cowboy on horseThis article is pretty much guaranteed to come off a little rant-like, but we have your best interests at heart here, so please bear with us.

There’s a huge problem afflicting the digital marketing industry in the UK at the moment: clients. Not all clients, but a significant proportion of really poorly educated clients who are making buying decisions about where to put their digital marketing business.

These people don’t know what “good” looks like. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, we all have to start somewhere…but some people will do their level best to avoid finding out. They don’t want to question what they’re being told, or demand some logic behind what they’re being charged for. They want simple, “silver bullet” answers – ideally cheap ones.

Silver bullets only work on vampires – cos they don’t exist either

Here are a couple of quotes to illustrate what this looks like from behind my desk:

From a hi-tech firm based in Cambridge, who wanted a cost for “doing their social media” but refused to discuss details of their marketing strategy or target market:

“We’re going with a US agency who phoned us yesterday. They said they could make us Number One on LinkedIn”

(yes, really. No, I have no idea what that means. Neither did the potential client when challenged, but it sounds GREAT, right?!)

From a startup photography business, whose marketing manager told me she’d never used Facebook and had no idea how it worked, but was getting quotes for having it managed.

“We have decided to work with a company called XXXXX. A friend recommended them and they have quoted £99 which will include four maintenance updates a year”.

I hardly know where to start with that one either, but I think we can be 100% certain that she won’t be getting much out of Facebook this year, or any other.

These con-merchants are there because you want them

Okay, maybe not you personally, but enough people do. Here’s how it works, and the reason why certain parts of the digital marketing sector are going really rather bad indeed.

Everyone knows that the economic environment isn’t the easiest right now. Many companies are fighting for survival, and very few are in a position to turn away from an easy stream of revenue, even if they’re not comfortable with what that involves.

When enough potential clients line up and beg for this sort of rubbish, guess what? More and more suppliers will offer it. That’s how you end up with daft offers of the “200 Tweets per month for only £150” variety.**

**if you’re not sure why this is daft, please drop us an email and we’ll be delighted to explain in full.

How to guarantee you get terrible social media advice

So if you want to be saddled up and ridden into the sunset by a social media cowboy, here’s what  to do.

  • Tell your prospective supplier  little to nothing about your business. Cowboys won’t be interested anyway – they’re going to sell you those “four maintenance updates per year” whatever.
  • Insist on a fixed price at the earliest possible stage of your communication. Again, the harder you make it for your potential supplier to figure out what’s right for your business before committing to a price, the more likely you are to end up with rubbish being delivered to a budget.
  • Avoid all discussion of strategy, or how exactly what they’re selling you will benefit your business. At a push, ask to be assured that you’ll “get exposure to a gazillion people on Facebook” – and be much more impressed by that than if they take you through, step by step, how Facebook works to provide that exposure, and how they’ll harness those functions to work for your business.
  • Under no circumstances check out the agency’s own website or social media feeds. If their website is full of meaningless jargon and they sent out a Tweet once in 2011 (which was a link to their home page), that’ll just complicate your decision, won’t it – and after all, it does it really matter, so long as they get you to Number One on LinkedIn…

Look, we know you’re busy, and you want this online marketing business to be as easy as taking an ad in the local paper.

But it just isn’t, it’s a whole lot more complicated than that.

So if you’re going to buy in social media services and you don’t want to throw your money in the bin – get some education about what you’re buying. Or work with an agency who’ll help you understand what’s what. But please, stop hunting for cowboys.

And if you’ve had any crazy, don’t-stand-up-to-the-light-of-day social media offers, please share them below….you know you want to!