Commercial Speech

September 30, 2009

Hey, That’s MY Snake Oil You’re Peddling

Seems like the Pandoras at Dachis are particularly sore these days that entrepreneurs in the social media demimonde they helped unbox are making money and living large without proper pedigree, paying their dues or playing by the rules (as Peter Kim et al define them). Worse, in doing so those pusillanimous parvenus and pretenders — my homage to William Safire — are challenging Dachis’s Ptolemaic model of the social media consulting universe (where an insular club of self-congratulatory, self-referential early adopters occupy the center of the bullseye, natch).

David “Respect My Authoritah” Armano recently issued a cri de coeur against charlatans, opportunists and — gasp — plagiarists posing as social media “experts.” That refrain was echoed by a predictable chorus of acolytes using the comments thread to praise Armano’s wisdom and call for some sort of social media professional certification body — presumablycomprised of themselves — to separate the righteous sheep from the unworthy goats. Just as dutifully, Armano chimed in on the comment thread to praise their wisdom in recognizing his wisdom.

“The problem is this expert was sucking in the feed of my blog without permission, attribution and had more holes in his resume than a slice of Swiss cheese [emphasis added]. So how do you separate the social media snake oil from the vinegar?”

First, WTF is up with that metaphor? Which component represents Armamo’s content in this salad dressing dyad, the snake oil or the vinegar? Sounds unpalatable either way.

Second, his outrage over breaches in garden-variety content streaming etiquette is overreaction enough, but Armano goes on to imply that this “expert” was not worthy to traffic in social media content (which Armano might or might not have himself streamed, adapted or re-tweeted from others) because of an inferior resume. Oh REALLY….Apparently pedigree ought to trump ingenuity, enterprise and drive in the Social Media World According to Armano. I wonder if he would say that Michael Dell was unscrupulous and didn’t deserve his success because he was a college drop-out and disrespectful to IBM.

Brazen unattributed content streaming is definitely uncool, but it is also a foreseeable — arguably inevitable — extension of social media’s fetishization of content sharing. Further, isn’t it one of the central tenets of social media faith that community wisdom will sniff out and snuff out inauthentic poseurs and grifters?

In an April 10, 2008 post, Chris Brogan, commented honestly on his own experiences with the plagiarism, hypothesizing that copying is a constitutive part of the human condition and suggesting that owning up to those conscious and unconscious borrowings makes one’s own truth shine more brightly:

“We are all derivatives of someone else. It can’t be helped. Musicians have roots in other musical traditions, even if it’s not obvious at first. Nirvana is heavily Beatles-influenced, for instance. Authors are unique-twist copies of other authors. It’s just the way of the world, and how humans evolve.”

From there he gave a bravura exhibition of how a genuinely centered, confident, non-self-aggrandizing social media expert respsonds to the scourge of plagiarism:

“I’m inspired by others, and derive some of my skills and abilities from what I’ve learned from others, so instead of bitch about someone copying my stuff, I’m going to praise some people that I have learned from in developing my own presence. (None of this is to blow smoke up these people’s butts. I know most of them. I like most of them. This is about me, and about what goes into the media I make).”

He went on to describe the debts he owes to Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, Tom Peters, Annie Proulx, Jeremiah Owyang and Jon Swanson, then concluded simply and elegantly:

“My big point: none of us are originals. It’s okay. And I’ve DEFINITELY done it myself, where I’ve thought something WAS my thought, only to find out that I was synthesizing something I read a few days back, or a conversation I had (Did that famously badly once, to a friend I love, and had to rescind).

“But if you KNOW you’re going to riff off someone, give a little link love and be done with it. Fair?”


The irony here is that Peter Kim, in his Sept. 23, 2009 “amen” (my term)  to Armano’s rant, appears to be adopting the convention of Brogan’s earlier post — without crediting Brogan.

“We invest time and energy in contributing to a collective understanding. I applaud Todd Defren and ShiftPR for sharing their work on the social media press release. Nielsen Online offers free use of their industrial-strength brand monitoring system through Blogpulse.

“We celebrate the success of others. The community at large helped Chris Brogan and Julien Smith become New York Times best selling authors. We’ve cheered on my friends and former colleagues Charlene Li, Jeremiah Owyang, and Ray Wang (and Deb Schultz) in creating Altimeter Group.

“We give credit where and when credit is due. As Dachis Group builds momentum and understanding around Social Business Design, most people have acknowledged our work in adding their own thoughts to the conversation.

Hmm, makes ya think. Whether the similarities are coincidental or purposeful, maybe Kim should give credit to the New York Times best-selling author who had the wisdom and class to demonstrate how to place social media “plagiarism” in perspective and then process through it with grace and genuine generosity of spirit, not vitriol and proprietary-speak topped off with a self-serving plug for a wannabe new business paradigm.

In a Nov. 16, 2008 post entitled “Social Media is Not Socialism,” Kim puts it even more bluntly:

“When someone plagiarizes content, the social system breaks down.  Individuals who plagiarize seek to claim credit for themselves.   Social media is already social and a Robin Hood-style redistribution of value isn’t required.  But credit and attribution remain key to socializing and increasing the value of content for everyone involved.”

Red alert! System failure!

I guess that would seem to be the case if the ultimate goal of social media is to productize/monetize Social Business Design (which, it coud be argued, is itself derivative of primary social science and marketing research conducted by others).

In closing, my formula for battling social media socialism is this: If you’re that concerned about getting credit for your content, then name it, claim it and smack a big circled “C” on it. Otherwise, trust the wisdom of the community to recognize your work no matter where it appears or who takes credit for it, and the truth will out.

Feel free to use that one.



  1. If you really think that was plagiarized, then you should credit Chris here for the ideas you’ve used:

    Read the comment thread in my last post and you might learn something.

    I hope you will own up to these opinions in person next time I see you in Austin.

    Comment by Peter Kim — September 30, 2009 @ 10:01 am | Reply

    • Thanks for pointing that out. I will definitely own up to baiting, as any headline/copy writer would. I had not seen that Brogan post, but it is food for thought and I’m glad you did.

      It’s concerning, though, that instead of a substantive response to the issues raised — as Armano ably did in this space — you come back with a gotcha and an “I dare you to say that to my face” challenge.

      I’ve owned up to the gotcha, and now will address the anonymity issue. We greatly admire The Economist, and see merit in their tradition of preserving the anonymity of its writers.

      From their Web site:

      “The main reason for anonymity…is a belief that what is written is more important than who writes it.

      My collaborators and I don’t foresee making a living with this blog — it’s a creative outlet and a training exercise for our RL jobs — so personal branding through this vehicle is not a priority. The content speaks for itself. People will read/follow it — or not.

      We’ve come to know you through your writings. Not sure what difference an in-person would make.

      Comment by commercialspeech — September 30, 2009 @ 11:02 am | Reply

  2. Here’s the great thing about this medium. You get to have your say and I get to return the favor. To me it seems like this post is written to make some of us out to be “holier than thou” and motivated to protect our assets and egos. That’s a bunch of bull. Let’s take a look at some of the points in my post:

    “As you do background checks around the people you choose to partner with in social business, you should be able to see ties from the past to what they are doing now.”

    “Actually there really isn’t anything wrong with self identifying yourself as an expert in a field or including things people said about you. However, it’s up to you to leverage tools like Google, Linked In etc. to see what others have said or investigate further”

    “Anyone who starts their pitch by promising friends, followers, or even positive word of mouth is suspicious.”

    “Be wary of anyone selling a point solution that promises instant social interactions, conversations, collaboration etc.”

    “Bottom line, there’s unfortunately a short term business model for hucksters out to make a buck at your expense.”

    Which one of these sounds like an unreasonable rant you you? To me, they sounds like reasonable business practices. Though your post tends to focus on the “ripping off’ part of this discussion, it’s one small part. I’ve freely given away visuals since day one and in many cases they get used without attribution and I rarely say anything. That’s because I know the pros outweigh the cons.

    To put this whole discussion in another light. We’ve all seen this before. In the .com days everyone wanted to be a web designer. I worked side by side with people who didn’t really love design but thought there was money to be made in the field. “web design” was billed as a hot and growing profession.

    So what happened? Simple. When the dot com bubble burst, the folks who really loved web design took whatever work they could find because they loved what they did. The other “web designers” found careers in other fields. It was that simple.

    Regardless of what I say or you say there is going to be a similar dynamic happening in the “social” space. Until then, people like yourself and myself will share our opinions on related topics. And my opinion is that anyone positioning social media as a quick fix is looking to make a quick buck.

    Comment by David Armano — September 30, 2009 @ 10:14 am | Reply

    • Breaking it down in this way, it is clearer that you’re basically saying caveat emptor, and here are some caveats. That’s good counsel presented in a straightforward fashion, and I admire this response.

      So what was up with the original post? Why bury your message in snark?

      Comment by commercialspeech — September 30, 2009 @ 11:25 am | Reply

  3. Man! I mean man…I don’t even know where to start.

    I will put aside the utter disregard for the Queen’s English, terrible editing, and metaphor-massacres that would embarrass G. W. Bush. I will instead focus on the blatant, unabashed hypocrisy of David Armano.

    This guy has made a name for himself on the backs of talented creatives at his previous agencies and toiled on his digital persona while claiming to work on big brands like P&G and HP. Many colleagues and clients have tired of his self-aggrandizement and I have finally hit my threshold.

    I’ve remained a silent objector to this second-rate rodeo clown’s delusions of grandeur long enough. It needs to be said that HE is the charlatan that he has gone after in his latest (embarrassing) Ad Age rant. HE is the snake oil (or is it vinegar) salesman that potential clients should be wary of. HE is a punchline of a social media monetizing joke that is clearly showing its wear-out.

    If he were half of a marketer, he would have the awareness that it’s not himself he should be marketing but the brands he claims to have done something with. And is it Dachis Group where he is working? Or is it Edelman Digital as it says in Ad Age? It’s hard to keep up with the job-hopping.

    Knowing him from a previous life, please rest assured, commercialspeech, your assessment is spot on. The guy is as much of a hack as you suspect.

    Comment by Armano-ed Out — September 30, 2009 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

  4. I think the tone of this post is totally inappropriate and doesn’t contribute to the conversation at all. If you want to engage in a dialogue, you have to put a hold on the snark.

    Comment by James Young — September 30, 2009 @ 1:36 pm | Reply

    • James:

      Thanks for the comment.

      Everyone deplores snark but still reads it and uses it occasionally. It’s like someone who says he never watches reality TV, then goes on to relate how horrible that one jock is on “Big Brother.”

      People respond differently to provocative opinions and prose, and isn’t that one of the strengths of social media, a multiplicity of ideas and communication styles eliciting response and stimulating discussion? Like the film industry, there’s a market for pretty, pleasant and polite Merchant-Ivory-esque blogs and conversations, and there’s a place for R-rated (for language) tales of loners and outsiders who risk everything by challenging judgy villagers and the bombasts who lead them. I hope Kevin Bacon plays me in the movie.

      Comment by commercialspeech — September 30, 2009 @ 4:24 pm | Reply

  5. Not really understanding YOUR vitriol in this post – whoever you are. Why the secrecy?

    Did you do any research on the guy that was ripping Armano’s feed? It occurs to me that you probably wouldn’t have written this post if you had. The guy was a total poser – in violation of federal law and a great example of the creeps that seem to be proliferating in this space. What he did is not ingenious – any high school kid could do it (and he may well be one!). It had nothing to do with ingenuity of any sort. The comments had nothing to do with the guy’s WORTHINESS — Can he stream the content – yes — should he scrape it and claim authorship? NO.

    Call me an acolyte if you will. I merely just joined in to an ongoing dialog with some folks, most of whom I know personally and respect. I respect them not because of any kind of “Pedigree” (a reference I find perplexing) although I believe each one has a degree of well earned authority.

    A lot of us have earned our stripes through years (decades for some of us) of hard work and delivery. My approach is to follow thinkers and appreciate a legacy of great work: in Armano and Peter’s cases — awesome insight, research, thought leadership, excellent visualization materials and more. Yet, you seem to undermine that in your post in a manner that is unfair, and fail to examine the context of those posts in their entirety (as Peter and David mentioned above).

    You are a sharp-witted person. Obviously intelligent person and a terrific writer. However, I can’t help but feel your heated response indicates more of a personal issue than an objective assessment of the subject at hand. You referenced Chris Brogan’s April post – which is awesome – and it’s merely a (very good) part of an ongoing public dialog.

    Just my .02 cents.

    Comment by Leigh Durst — September 30, 2009 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

    • Leigh:

      Thanks for making time to comment.

      1) As far as the anonymity thing goes, I explained it in my response to Peter Kim’s comment here. The quote from The Economist I cited summarizes it best: “The main reason for anonymity…is a belief that what is written is more important than who writes it.”

      2) The aggressive tone is partly an attempt to break through what I view as the numbing drone of uncritical (and by that I mean lacking rigorous examination) and derivative commentary about Armano’s slides, content and theories, but it’s mostly a legitimate candid critique of sloppy and confusing writing and the use of a sneering, superior tone (e.g. each numbered heading) to dress up otherwise commonsense advice. If you read Armano’s response here, he makes his points more clearly, and if I had read that version first, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have written my post at all.

      3) Someone was straight-up ripping him off. Got it. I was reacting to Armano’s formulation of the offense, which, I still contend, doesn’t make sense as written. It seems to treat the perpetrator’s swiss cheese-like CV (Whatever that means…Unexplained gaps in employment? Dubious, unverifiable claims?) as either a compounding factor to the theft or an obvious predictor of a propensity to plagiarize. In any case, it’s a difficult point to follow and even more difficult one to support.

      Full and proper understanding of the theft’s nature, background and gravity isn’t the issue; it’s the poorly expressed ideas and tangled train of thought in his lead paragraph.

      4) Just because an author’s oeuvre is substantial and important, that doesn’t entitle him or her to a pass when there are clear issues in the quality of a current piece of work. In fact, it could be argued, expectations for the level of quality and clarity from highly accomplished people should be higher.

      5) I take it seriously — not personally — when professional communicators who pride themselves on authority and credibility are sloppy and cavalier. Maybe that’s not entirely objective, but then I didn’t claim to be objective. Further, is objectivity even a requirement of citizen journalism and social media discourse? Even subjective opinions can be valid — and sometimes they’re even more interesting.

      Comment by commercialspeech — September 30, 2009 @ 10:56 pm | Reply

      • Very well put, commercialspeech! Using a trade publication as a way to air a personal grievance thinly veiled as an “advice column” is bad enough. To do so, in such a sloppy, poorly structured way in an industry of communications is irresponsible at best. What I had taken away from his article was that the perpetrators of snake oil he partnered with were in the Dachis Group, and now that he had seen the error of his ways, he left them for Edelman Digital.

        Comment by John Kreese — October 1, 2009 @ 6:04 am

  6. actually, you are right. it was a pretty unfair shot I took at Armano. Considering his full body of work, I should be more on-message with my assessments. I just have a hard time hearing about from him about things that sound hypocritical in my estimation.

    Comment by Armano-ed Out — September 30, 2009 @ 3:58 pm | Reply

  7. I was going to take the day off from blogging today, there are too many prospects out there to reach at the start of Q4, but after revisiting this blog and seeing all the replies I felt compelled to add my 2 cents.

    I agree with the comment if you are looking for credit on models, process or even Social Business Design then slap a big “C” on it and have people pay you. Nothing could be more true.

    I believe everyone is guilty of stealing thoughts and ideas from others. If we didn’t then would we really be building knowledge? Didn’t Kobe Bryant model his career after Jordan and Jordan after the one before him? All of them building on the tricks, moves and work of the previous. Especially in an industry that is this new. I wouldn’t always call it stealing, more or less it’s understanding someones thoughts and building on those with thoughts of your own. After sharing a brief conversation with Armano I got a sense that he is in favor of anything that will possibly benefit social media and our industry, which is refreshing.

    I mean, if he’s at Blogworld next week promoting social media – doesn’t that benefit all of us?

    But, there’s a lot of other themes going on in the main post and the replies on this blog.

    Theme #1
    I agree with commercialspeech that the way Dachis Group is going about social business design is a little backdoor-ish. There’s a lot of people that have been doing social media strategy for a while and seeing Dachis Group come in and take the mantle after purchasing Headshift is a hard pill to swallow. It reminds me a lot of when web design started taking shape and Ernst & Young bought few design firms and formed an offshoot called DareStep. Like web design in the late 90’s the undercurrent in social media is changing and I think some social media experts / business owner are getting a little edgy.

    Theme #2
    A lot of shots at Armano and Kim, is it fair? Probably not, but I guess if you are making a name for yourself you have to take the good with the bad. Sorry Peter, but I think you are pretty headstrong in an industry that is still very new (you need to relax a bit, the fact that you are calling out some guy in Austin to a face to face says to me that you take this personal – and to quote Donald Trump, “it’s just business”). A while agao I asked your to write a guest spot on my blog because I enjoyed some of your analysis – your response was “No” because I was a Yankees fan. Come on man, we are all in this together. To, Armano – I wish we all had the power of limitless funds from Jeff Dachis to journey across the globe to promote social media, but keep up the good work.

    Theme #3
    The power of the medium is huge, the fact that this conversation continues and has jumped around from blog to blog and then off to Twitter and then back here is testament to this industry.

    Ladies and gentlemen let’s play nice and work on getting work.

    back to to prospecting

    Comment by mikey7321 — October 2, 2009 @ 12:53 pm | Reply

  8. […] Chris Brogan, Don Quixote, linkbaiting, Peter Kim, Rupert Murdoch, teasers, Victorian novels At Peter Kim’s urging, I read an old Chris Brogan post about linkbaiting. If Kim meant it to be an indictment of some […]

    Pingback by A SHOCKING Tale of LINKBAITING, in Which the Perpetrator CONFESSESS ALL « Commercial Speech — October 5, 2009 @ 8:59 am | Reply

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