Are you a Social Media Snake Oil Salesman or are you a Scientist?

If you’ve read about social media or been to social media conferences, you’ve probably heard tons of advice like “love your customers,” “engage in the conversation,” “be yourself” and “make friends.”

I like to call this kind of stuff “unicorns and rainbows.” Sure, it sounds good and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, but it’s not actually based on anything other than “truthiness” and guesswork.

It’s the modern day equivalent of the witchdoctor or snake oil salesman. A couple of time-honored adages repeated ad nauseum, coupled with the unquestioning awe of an unaware audience, and pretty soon you’ve got an entire industry made of easy-to-agree with smoke and mirrors.

Problem is, bleeding with leeches and magical tonics don’t actually work. In fact, a lot of the time they do more harm than good.

And then along comes real science–real medicine and real data about what works and what doesn’t. Curing disease moved out of the dark ages and started making progress; now it’s time for social media to move past the unicorns and rainbows.

The great thing about the web is that nearly every interaction can be measured and observed in aggregates of tens and hundreds of millions. We can gather more qualitative and quantitative data about human behavior than at any other time in history. Yet the future of marketing, the very industry that is trying to push communications, business and public relations forward, is built on advice that comes from nothing more meaningful than soft-focus fantasies.

To the snake-oil salespeople, social media success isn’t something repeatable. It’s not the outcome of a process; it is black magic, guessing and praying.

Those of us who are a part of this social media thing now will be the forefathers of the next generation of marketing. We’re going to be the ones who decide how it plays out. Of course, there aren’t any formal degrees in this yet, and most of us don’t wear labs coats. But we need to decide if we are going to leave the future of social media to magical tonics, or if we are going to use science and data to discover what really works to motivate people.

To the scientists, social media success is something you can iterate on, plan for and learn from. Things that work can be analyzed to produce repeatable, dependable results.

The next time you see or read or hear someone giving superstitious, feel-good social media advice, question them. Ask what data it is based on, what science? Ask them to prove what they’re saying.

Most importantly ask yourself: are you a snake-oil salesman or are you a scientist?

And if you look around hard enough, I’m sure you’ll see that social media science is catching on. Its encouraging to see that there are at least 7 people on Twitter with “social media scientist” in their bios, lets blow that number up.