industrial diamond

15 December 2011

Ooh, Sparkly: Champagne Diamonds and Social Media Hype

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Practicing Skeptic; photo of uncut industrial diamond ready for hyping by Shieldforyoureyes Dave Fischer…

I once met this millionaire who made his fortune selling diamond jewelry through supermarket tabloids. What kind of jewelry sells through the cheesiest rags on the planet — newspapers you wouldn’t dare use to line a birdcage lest you kill the bird?

These were genuine diamonds — genuine industrial diamonds, that is, worthless in the general jewelry market. Yet the tabloid readers saw the word “diamond” and their eyes lit up and their mouths watered and their hands reached for the telephone as the words “my precious” escaped from their lips…

Of course, we poke fun at these tabloid readers, even though many of us consume a giant digital tabloid, 140 characters at a time. And we roll our eyes at their gullibility when it comes to jewelry, because we know that even gem-quality diamonds are mostly the product of marketing and monopolization, right?

(Tip: look up Australian brown diamonds, which were worthless until a massive marketing campaign recast them as “champagne” diamonds. Yes, we marketers can sell anything.)

The millionaire told me that some people will believe anything — you just have to find the right people and feed them the right magic words. He also advised me that if something sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.

And that doesn’t just apply to shiny rocks…

Faux Facts About Facebook

That advice came back to me when I read a headline on proclaiming, “96% Of Small Businesses Are On Facebook“.

Hmm, that didn’t sound right to me. Most of the small businesses in my neighborhood aren’t on Facebook, and this is a busy part of West L.A. I also know that most of the businesses (small and large) in my hometown of Roseburg, Oregon aren’t on Facebook, either, which I’m guessing is true of most small towns. So 96 out of 100?

Odder still was the attribution: “These figures from engagement marketing company  come in higher than anything we’ve seen yet…” (sic). In addition to the awkward phrasing, that sentence contained an extra space where the name of the “engagement marketing company” should be. That’s some odd editing.

Finally, near the end, the article acknowledged that the stats came from a study by email-marketing firm Constant Contact of 1,972 organizations, “ninety-five percent are Constant Contact customers.”

Really, You’re hyping the fact that small businesses who employ an email marketing service are on Facebook? Why not go a step further and tell us that they own computers and use electricity, too?

Let’s play with numbers a little more…

That 96% is only 1% more than the number of Constant Contact customers in the survey. That tells us that, among the NON-Constant Contact customers in this survey, a very small percentage (as low as 25%) are on Facebook — and that still sounds high to me.

Like the diamond-hungry tabloid readers, today’s social media zealots see any remotely shiny factoid about their industry and their eyes light up and their mouths water and their hands reach for their keyboards as the words “my precious” escape from their lips…

They seldom dig deeper, and even when they do, they refuse to acknowledge that the shiny nuggets they dig up are actually worthless junk. To validate themselves and their efforts, they spin marketing tales in hopes of convincing us that imperfection = champagne.

Now Facebook can be a useful tool for small businesses, but exaggeration and misdirection will only turn off savvier small business owners — the ones who could actually create success stories worth talking about. Until more of those stories emerge, just repeat what that millionaire told me: if it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. And if you meet anyone who still believes the hype, let me know, ’cause I can get them a great deal on some diamonds…

P.S.: Email marketing service Vertical Response pulled the same stunt, surveying their own businesses customers, then presenting it in the pages of Inc and other publications as representative of all small businesses.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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