Shiny Object Syndrome Hurts Us All

By: Guest | March 6, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Doug Haslam.

During the last several years as social media emerged, we in the communications industry have railed against “Shiny Object Syndrome.”

Well, many of us have.

Others have gleefully promoted it.

To you I say, “stop it.”

Shiny Object Syndrome hurts us, and I hate being lumped in with a train of fools. 

We follow dubious statistics

Say there is a Facebook for cats.

(Please tell me there’s no Facebook for cats. I don’t think I could go on). Also, say that Facebook for cats is the “fastest growing network” in some narrow-slice demographic, or is the leader in a selectively-edited list of social networks (refers more traffic to sites than the Facebooks for turtles, hamster, and kimodo dragons combined!).

Look at that last statistic. Do people think we are morons who would lap that up?

The answer is a resounding “yes.”

Look what we have done with Pinterest. The networks’s fast growth is most often wrapped up in the proclamation that Pinterest refers more traffic than YouTube, Google Plus, and LinkedIn combined! (Exclamation point added by me, but implied strongly everywhere.)

I also wear shoes on my feet more often than on my hands, head, and shoulders combined.

It amazes me how few people noted the absence of Facebook and Twitter, the reigning monarchs of social media referral traffic, as we shelve better judgment to fit the narrative the Pinterest is All That.

Not to pick on Pinterest, but that’s the one getting all the attention now – both warranted and unwarranted.

Shiny Object Syndrome exposes a mindset that reflects poorly on other parts of our business.

Are we simply short-sighted in all aspects of our communications plans?

Are we content to be reactive freak-out artists who don’t take a long-term planning approach to how  we present ourselves and our clients?

If we are jumping on board the latest shiny object without doing our due diligence, then we are saying we run off half-cocked in all our programs– or that we are constitutionally unable of being a calming influence on our clients, who often breathlessly exclaim to their agencies they simply must put up a page representing their vitamin supplements for seniors on the new, hot, “Facebook for cats.”

Don’t laugh, I’ll bet someone would try that.

Shiny Object Syndrome makes us look like idiots.

Take the long view: Does Pinterest work for you? Great, go for it. Are you bending over backwards to make your program fit into the new Shiny Object like Cinderella’s stepsisters trying to cram their feet into the glass slipper? The results may be just as bloody if you choose poorly.

We’re better than this. I know we need to act fast, but we also need to breathe and get it right before we move in.

Doug Haslam, a 20-year communication professional, is with Voce Communications, a Porter Novelli Company, where he leads social media programs for major brands. Find him on Twitter @DougH or at his blog

  • Amen, brother!  Testify!

  • HeatherTweedy

    Love it.  Thank you for this post. Shiny Object Syndrome (love the name) plagues sane minded practitioners who get lumped in with those who chase every new online tool, many of which end up fizzling out.   I’m glad you brought up that clients can be afflicted, as well.  It can be very trying to convince a client that they don’t need/want the latest shiny platform!  
    Pinterest is actually a fantastic example to use.  It is certainly a powerful tool for some brands, but not all.  Plus, after one of the largest subscriber growth rates in online history, people are just now taking the time to look at the copyright implications and other use issues.

  • juliepippert

    So… sometimes you need a flathead and sometimes a Philips head and sometimes both might work, but use the one that works best for your screw? Radical. Logical.

  • jenzings

    I hope people read this and take the advice. At some point the constant running from one shiny object to the next is going to cause some businesses to throw up their collective hands and say “forget it. No more of this, we’ll stick with Facebook and Twitter”–which would be a shame if another tool actually makes more sense.
    PS–there’s a Catbook app…

    •  @jenzings There’s also a juggalo social network ( no, noone has asked me to set up a presence there yet. My clients are pretty sane. 

    •  @jenzings The reality is that no one wants to be behind the times, so businesses are pressured to jump into the next ‘big thing’ that has the social media world all swoony over.  
      Be cautious but so much so that you miss out on the opportunity. 🙂 

  • ginidietrich

    @CraigMcBreen Craig. Hi.

    • CraigMcBreen

      @ginidietrich Hey, Gini. Trying my best to avoid the Shiny Objects 😉 Warming up in Chitown yet? Is it totally uncool to say “Chitown”? 😉

      • ginidietrich

        @CraigMcBreen You can say Chitown. Or the Windy City. We won’t make fun of you. For that.

        • CraigMcBreen

          @ginidietrich I guess I’m just giving you more ammunition! I was just dorking out a bit.

        • ginidietrich

          @CraigMcBreen LOL! Anything to find to make fun of you about, I’ll take!

        • CraigMcBreen

          @ginidietrich Ready to drop my first video on the blog. That will be good fodder 🙂 😉

        • ginidietrich

          @CraigMcBreen I can’t wait!

        • CraigMcBreen

          @ginidietrich Can’t wait to laugh? 😉

        • ginidietrich

          @CraigMcBreen I can’t wait to see you on video (and maybe laugh a little)

        • CraigMcBreen

          @ginidietrich Well it’s up in my sidebar. It’s a start. Be kind 😉 Seriously all constructive advice is welcome!

  • Here’s another way to look at it:
    I did a google news search on “groupon” and got this:
    It’s not likely to exist a year from now, perhaps even six months from now.  It’s trading at 18.12, 10% off its IPO price and 31% off its peak on the same day – just 4 months into its existence.
    How many people were mesmerized by this particular shiny object?

    •  @wabbitoid That’s a good one- I wasn’t even thinking of that particular example, but from the small business side, I have heard many examples of companies getting sucked in and losing a pile of dough – or even closing- with nothing to show for it in the way of lasting new customers. That’s not necessarily always true, but a note of caution for yet another shiny

  • The real problem I see with Shiny Object Syndrome is that it fuels the lazy part of us that likes to do things half-assed. People jump into a media and don’t commit to maximizing it and get lackluster results and this perks their ears for the next tool that’s “poised to crush” the one they’re using that’s proving itself to not be as good as the hype said it was, not because of the tools inadequacy but as a result of an inadequacy in effort and faith. 
    The same delusion happens in the world of information products sold by internet marketing gurus. People either never apply what they bought or apply what they bought half-asssed and are then primed and ready for the bigger, better, faster way of achieving the result they want.
    Thanks Doug for reminding me of my tendency to want to do things half-assed! I need all the reminders my ADD mind can get! 🙂

    •  @Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2 This is probably the wrong place to admit that I drafted this post in less time than it should have taken, while I was supposed to be doing something else 😉

  • TheRedDogInn

    @ginidietrich that’s such a great line! SQUIRREL!!!

    • ginidietrich

      @TheRedDogInn LOL! It makes me laugh

  • jckreidel

    @jocmbarnett @dough Darn right. Practically need new glasses from SOS fatigue. Plus have emerging phobia of a Kitty Facebook. TY for that.

    • jocmbarnett

      @jckreidel @DougH Sorry what were we talking about? I have 12 browser tabs open, blog edits going, & smartphone is buzzing … ooo, look!

  • ginidietrich

    @HeidiEKMassey I only let him because @lisagerber made me

    • HeidiEKMassey

      @ginidietrich Do u do everything @LisaGerber tells u to do? She’s from Idaho-no wonder you like her. What is an Ida Ho anyway?

      • lisagerber

        @heidiekmassey Yes! She does do everything I tell her to! @ginidietrich She’s a very good girl that way. 🙂

  • pocojuan

    @ginidietrich @dough not only look like idiots bt increased dopamine & messed up serotonin Cusinart th frontal lobes loose critical thinking

  • I remember when SOS meant you were in trouble. No, wait. Still does. 🙂 good reads.

  • geoffliving

     @dough Well said, Doug. When we first saw new socnets like Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, Digg, etc. it was  all so new. No one knew what was happening. We were trying to figure it out, but then technologies started to bomb… like Plurk.  I remember the first major case of this that caught me off-guard, which was the iPhone app. Every brand needed an app, no matter what you did. Now, don’t we feel bad for all of the small businesses that wasted their damn time on apps? 
    Shiny Object Syndrome is a hype machine that serves VC spinning off start-ups. Other than that, we all pay the price, and yes, look stupid. Thanks, Doug.

  • alizasherman

    Doug, the Facebook for Cats is Catster… – I kid you not. 😉

    •  @alizasherman Curse you!

  • With Pinterest, practically everyday there’s another article saying how game-changing Pinterest is and how it refers more traffic than XYZ. Pinterest has been around for about a year, and even the earliest brands on the site have only been there for about six months. That’s simply not long enough to get thorough, well-defined case studies and statistics. What’s even worse than the “game-changing claims and the misleading stats” is the fact that there are already books on Pinterest. Amazon’s already selling a “Pinterest for Dummies.” Seriously? 
    It’s great to experiment and to educate our clients about Pinterest. But, I think so often so many of us get wrapped in the newness that we forget to research and think critically about what this platform could bring for us. 

  • Elaine_Fogel

    It’s so impossible to keep up anyway, Doug. What happens too frequently is marketers getting fixated on the next shiny object, without integrating new tactics with their marketing strategy.

  • For those wondering about the actual complete referral stats, these look interesting:
    Facebook refers >7x over Pinterest. Twitter is a lot closer than I suspected.
    For those wondering if I am picking on cat people:

    • (oops– HT to Steve Garfield for the 1st link above)

  • shelholtz

    For what it’s worth, this is a shiny object:, there’s nothing wrong with shiny objects, as long as they have value for your (or your organization). As for Pinterest (and the several knockoffs it has inspired, like Gentlemint,  Catalog, WeHeartIt, Jux, Fancy, etc.), these tap into a basic human socialization activity that none of the other longer-term social networks do. Yes, you can share photos in albums on Facebook and Flickr, but these come closer to the clipped items you stick on your refrigerator with a magnet or carry in a small photo album (as my very digitally-savvy wife does in her purse) so she can show pictures of the kids to whomever she encounters. Call it scrapbooking (there’s one service that’s more into collage), but the appeal is undeniable and not duplicated on other tagging, bookmarking or curation sites. Should every organization use it? Not if they can’t figure out how it helps them achieve measurable objectives. But dismissing it could be a mistake, and failing to get creative in your approach to it could be a bigger one. (You HAVE seen the Boston Celtics’ pinboards, haven’t you, Doug?)

    •  @shelholtz I’m not advocating dismissing things– it’s our job to be curious and check all of these things out. But the rush to judgment, even a positive one, creates an unthinking mob mentality and gives credit where none is (yet) due. If something works, it works.
      Yes, I saw the Celtics’ Pinterest page, and like the use- I also note the 1,200 followers they have there- less than 10% of average attendance for any single game, and the player photo pins have about 11 likes each and fewer repins (which makes me wonder about some of the data being flung around like so much orangutan fesces). 

      •  @shelholtz (reverse the repins and likes in my statement about the celtics players). 

        • shelholtz

           @dough “With all the indicators in terms of buzz, I have a hard time believing it won’t establish itself as a major player,” says Peter Stringer, the Boston Celtics’ director of interactive media. — From the Mashable piece on sports teams latching onto Pinterest (
          We don’t disagree, Doug. I’m not sure I’d worry about big numbers if the people who are repinning Celtics material are superfans using the service to reinforce their passion and give them something to share with others who might be induced to buy a ticket to a game or a t-shirt. I wrote a post a week or so ago in response to a study that said the top 200 brands on Facebook were generating interaction of less than half of one percent. My headline was something like, “Half of one percent of 28.7 million is still a lot.” Have you read “The Science of Social” yet? It’s short and it’s free on the website. 

  • Coffeygirl

    thank you!! @spsherer @amyvernon @dough @spinsucks

  • Hi Doug 😀 I like this post and I see your point. 
    FWIW I’d like to quote the blog post (that I wrote) that the Mashable post (“more than Google +, Linkedin and Youtube combined) was based on. So I agree with your point that it does depend on your audience. To communicate that I not only encouraged people to look at their own content metrics, but also told them how to do it: 
    “It’s the end of the month and the perfect time to dig into your analytics and measure the effectiveness of your content efforts so far this year. You may notice new trends in keywords or traffic sources, or get validation on a current content strategy you have to drive traffic. Learn about where your content gets shared the most with your Shareaholic website profile, and find out which of those sources drives referrals under Traffic Sources/Sources/Referrals in Google Analytics. ”
    And per Twitter:
    Janet Aronica
    Head of Marketing (and headline writer, collector of metrics and chart maker :D)

    •  @JanetAronica Thanks Janet- and saw that updated chart. Been hearing that Twitter’s referral data can be unreliable, but taking it at face, this seems to be bad news for Twitter and G+ more than it is good news for Pinterest. All in how you look at it I guess.
      That said, I have been hearing anecdotally that Pinterest is indeed very hot for referral traffic, which I’m guessing is truer for certain types of businesses and content than it is for others. Guess we’ll see, but that’ why we look- and look critically- at the numbers

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