What can the medical industry from the twentieth century teach us about social media

If I told you that social media marketing is taking the same direction as the medical industry did during the early 1900s, would you believe me? Before we dive deep into this analogy, I’d like to give you a brief history of the medical practice and education industry.

During the turn of the twentieth century, the medical industry in America was pretty much unregulated. People were preaching untested and unproven cures, with financial success being their main motivation.

"Here, have a glass of radium water; it will cure your arthritis and impotence."

Source: Oak Ridge Associated Universities

It is crazy to imagine that people actually paid for this product, but people believed that it helped. Clearly, today we have natural and proven prescription drugs to help.

Of course there were lots of outstanding doctors and scientists, but they were more focused on their research and building the foundations of modern medicine. However, there were lots of “doctors” diagnosing people to drink radium water, because there was no license required.

So, what made the industry shift away from these radical practices? In 1910, Abraham Flexner—who was notably a teacher, not a doctor—surveyed the American medical education landscape and published his report. This resulted in the closing of at least one-third of the existing medical schools—mostly for-profit schools. This helped bring about formal licensing for doctors, and lay the scientific foundations for the medical industry.

Fast forward to today and digital marketing

Let’s relate this to today’s digital marketing, specifically in the social media landscape. What makes someone a social media expert? Because I understand technology and I am extremely photogenic, can I run your company’s social media profiles?

Let’s examine what is plaguing the marketing industry:

The Instant Social Media Marketing Agency

Background: I have an iPhone, a Macbook Pro, and managed a family friend’s company’s social media profile. This gives me instant credibility to manage more business profiles and start selling social media services.

Results: They produce great photo content, create posts using the same stock photos, edit photos using tools like Canva, and get you likes. You ask the question (or should ask), ”How much business does my social media generate?” It is pretty hard to provide evidence on your ROI, so most of the time you will get reports on “engagement,” “number of likes,” and “we are building your long-term profile.”

The Intern Farm Agency

Background: These agencies leverage their interns to help in the content production process. Most of the time, they hire interns for little to no pay.

Results: Companies will pay a hefty price tag for social media services from these agencies, which employ free labor. As above, they’ll report about engagements and likes and, “your long-term profile”.

Real Life Example: One of my clients requested that we transition from social media management to other digital marketing services, which was for the best interest for my client. We found a great intern to manage their profiles. Shortly thereafter, another agency pitched their services to this client at five times the current cost. We soon found out that this agency had hired the same intern, but this was a non-paid position.*

Thought Reversal - Medical Industry and Social Media

The Robot Agency

Background: These agencies are the ones which guarantee likes and followers. This sounds great and looks good on paper, but this is achieved by using automated bot services.

"This bot walked right into that one..."

Results: Your company will build fake followers, likes, and engagement. You may have more fans, but do they care about your business? Again, you have been trained to focus on likes and followers, not ROI.

Unregulated Influencers

Background: The influencer industry is one of those areas that is really difficult to understand and to scale. There is no formula for how much an influencer should cost; rather, it is simply what they want to charge.

Results: You spend an endless amount of time reviewing influencers. Some influencers will ask for thousands of dollars, while similar influencers will do it for free in exchange for products. My least favorite “influencer” is the one which uses bots to build fake followers. They post content on their profiles, you prepare for sales to come in and…no sales.

These are just some examples of what is plaguing the marketing industry. Even if you get over the hurdle of working with these agencies and influencers, you still have another challenge to deal with: Facebook. With all the negative press, their growth rate leveling out, and reduced organic reach, what is a business supposed to do? It really depends, but if you don’t know what to do, then do nothing. Let the dust settle and then re-enter the social media market. It is too chaotic and takes too much time to figure out.

That is probably not the answer you wanted to hear, so here is what we are doing:

The social media market needs to grow up and mature. Mark Traphagen (Stone Template) claims “that these changes are a good thing, because they will finally force social media marketers to grow up and act like REAL marketers, not hackers or tricksters.”

Take that concept and start focusing on marketing, not gaming the system. We strongly believe that if agencies and marketers don’t transition away from trick marketing tactics, they will find themselves forced out of this industry as companies start to focus on measuring their results. While industry cleanses itself, take that time and start focusing on boring, non-flashy marketing activities like search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing, post nurturing customers, or even try print media.

Let’s continue to use one of our clients as an example. We transitioned from heavy social media management to SEO and email marketing. We continue to advise and support my client for their social media needs, but it is mainly managed by an intern that is given direction. Now that we have focused on SEO and optimizing email marketing, sales are up 65% and organic search traffic increased about 40% within one month. When we have conversations with our client, they are able to see the ROI on their marketing dollars. Again, we are using data to make our marketing decisions; without the use of data, we are just guessing. Remember radium water? Imagine this: if we ignored the fact that people die from ingesting radium, we would still have salesmen pushing this product.

We understand that this may upset or contradict your beliefs. Are we saying social media marketers and influencers are con-artists? No, absolutely not. There are many social media marketers that are doing great campaigns for their clients, but there are just as many that are not. We feel that there is a strong disconnect between social media marketers and business objectives. When the barrier to entry is this easy (iPhone, laptop and a license to Hootsuite) and unregulated, you end up with people that enter this market to make a quick and easy dollar. If you have a full-stack marketing consultant, they will contact and notify you to pivot your marketing dollars away from social media. If they don’t, they just may not understand your business well enough. Hey, if you are measuring your social media success on likes and followers, then your social media team is doing the exact job you hired them for.