Calling BS on
(Social Media) Gurus
Hi. I’m Scott.
• Microsoft ‘94-2003, IE 1.0 to 5.0 (not 6)
• Now writer and speaker
• BusinessWeek, Harvard Business, The
Economist, Wired, NYT, WSJ, NPR, CNBC
– Making things happen, (O’Reilly 2005)
– The myths of Innovation, (O’Reilly, 2007)
– Confessions of a Public Speaker, (O’Reilly, 2009)
– Blog, essays, videos & more
• Snake Oil
• Sales / marketing vs. “truth”
• Questions for Gurus and Experts
• Occam and Social Media
• An inquiry into hype: by example
The syllable gu means shadows. The syllable ru,
he who disperses them, because of the power
to disperse darkness the guru is thus named.
Advayataraka Upanishad 14—18, verse 5
No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it,
Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason,
And your own common sense.
(This is what a real guru sounds like)
Tools for the wise
Whitepaper on Cognitive Bias
• It’s harder to ascertain credibility in “new” fields
• How long have you been doing this?
• Why are you more credible than the other guy?
• Who are your clients? Can I talk to them?
• What are your examples? Samples?
• Are the promises you are making realistic?
How do you know?
Phrases not to trust:
– “Studies say” – which studies? Are there equally
reputable studies that say the opposite?
– “Experts say” – which ones? When and where did
they say it?
– “The data shows…”
– “Ashton Kutcher / Gary Vaynerchuck did…”
Questions for experts
• Have you done this yourself?
• How do you know what you know?
• When have you or your theory been wrong?
• Why do so many people fail at this?
• What are you selling?
• Does anything you say not suggest I should buy?
• (SM) Why aren’t you more popular?
We’d rather hear how amazing now is,
rather than how better it was or will be
It’s an easy way to make what you’re
selling sound exciting
Many claims we make
about the present, could
be made about the rise of
According to the book, besides news reporting, telegraphy, as the first
true global network, message routing, social networks … with gossip and
even marriages among operators ...instant messaging, cryptography, text
coding, abbreviated language slang, network security experts, hackers,
wire fraud, mailing lists, spamming, e-commerce, stock exchange …
Challenges for Social Media
• Yes, we have better, more popular tools
• But we have always had
– social networks - it’s biological
– word of mouth, back-channel, “authentic” media
• New media does not destroy the old
• Signal to Noise is always the real problem
• If your product sucks, not much else matters
• ask “What problem am I trying to solve?”
Most reach claims are inflated
• Magazine subscriptions, TV watchers, RSS subs, etc.
• How many (twitter) followers :
– Are an individual, living person
– Are online when you happen to tweet
– reads the tweet
– Click on your link
– Reads what they see when they get there
– Who RTs or forwards
– Who buys what you are selling
My lame hypothesis:
It is easier to get dumb
people to click on dumb
One definition of science
• Hypothesis - “What leads to Y?”
• Research – Create experiment w/reduced bias
• Collect and study data
• Conclusion “We think X leads to Y”
• Publish results so others can try to reproduce
Any real expert or guru should be asking other
experts and gurus to:
• Reference their claims
• Share methods so data can be reproduced
• Scrutinize the sources they RT / forward / link
• Bring more light, not darkness
In Response to my questions, Dan added more details on his research.
Which is super cool.
By why aren’t we asking more experts to do the same before accepting
it, linking to it or letting it be called science?
• The burden is on you (Cognitive Bias)
• PR about PR has inherent credibility issues
• Ask experts for clients and samples
• Let others call you a guru
• You are responsible for facts you use
• You are responsible for facts you believe
Photo Credits & Thanks
• Campfire - http://www.sxc.hu/photo/681449
• Thanks: Joe McCarthy, Rayna, Divya, Karl Sakas,
Dorian Taylor, Bryan Zug, SMCSeattle
• Christopher Allen:
• Dunbar’s actual paper: