those developing the program, and no actual perceived industry benefit for actually achieving this certification...just an opportunity to spend your time "learning" instead of doing, and to give your money to someone else.
Where do "instructors" for these "certification programs" come from? The link-building lists that propel people to the head of the instructor / speaker line can be manipulated as easily as a Klout score, simply by linking with each other. You, too, can become a leading expert simply by finding a group of like-minded people and inserting yourself on their list all the time. Google and SEO will take care of the rest when someone is looking for an "expert" source for their next certification program or conference.
Olivier Blanchard, of The Brandbuilder Blog, also relates his experiences with the Social Media Marketing Group and their elusive certification program. When Olivier and other knowledgeable experts started questioning them about this certification process, the LinkedIn discussion thread suddenly disappeared! These professionals even wonder about the need for a certification process at all when many social media marketers achieve tremendous success without the benefit of being certified. They see certification as a way of anointing amateurs with the "Emperor's Clothes" of knowledge instead of forcing them to succeed through actual work that generates results.
Quit The Tricks - Just Do The Work
This false appearance of an industry certification is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building unwarranted credibility as a social media influencer. Everything from adding fake followers to questionable affiliate links is fair game in the effort to sustain the appearance of credibility.
Nothing paints this false sense of mattering more than the industry conference. Similar to the Cannes Film Festival, where all the Hollywood glitterati flock regardless of whether they actually have a movie being judged, the social media world now gathers at regular meetings to see and be seen.
Take a look at Social Media Examiner's upcoming conference and you'll see that its primary selling points are "networking, discovery and fun." They spend almost as much time telling potential attendees about the joys of San Diego as about the conference itself.
There are two main problems brewing under the surface of this seemingly innocuous event. One is uncovered in their own ""Four Reasons to Attend"" when their own representative urges someone questioning the value of the conference to study the agenda carefully. But when you do, you see that the content is not all that unique; it is merely a rehash of topics that are discussed at just about every other social media marketing event. Where are the earth-shattering insights that will keep this industry relevant?
The second problem lies in the link at the very bottom of the page which is innocently titled "Affiliate Program." Follow the link and you'll see that Social Media Examiner will "pay $100 for each referred sale (presenters: you know your arrangement)." Paying for affiliate links instead of having the conference promoted on its own merits? How can these recommendations be trusted when there is a price tag on them? What's more, affiliates don't even have to bother doing their own work. Everything is conveniently provided, from an embeddable video to banners, ads, logos, suggested Tweets and newsletter blurbs.
Just what is that reference to the "arrangement" for speakers? According to Jeff Hurt, speaker contracts now include clauses that smack of questionable ethics in that speakers are being compensated in some way to blog, Tweet and push the event. The more speakers there are, of course the more social media hits there are and the conference is suddenly "trending." Since when did education become more about money than integrity?
The Amway Effect or multi-level marketing in any form has no place in social media. We are not holding a contest to see who can gather the most followers; we are trying to see who can have the most impact and make the biggest difference. Instead of going through all this effort to make others think you are a social media influencer, why not just become one through hard work and perseverance?