Social Media Sucks (for Brands)

Danielle Gillespie
4 min readApr 9, 2021


Get off that demonic treadmill. Your business does not have to be a slave to social media to thrive.

I just finished an executive education class called Social Media Strategy: Creating Engagement, Insight, and Action taught by professor Sinan Aral who also wrote the book The Hype Machine.

I took the class because I thought I didn’t really understand how to leverage social media for business. I thought social media for business was a complete waste of time, money and energy; mostly because it frustrated me and I ran out of interest before I could realize any meaningful results. I thought that if I took a class, the mysteries of social media would be unravelled.

I was wrong.

To be clear: the class was really good. But, everything I had discovered as a bumbling amateur (and I thought could not possibly be right) turned out to be right.

I love the phrase, The Hype Machine, it’s an apt description of most social media channels. Millions of people competing for minuscule amounts of attention by propagating sensationalized media in tiny bites. It’s a kind of demonic treadmill whereby, you have to be continually and epically engaged to ensure your content is being served up to others. You can never get off the treadmill or you will be ruthlessly ejected from the machine.

This relentless slog is compounded by the fact that, oftentimes, in order to be seen, you have to spend a ridiculous amount of money to promote your page and boost your posts. In fact, there is an entire industry of people whose single purpose is to try to reduce your cost per click while iteratively searching for an engaged audience. What happens the minute you stop paying the consultant and the advertising dollars? You realize you’ve made no material gain in authority, authenticity, or brand loyalty. It’s ridiculous.


I’ve spent a lot of time and money chasing success on the socials. Only once did I find one person who, after about 4 months was able to create a moderately successful ad campaign (that’s 4 months at $5k per month experimenting and $3k per month on ads — not pretty math).

So, the point of the class I took was to help us mere mortals understand how the hype machine works, seemingly making us better equipped for success on the social channels. I’m not sure that was my take-away but I did learn two interesting nuggets that I may explore:

Referral Marketing

Referral, or word-of-mouth, marketing is a way to get your biggest fans to help spread the word about your brand. Word-of-mouth referrals drive way more impressions, clicks and conversions that paid promotion because they are authentic and originating from real people with genuinely trustworthy opinions.

The key to this strategy is to allow your ambassadors (your best customers) to give something of value to their friends. So, if you’re selling the worlds best pop rocks by subscription, allow your ambassadors to send one free month of pop rocks to their friends. Your ambassadors will get a hit of dopamine and their friends will receive a vetted recommendation.


As a regular person, the concept of influencers makes me want to roll my eyeballs into the back of my head (a completely different rant for another day). However, startups with a limited reach, may be trying to find inventive ways to expose themselves to established tight-knit communities. One possible way to achieve this is to collaborate with a nano-influencer. Nano-influencers have approximately 1000–5000 followers and it is reported that they can have more impact on their audience than influencers with a much larger following. Nano-influencers have established authenticity with their community; they create strong connections with their followers through personalized communication and engagement. Nano-influencers are often hyper focused on a niche topic.

I would start by searching for hashtags related to the startup or brand. Find people who are routinely posting, respond to the comments on their posts and have a good ratio of followers to engagement (ie 20k followers and 2 likes is NOT good). Ask that person if they would consider sponsored promotion. Or, better yet, turn them into one of your best customers by giving your product to them for free.

End Game

In both cases, even with a limited budget, you can get started with good old fashioned brute force. If you have some money to spend, there are platforms and on-line tools to help with these strategies. Your ultimate goal is to get a handful of people who love you, not a thousand who like you. The people who love you are going to be the best marketing agents money can buy.

If anyone has any hot marketing tips for new brands, please feel free to drop a comment below.



Danielle Gillespie

Defining the intersection between technology and human connection (I also help entrepreneurs build rock solid tech products: