Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Difference Between Social and Sociable

Jun 02, 2013 9:28 PM  By

Too much time has passed for any of us to think of social media with the same attitudes we had when they first burst upon the communications horizon.

Then, we accepted the word “social” in its original classic form – sharing, on a neighborly basis.

And that’s what social media were, in their infancy. (Reminder: “media” is plural; the singular is “medium.”)

Now, after the inevitable transition to a commercial posture, the “social” label is silly. As a medium, Facebook is no more social than conventional email.

How are you keeping score?
The Pygmalion Syndrome – falling in love with your own creation – isn’t extraordinary in a business environment. And it would be surprising if it didn’t exist in what we naively call a creative environment.

So what happens is that the venerable and dependable way to keep score – results – take second place or are eliminated as the attractive and dangerous consideration, new, surges to the forefront of comparative media evaluation … and as an ancient and fruitless yardstick, “noted,” returns.

Emotion has replaced logic. The Pygmalion Syndrome ineffectively replaces results (just as “pay per click” in prehistoric times bestowed exultation on tyro marketers who regarded giving top obeisance to results as vulgar).

Danger lurks, because “new” isn’t parallel to “inventive” or “different” or even “innovative.” And the reappearance of “noted,” too often the ego-food for an unqualified third-party evaluator struggling to gain attention, seldom causes a blip on the overall good or bad fortune of a campaign.

With new media appearing at a terrifying clip, and with each medium accompanied by a cadre of fanatical worshipers, the danger of The Pygmalion Syndrome is more profound than it ever was in the Pre-Web era.

Are your prejudices as profound as mine? Whether you astutely decided to read analytically beyond the previous paragraph or just as doggedly decided to reject ongoing readership as a waste of both our time, at least remember the philosophical nugget whose worth as a comparative can’t be dislodged: No amount of attention or sycophantic accolades can compete head-to-head against results.

So the ancient but permanent “First Great Law” of force-communication becomes a key marker. The Law: Stimulate to desired action, at the lowest logical cost, the most prospects who can and should respond.

That Law isn’t a command to under-produce and cheapen a message; rather, it’s a caution against overproduction or emphasis on peripherals rather than the message.

A comparative analysis is complex when adding cost-against-results to the analytical mix.

The word “complex” may itself not be complex enough to describe the dichotomy of reactions by marketers. A heavily-reported study of social media results pronounced these conclusions:

  • 78% are directly influenced by branded posts when making purchases.
  • 74% encourage friends to try new products.
  • 80% try new things based on friends’ suggestions.

Stated the study: “Given that Facebook alone has over a billion users, the possibilities are too significant to ignore.”

That assumption adds to the questionable conclusion. Who sponsored the study? A white paper from IBM suggests a contrasting inference: “When 83% of online consumers participate in social media, it is no surprise that, like bees to honey, marketers are following suit.”

Continuing – “Yet, for all the rush, many marketers are wondering, “where’s the gold?

“48% of marketers admit that their social media marketing efforts are totally siloed, frustrating their attempts to create richer customer relationships.”

We whose feet are firmly anchored in The First Great Law and whose heads aren’t stretched into the clouds know that ultimately the Pygmalion Syndrome can increase the cost-per-result ratio, which makes both us and those we represent assailable by competitors.

The power of opinion
Add to the Pygmalion Syndrome the cascade of “tips” for effective use of social media, and the inevitable result is confusion.

An online expert offers “26 Twitter Tips for Enhancing Your Tweets” … and does indeed dig out 26 tips.

But hold it: The introductory text acknowledges that all this has to be within 140 characters. That limits the uniqueness of any applied-tweet.

Facebook introduced a search-tool to combat Google and Bing. The company’s CEO described the product as “Graph Search,” with this explanation: “Graph Search is designed to take a precise query and return to you the answer, not links to other places where you might get the answer.”

Answers, then, come from Facebook users – “Photos I like,” “Thai restaurants my friends recommend,” “I think you’ll enjoy this show.”

To veteran Googlers, the substitution of individual or collective opinions is a thin substitute for unsullied information. But fact and opinion may or may not be opponents here, because we as professionals have dedicated ourselves to keep score by results.

In the warp-speed atmosphere of 2013, with new media seeming to pop up weekly, marketing safety lies in abandoning the original description – social – and adopting recognition that these are indeed commercial media we coolly regard as options, successful or unsuccessful based on that infallible litmus test, The First Great Law.

A suggestion for implementation
What does an individual or a corporate prospect get in return for “liking” you on Facebook?

Is it a cash discount? A buy-one-get-one-free? A gift?

Either one is a simplified version of a discount coupon in a free-standing insert in the Sunday newspaper. “Like us on Facebook” either ties itself to a bonus or offers no valid reason to like.

The very word “follower” places the Twitter fan on a level below whoever or whatever has tweeted him or her. Typically, the follower is promised “inside” information, but as the number of followers grows and the value of the information diminishes, again a competitive structure can damage the results as dictated by The First Great Law.

But another factor exists as well: What does maintaining the system cost?

We know what media advertising costs; we know what news releases cost; we know what handling and filing procedures cost.

Are these elements, applied to a social media campaign, economical enough to make these media competitive against the more traditional ones, including email?

A final point from your Ultimate Skeptic: An unsolicited email from “Social Media Tip of the Month” has the heading, “Can social media save my business?”

Now get this, the oh-so-helpful professional tip: “Yes and no. If you have a good business, YES, social media can make all the difference, and it’ll help you to make money. However, if your business has problems, NO, social media is not the way to go.”

Gee, thanks for explaining so clearly how social media can save an already good business.

A point exists here, and it isn’t that by continuing to call themselves “social” such media as Facebook and Twitter are duplicitous.

Rather, the point is that all media, whether print, broadcast, online, or skywriting, can call themselves successful not if they self-applaud but if they compete against others using as their litmus test The First Great Law.


Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises, Pompano Beach, Florida. Author of 32 books, including the recently-published Internet Marketing Tips, Tricks, and Tactics, Catalog Copy That Sizzles, On the Art of Writing Copy (fourth edition recently published), Asinine Advertising, and Creative Rules for the 21st Century, he writes copy for and consults with clients worldwide.