You Can’t Celebrate the Birthday of Something That Doesn’t Exist

There’s no such thing as "social media." It’s a buzzword that came from the ashes of Web 2.0, and like the fate Web 2.0 met when it was no longer something that generated a profit for marketers, “social media” was quietly ditched in favor of "content marketing," "inbound marketing," and "influencer marketing."

Picking on posts that run on Social Media Today is a lot like a cheetah lazily strolling toward the dumbest and slowest gazelle in the herd and catching it. But. There’s one post I saw over the weekend that I wanted to draw your attention to. It starts out with this weird mention that soon we’re going to be celebrating “ten years of social media marketing.” It then goes on to complain that there are two different kinds of social media marketers now, somehow implying that the new ones are bad and the old ones are good.

Nope. Not true. They’re mostly all crooks and liars, so don’t buy that nonsense, not even for a second. The “old” social media marketers are now turning themselves into “content marketers,” “influence marketers” and “inbound marketers” in order to peddle the same old shit under a new name. So don’t think the “old” social media marketers are somehow more honest and “better” than the new ones. They’re not.

(For the purposes of this post, “content marketing” is defined as the same old shit that you’ve seen peddled as “social media marketing” since 2009. “Influence marketing” is nonsense peddled about finding influencers and letting them magically win you customers and money. This is despite the fact that, online, nobody really knows who is actually an influencer and at least three network research scientists with Ph.D.s have told me the online influencer thing is B.S. And “inbound marketing?” That’s a term that’s been around for a while, but is increasing in prominence because of sites like HubSpot and the former SEOMoz, which is now simply referred to as Moz. “Inbound marketing” refers to getting “the right piece of content in the right place in the right time in front of the right people,” which sounds nice, but it’s also as silly and empty as telling people to have “passion,” gain “trust,”  and be “transparent.” Face it kids, marketing is entirely subjective, and if you’re looking for quality advice from any of these people, you’ll be looking for the rest of your life.)

But let’s talk about that weird “ten years of social media marketing thing.” By that calculation, this would place the beginnings of social media marketing as far back as 2004, which is kind of hilarious. For one, although social networks have existed on the Web as far back as 1995 with, among others, it’s difficult to make any kind of legitimate argument that marketing on these platforms was a viable option until at least 2006 when MySpace became more than a place for bands.

Not to mention, and this is true even by MySpace Tom’s own admission, the MySpace algorithm back then was entirely based on the number of page views a MySpace page received. No marketing tactics were really needed. Did you ever wonder why Tila Tequila and Dane Cook were a thing? It had nothing to do with talent, because you and I both know neither of them has any. Tila Tequila had half-naked photos of her on her MySpace page, and Dane Cook was someone people recognized from television, which immediately lead them to jump up the MySpace charts because of the page views their pages were generating. So social media marketing, if you can call it that, in 2006 consisted entirely of generating page views to cheat MySpace’s charts. Although there were certainly things like software that would let you add hundreds of MySpace friends in a matter of hours, and there were more than a few folks claiming to sell MySpace secrets, it’s incredibly difficult to suggest the origins of social media marketing go as far back as 2006, let alone 2004.

If you want to find a point of origin, “social media marketing” became a thing around 2009 just as the economy was entering what Paul Krugman calls “The Lesser Depression.” It should not strike you as a coincidence that most of the prominent social media marketers came from other professions and have little to no experience in marketing, advertising, public relations, or crisis communications. The economy tanked, social media marketing offered false hope in dark economic times, and these folks were clever enough to get behind the myth and peddle it as hard as they can. The rise of social media marketing, I feel, can be traced back to the start of the Great Recession and Gary Vaynerchuk and his relentless bullshit parade, which kicked off with the release of his first book in October of that year. As I argued in Social Media Is Bullshit, “social media marketing” was just the Klondike Gold Rush, reenacted in modern times where technology platforms and their alleged promise of easy and cheap fortune and fame took the place of gold. And like the Klondike Gold Rush, the people who actually got rich were the ones like Vaynerchuk who were selling the shovels, not the ones digging for gold.

In fact, here’s what I’d tell you, and I think as time goes on you’ll find it’s incredibly true: There’s no such thing as “social media.” It’s a buzzword that came from the ashes of Web 2.0, and like the fate Web 2.0 met when it was no longer something that generated a profit for marketers, “social media” was quietly ditched in favor of “content marketing,” “inbound marketing,” and “influencer marketing.”

If you look under the hood of most Web 2.0 / Social Media / Content Marketing advice, it’s all the same empty, generic shit. “Build trust,” “be passionate,” “it’s not about you it’s about the community” nonsense that’s been spewed, and disproven, time and time again since 2009. All of it is nonsense disguised as baby talk peddled by people who are either already wealthy or unemployed since the start of The Lesser Depression. Unfortunately for you and me, the mainstream media decided they were going to hop on board this wagon and push this stuff without ever looking too critically at it. That’s why we’re still even talking about this nonsense right now, which is sort of funny because “the power of social media” is actually a myth fueled by the traditional media. The the thing that social media was supposed to “disrupt” and displace.


So this statement that social media marketing is turning ten years old is entirely false. You can’t celebrate the birthday of something that doesn’t actually exist. And even if you were going to, you’d have to wait until 2019 to celebrate a ten-year anniversary, not now.

Image by Pablo Hidalgo.