Social Media Marketing: The New Multi-Level Marketing Scheme?

by Jennifer Vides on September 29, 2010

in Blog Posts,My Soapbox (AKA My Blog)

Is social media the new multi level marketing?

[A note: I made some edits for clarity. I do not think all multi-level marketing is bad. There exist many MLM programs and companies that have built successful businesses because the approach makes sense. I do have issue with the MLM schemes – those do exist. So my comparison here is to that kind of MLM program – not the reputable. I believe the MLM community would agree that we’d all be better off if the “schemes” no longer existed.]

This morning a message was posted on a social media Linkedin Group proclaiming a great new way to get more Friends for your Facebook page. Ooh!  I clicked on the link to see what was up and was shocked (but not) to see what was there. The message:

If you want more fans on your Facebook Page, post it below. Once you become a fan of other people’s pages, they can become a fan of your page!

Let me get this straight: if I post my Facebook page there for say… a recording artist I’m working with… all of these random social media marketing professionals will “like” it? And I’ll pick up hundreds of new friends just from one post?


(Or not.)

I looked through the profiles of the people who had posted links to their Facebook pages and determined that maybe one or two would actually be interested and active members in my client’s Facebook page. One or two out of hundreds.

My post to the group:

“Really? Isn’t this supposed to be about quality, not quantity? Just sayin’”

(Snarky, I know. I apologize.)

My post was quickly buried among a massive number of Facebook page links for everything ranging from diet supplements and anger management classes to web design and social media gurus.

My immediate thought:

Has social media become a multi-level marketing scheme?

(Insert horrified scream)

In this case, sort of: You friend my page, I’ll friend yours and we’ll both build our fan base. But unlike in an effective multi-level marketing program, in the social media marketing version described above, NOBOBY wins.

Confession time: Many of my friends in PR and Advertising have asked me to “like” their brand Facebook pages when they launch. I only comply if it’s something that actually interests me. But I’m always grateful for the amusement my friends provide as I see that the first friends of the brand’s new Facebook  page are the entire staff of the advertising/PR agency involved in the campaign.

Obvious, much?

Before I get banned from the PR industry, it’s important for me to say this: My friends are intelligent and talented professionals. The problem is the marketing industry’s obsession with the wrong metric for social media. Brands (and agencies) need to look at the quality of the connections they are getting on Facebook or elsewhere. Sure, quantity is great if they’re the right kinds of people – those who would actually be interested in what you’re selling. If your connections are a bunch of marketing and social media people who are just selling their own things on your page, you have a serious problem.

*Steps on soap box*

(Oh, wait – I was already there. Never mind.)

Okay, enough snark. If I’m so smart, then how do I build a good social media community, you ask?  I’ll tell you:

Dime con quien andas y te diré quién eres.” (A man is known by the company he keeps.) – Spanish Proverb

  • Identify who you want to be your friends: Who do you really want to be “representing” your brand? Logically those who will be most passionate about it, right? So why would you first go out and “friend” a bunch of people who don’t represent your brand well? Most people start by friending their own personal friends (or using the Linkedin approach noted earlier) in a quest to get numbers. The right approach is to find people who are really going to be interested in what you’re selling. Look at your email database (if you have one) and see who’s been most active with you – and friend them first.  Do a search on Twitter and other social networks to find people who are talking about you or like products. Friend them next. Now your first “friends” are actually qualified and will be more likely to be happy to be there. Much better than just having your friends there – grudgingly, I might add.

We’re not friends. We just work together.”  – Role Models

  • Establish a friendship. Really. True friendships are never based upon what one friend says to the other. They are based upon real connections…that come from common interests. What does this mean for you? Don’t just broadcast. Look at what your friends are saying to learn more about them (including what makes them act.) Contribute to their communities. Get into real conversations. Just remember that friendships are two-way relationships – otherwise they don’t work. (Note: if your “social media expert” is only broadcasting his or her own links and not engaging with others, you really should run the other way. They’re doing it wrong.)

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” – C.S. Lewis

  • Make new friends through your friends. Consistently search for new people with common interests. Search for people who enjoy some of the same things your friends enjoy because it’s possible they will be interested in you too. (Isn’t that how we make friends in real life? Through connections?) Heck, look at who your competitors are friends with and friend them. (Unless they work for your competitor’s ad or PR agency, in which case back away from the fence.)

Okay, I’m tired of standing on this soapbox. Can I sit down now?


Listen, I get it. People are still trying to figure out this *cough* “newfangled” social media thing, and brands demand big numbers and growth. My perspective? Social media is all about making connections with people who will love you – not just “like” you, if you get my drift. Sure, you’ll start with a smaller base, and depending on your brand you may never have a zillion “likes.” But what you’ll have is a more engaged base, which means you’ll likely see more organic engagement on your social media pages (that is: if you encourage it and engage them in the right way). Then the rest – the growth, referrals, etc. – should happen on their own.

Need help building a social media community for your brand? Call me. I can help. But only if you want me to do it the right way – not the multi-level marketing scheme way.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie Senter September 30, 2010 at 10:39 am

Great post, Jennifer! It’s so important to counsel clients on the right social media metrics for their social media goals, not just the follows and likes. 10,000 Twitter followers do no good if they’re all spambots! Better to have 100 engaged followers who add to your conversation!

I lost one client to a competitor who promised great numbers. The homebuilder’s project gained lots of followers within a week (by the method you mentioned), but there was absolutely no interaction and a few weeks later their numbers tumbled. Not exactly the impact the client was hoping for.

Jennifer Quinn @JennyQ October 2, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Fabulous article. I enjoy your writing style…entertaining AND informative. While I can appreciate the comparison of adding random people to build “numbers” to that of an MLM, I’d like to add that the purpose of social media, is infact, to replicate the concept of Multi-level Marketing.

Isn’t the point of having a page on facebook to have one person “like” it, and then have that person tell a few people, who tell a few more people, who tell a few more? (if we stacked these people, they would in fact, look like the pyramid photo at the top of your article).

Because of this being the desired outcome, I agree with you that the methodology which you describe is, in fact, the most ineffective way to go about it. What are the chances that your fellow PR associate is going to recommend your page when she is busy trying to get people to get “like” her page? Not very high.

This is a little like “Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” No one gets anywhere. The goal is: “Let me show you mine, and hopefully, if you like it, you will tell others about it.” Or, better yet, “….hopefully, if I come through with a good service or product you won’t NOT be able to tell others about it.”

Your approach of attracting people who already have an interest in your product and developing a real connection with them is spot on, and I will most definitely Tweet this article on Twitter, and post this link on my facebook wall…which indeed makes me a part of the Multi-level marketing scheme of which you speak. I’m just one of those people who happens to not think of MLM as a dirty acronym.


Jennifer October 3, 2010 at 9:47 am

Nice comment, Jennifer. I should clarify…I don’t think MLM is a dirty acronym. As I noted in the post, there are cases in multi-level marketing programs where people actually do win… have some benefit. And I can cite many a fantastic MLM program. But just like there are good and bad social media programs, there are also good and bad multi-level marketing programs (some of which are “schemes.”)


Juan Lulli November 9, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Pero muy interesante… 🙂

Yes, I see how your correlating a disingenuously designed social media campaign to a MLM scheme, or vice versa, may ruffle sensibilities. Fact is, why should it? A scheme is a scheme is a scheme… Running a social media campaign for quantities, without notice to quality of engagement, is hollow. Running a MLM business based on quantities of recruits as its fundamental monetizing proposition is a scheme. Truth is, though, the MLM industry is evolving into a 2.0 version of straight-forward professionalism.

Be a shame if, as you suggest, there may be social media marketing firms practicing the standards of MLM version 1.0. Hasta muy pronto– @juanlulli

Jennifer November 12, 2010 at 8:10 am

Sadly, I’m not just suggesting it. They truly are doing this. I seriously laugh out loud when I see the first 100 fans of Brand X are all from the same ad agency. In time I hope this will change.

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