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5 signs you might be a social media snake oil salesman by Xan Pearson @XanPearson

5 signs you might be a social media snake oil salesman by Xan Pearson @XanPearson

Editor’s note: It’s a pleasure to welcome social media marketing blogger, Xan Pearson as a guest poster with The eMail Guide! She’s a very creative writer and offers some fantastic insight into social media and social marketing! Let us know what you think!

As a child I used to watch old Western movies on TV with my dad.  I didn’t particularly like movies about cowboys and gunfights, but I enjoyed spending time with my dad, so I watched a lot of them.  In many of the Westerns, there would be a slick traveling salesman, peddling a fake elixir (snake oil) purported to cure all ailments.  The exaggerated character of the “snake oil salesman” was marked by boisterous, obnoxious marketing hype, typically bogus.

Now, as an adult, whenever I see a smooth-talking, insincere person trying to sell something, the image of a snake oil salesman pops into my head.  I see it every day: on infomercials, in business, at the mall, and in social media.  Sometimes the product is great, but the salesperson is too pushy or just comes across as disingenuous.  And therein lies the pitfall for many people and businesses using social media.   Whether you’re a large corporation, small business, or individual trying to drive traffic to a blog, how others perceive you can make or break your brand’s success.  Are you coming across as a social media “snake oil salesman”?  Here are 5 warning signs you may be harming your brand:

1.   You send out a DM to every new follower with a link to your site. Chances are most people will ignore your DM, and you run the risk of being blocked and reported as spam. Would you ask someone you just met face-to-face to do you a favor?  The approach appears pushy and your motives seem insincere.  Instead, start communicating with your followers and build a relationship of mutual respect and trust.  I have many friends in social media who know that I will always RT a new blog post or support them in any way I can.  I welcome their requests, but this came over time, after we had connected and gotten to know each other.

2.   All of your posts are links to your site. This comes across as desperate and, again, spammy.  Social media is not traditional advertising.  If you only want to talk about yourself, buy an ad.  The “social” in social media implies engagement.  Share insightful content with your followers, comment on or retweet their posts, and ask questions.  As people get to know you, they will be more apt to go to your blog or website.

3.  You post random shout outs in stream asking people to follow you, check out a site or RT a post. I see this a lot with newbies on Twitter who think it’s a fast way to drive traffic to a website or accumulate followers.  It’s highly ineffective and most people will ignore you.  It’s the equivalent of the peddler on the street corner shouting at passerbys.  Social media marketing takes time, and you need to put in the effort to establish a social network and loyal following.  If you aren’t willing to do that or don’t have the time, maybe you should reconsider whether social media is the best marketing medium for you.

4.   You use exaggerated claims. These are all over social media and they give the appearance of lack of confidence in the true merits of the products.  “Become the next Donald Trump”; “Earn $3,000 in one week”; “Get 1,000 followers a day”.  This is one of the quickest ways to destroy your reputation/ brand and become labeled a “snake-oil salesman”.   If you want to build trust, be honest.  Tip: If you only have 500 followers on Twitter, don’t post “I got 2,000 followers in one week using *XXXX* site.”  Just sayin’.

5.   You ignore complaints. By ignoring negative comments on your blog or about your product, you fuel negativity rather than mitigate it.  In the Westerns, whenever someone shouted out “Charlatan!”, the snake oil salesman’s accomplice would come along and knock them out with the butt of his gun (all in front of a miraculously oblivious crowd), while the salesman continued to shout the merits of his product as though nothing happened.  In social media, no one is there to stifle your critics (and your audience will not be as oblivious to your lack of response).  Only you can quell negativity, by addressing complaints and detractors with professionalism and sincerity.  This exhibits confidence in your product and respect for your customers/followers.

Takeaway: Whether you are new to social media or wondering why you haven’t been able to drive traffic to your site, take a moment to reflect on your approach and how you may be perceived.  You can have the best product or the most insightful blog, but if you appear too slick or insincere, you will alienate followers.

Agree or disagree? Let us know your thoughts! Drop a comment!

  • Profile:  A sports sponsorship marketing and community relations executive for the youth programs of two professional sports teams, Xan has over twenty years of experience in business development, marketing, and sales. Through an impressive and diverse career in business development and marketing within a variety of industries including corporate finance, retail, non-profit, publishing, and sports, Xan has learned that regardless of the industry, there are inherent principles for successful marketing and business development strategies. As a sports sponsorship director, she creates sponsorship brand marketing and experiential promotions for her corporate clients.
  • Website:  http://www.xanpearson.com
  • Twitter:   http://www.twitter.com/XanPearson
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Your thoughts here
  1. Hey Xan…love the post.

    It’s funny, I think everyone could be guilty of one or two of those points. The real pain shows up if you are guilty of all 5 or when people continue to do stuff even when they know it’s not in their best interest.

    Live an learn, watch the leaders, tread lightly on uncharted grounds. If it smells like snake oil, chances are it is. A lot of this stuff is avoidable when pointed out to the newbee.

    Thanks for the great lesson and thanks for the post.


    • Thank you Jeff. I agree. It’s not just one item. I think, like you pointed out, we all possibly have done one or more of these. It’s when a pattern develops that it becomes risky. We can have the sincerest motives, but it may not be perceived that way. Too often, businesses and people lose sight of that.

      I appreciate the kind comments. Glad you enjoyed the post!



  2. Great topic, too many peddlers these days of the proverbial snake oil. I sometimes wonder whether I should use an auto DM or not, I guess I will not!

    • Personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with an auto-DM for new followers as long as it’s not a “snake oil pitch” as Xan points out. Thanking someone for the follow and perhaps offering them a link to a white paper or something else of actual value, works for me. However, it’s true that most tweeple likely just glance and then ignore the details in auto-responder confirmation DMs.


      Jim Ducharme
  3. Hey Xan,

    Great post. I agree with all of your points for the most part. I hate these typical trademarks of social media spammers. However I do think that an auto-dm if done in a tasteful way can be an effective way to break the ice. The problem with auto-dms is that far too many people abuse and misuse them. For example, anyone who sends more than one auto-dm is doing it wrong. Any auto-dm that is anything more than a way of saying “Hi, this is me, thanks for following” is borderline spam.

    I don’t begrudge any blogger who drops a link to their blog in an auto-dm. Twitter is only a micro-blog after all so I can’t hate on people who are intent on showing others where they can find the complete picture. I don’t use auto-dms for my personal account currently but I have employed this strategy in the past and I don’t regret it.

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