The Drive-Thru Mentality Of Social Media


I caught a bit of flack yesterday for my social media peeps after tweeting a post on why Quora and social media experts don’t mix. The post (which, admittedly, is more than a bit defensive) proposed one theory as to why Quora has received a lot of backlash from social media folks. James Hritz suggested it’s because social media experts aren’t used to actually investing in long-form social conversations. For all their unicorn talk about engagement and connecting, all they’re really doing is committing reputation arbitrage — following thousands of people on Twitter, retweeting the posts of the Social Media Elite, and gaining credibility through ‘costless’ and ‘riskless’ transactions.


But, okay, he maybe kind of has a point, doesn’t he?

Now before you scroll down to the comments to tell me why you hate Quora, realize I don’t care. I don’t care if you love Quora or if you’d prefer it die a thousand fiery deaths. That’s not the point of this post. The point is to take a look at how we’re using social media and to ask ourselves if it lines up with our expectations for what we’d like to get out of it. Got it? Relax.

Back to James.

In his post, James seems to argue that there are two different types of social media users. Here’s my representative of what it sounds like James is implying:

Social Media Type 1: A person who invests significant time in providing resources, building relationships, and partaking in full-length, ongoing conversations. [This is a prime Quora user, says James.]

Social Media Type 2: A person who participates in engagement drive-bys, talking to as many as people as possible in the shortest amount of time possible, and sharing lots of content from already-established experts. [This person hangs on the Twitter and has been labeled a “social media expert”.]

Drop the “expert” labels and just look at strategies.  Be honest – which strategy sounds most like yours? If you’re a service provider, which one sounds most like what you do for clients?

Because of the nature of my job, I get an opportunity to speak to a lot of business owners on the topic of social media and about the social media plans they’ve put in place. Most of their plans sound a bit like this:

  • Spend 10 minutes on Twitter every day.
  • During that time look for valuable content from A-listers to retweet.
  • Spend the remainder of your time trying to engage important people.

Yeah, that’s not social media. That’s lunch time at the high school cafeteria. No one’s impressed, nor eating the meatloaf.

There are many different ways to use social media and you can use it however you see fit. If you’re a larger brand and you want to use Twitter as a broadcast medium, you’re free to do that. But if you’re a small- to medium-sized business, then the drive-thru approach to social probably isn’t going to work for you. It’s going to leave you wondering why no one cares about your content and why they don’t want to talk to you.  When James calls people out for acting like this, he’s right. Of course, that has nothing to do with why people don’t like Quora.  Or Quora, at all.

Long form social media doesn’t have to be the one site James says it is.  Long form social contact may be interacting with someone on your blog. It might be the Twitter conversation you have with the same person every three days because you know you have to touch bases with them. It may be having regular discussions on your Facebook page. It might using a question and answer site to really establish thought leadership. The service you use doesn’t matter, what matters is that you’re using social media to be social. At a recent social media breakfast event in Schenectady, NY one of the speakers stated that people need to know how much you care before they care how much you know.

Live that.

For me, it’s not about whether you should be on Quora or LinkedIn or Twitter or any other site. It’s about having creating a satellite community where your audience knows can go to hear from you and where you can spend actual time providing value to someone. It’s where you offer more than a drive-thru experience, shouting at people who you’ll never hear from again.  Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation, we just keep coming up with new names for it.

  • It’s the difference between short-form vs long-form social media.
  • It’s social media automation vs actual participation.
  • It’s being a passive social media users vs an active one.

As Loren Feldman would say, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you call it or what platforms you use – if you want to see ROI from social media, you have to stop treating it like a drive-thru experience. Spend real time, having real conversations, with real people.  Yeah, it takes more time and maybe more work, but the pay off is far greater and filled with way less filler.

Your Comments

  • Frank Reed

    This question is going to burn on for a long time especially since social media will be evolving at a rapid pace in the foreseeable future. Long form or short form or whatever form it is about ROI and that is measured differently for everyone. The question that arises from that is whether people are actually measuring at all. I know I could use some serious work on my own take on the ROI of my social media ‘efforts’. Trouble is that it’s often a moving target but that is likely more a function of what I am trying to get from social media activity v. any change in the medium.

    So what am I saying? Who the heck knows! Great post though Lisa and keep telling it like it is. It’s better to speak the truth than to play social media ‘kiss up’. The payoffs on the truth are much higher and longer lasting.

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks, Frank. I think you’re right in that this conversation probably isn’t going away for awhile. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters what type of engagement or tactics you use, as long as you understand what you’re getting. We’re usually looking to make an impression on someone or to be remembered – is what you’re doing worthy of that or are you just popping in and out hoping it’s enough?

      Honestly, I was a bit surprised by the feedback I received when I tweeted that post. I thought it brought up a larger issue but people were far more focused on someone being mean to social media experts.

      • Frank Reed

        @Lisa – lol – if there was ever a ‘thin skinned’ bunch it’s the social media experts crowd. I think most are insecure to begin with ( I know I can be at times but I have never called myself an expert either) and are happy with the fact that they can interact with another ‘person’ at all!

        Hey, if they aren’t mad at you then maybe you’re not doing the right thing, right? Keep poking them and making them think. It’s good for us all.

        You are very mean, by the way, so that’s just stating the obvious :-). Keep up the great work!

        • Lisa Barone

          Haha, I think you’re right about the social media expert group. They’re just so excited for human contact, even if it’s not IRL. I have to imagine Scoble wasn’t voted homecoming king of his high school.

  • David Hartstein

    As always, thanks for a great and thought-provoking article Lisa. In general I certainly agree about the benefits of true engagement using various social media channels. But what about a small business that doesn’t have a dedicated social media person? Many small businesses find it incredibly difficult to come up with enough time to simply meet the needs of their clients much less spend a lot of time on social media. I agree that you get what you put in with regards to social media, but this often seems like a difficult feat for small businesses to achieve.

    • Lisa Barone

      It can definitely be difficult to factor in time, I know that’s something our social media clients often express when they come to us. I think it all comes down to scheduling it in like everything else. If you don’t make it a priority, you’ll never have time for it. Make it part of your day and part of your work flow.

    • rick

      David – that issue is something I hear a lot from smaller clients too and I usually try to remind them that social media is merely a set of tools to allow them to accomplish two main goals – marketing themselves and be engaged with their customers. As a marketing tool it’s one of the tools, not the whole quiver. If they don’t have any real marketing plan then yes, SM can be hard to get their hands around because they have nothing to fit it into. As a customer engagement tool, well, they talk to customers in their shops, right? And on the phones? Ok then…

      An example I like to use when talking to local folks is that of The Roxy, an LA club that has used Twitter and SM to engage not only their customers but also the businesses in the area on the Strip including their competitors. It’s a great example of how actually being social and engaging with people can pay off. Link to the radio piece I first heard about this on here:

  • bluephoenixnyc

    Lisa–I appreciate this post, not because of the Quora vs. Other Social Media People angle, but because it critically defines the role of people who are dealing with brand management as the social media liaisons for their companies. Social media is first and foremost, “social” and somehow to the many on Twitter, this fact gets drowned out in the need to appease C-levels and A-listers.

    My favorite has to be postively ID’ing social media managers whose tactics are little more than the premise of ‘Mean Girls’ played out over Twitter. I mean that might work if it’s A-lister-to-A-lister, but for every C-level out there, there are probably a billion (OK, fine, not so many) folks doing social media management. And for the little people at the bottom, it makes sense for us to connect and forge relationships based on common interests and goals. It’s not one-sided. The potential to learn is exponential.

    Anyway, thank you for this post!

    • Lisa Barone

      Great comment, thanks!

      I definitely agree that social media often feels a bit like Mean Girls, where we’re only talking to people because we have a very clear agenda. And as powerful as those A-listers can be, they’re often very hard to really reach because they’re so swarmed by everyone else trying to get their attention. Instead of throwing yourself at them, maybe see who’s hanging around the pond in your niche – potential clients, partners, contacts. There’s an entire social media word of people who have less than 200 followers but who could be WAY more influential to your business.

      • bluephoenixnyc


        I think an undesirable side effect of this kind of…sycophantic (is that the right word?) mentality is that many of the social media managers swarming around the A-listers tend to ignore each other. And that totally thwarts any kind of potential innovation or synergy that could be very lucrative for two companies that may not be brandname enough to win huge accounts just yet…

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    I can say that I don’t fall completely in any of the 2 user-types. I produce content, I like to have a meaningful conversation rather than a “thumb up”, and I don’t care much for social media superstars. But I re-tweet stuff I find interesting as well.
    Overall I think I am more of a long-term social media user rather than a lunch-time one, even if I admit social media is not my entire life, and I don’t spend all day producing content or interacting with people.

    • Lisa Barone

      Fair point. There are definitely more than just two types of social users, but I would have been here all day trying to break them all day. :) I think you really get to the heart of it though – are you a long-term user or someone there for the quick hit.

  • Dana Lookadoo

    OK people, Lisa has thrown down the gauntlet that should make many of us, including self, think about “engagement” and what it means.

    Drive-thru is often associated with fast food. Such “fare” simply doesn’t have the flavor or nutitional value of a baked meal that took time to prepare and cook. 

    Lisa, your metaphor identifies a sad reality. Quora or no Quora, we’re rushing and lowering the quality of our social media meals and not taking the time to sit down and eat dinner with others either. Conversations? Agree. We need to slow down & take time to fully engage. It can’t be auto tweeted.

    • Lisa Barone

      Love, love, love this! Yes. Exactly that! :)

      The idea of slowing down is a good one. Social media should not be speed dating. If it’s possible for you to automate everything you’re doing with social media, there’s a very good chance you’re doing it wrong.

  • Tim Staines

    Although I believe there are more than two Social Media Types (or maybe I’m just not an SM Type), I generally agree with the sentiment of this post. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few SM business strategies recently, so I think companies large and small are starting to “get it” more and more.

    My local bar gets it (for the most part):
    And B & H Photo does a nice job as well:

    • Lisa Barone

      Cool. Thanks for the real life examples, Tim. Those are always appreciated. It’s really nice to see what happens when companies “get” why they’re in social media and what they’re really doing. It’s so much more than just “spend 10 minutes on twitter, talk to the right people”.

      Every time I check into my gym for kickboxing I notice their special offering people a free class if they check in on FourSquare. Hitting people (no pun intended) at the right time and giving them an offer they can use is a great way to provide value. Similar to that dinner special from the that local pub.

  • Maurice

    well the problem with quora and linkinedin (to a lesser extent) is that you get a lot of unconscious incompetents with no real domain knowledge who over power those who do.

    And recreating the secret bury brigades that caused digg so much pain is not the way to sort the problem.

  • Chris Miller

    I follow @Pink – she never replies to me. I follow @LisaBarone, she replies once in a blue moon. I follow @Search_Beacon and he almost always replies.

    Guess where by fan order is? I still heart Pink even if she never replies. I know she doesn’t have time to reply to me. I still like to twitter stalk Lisa even though she doesn’t know who I am. I follow Search Beacon because I’m rooting for the local Seattle startup, and would still do so if he stopped replying about free bear at social media meetups.

    I’m not everybody, but I’m pretty low maintenance – I think most real customers are. It’s the social media attention whores who think people honestly care about what flavor Kool Aid their drinking.

    • Lisa Barone

      THEY GIVE AWAY FREE BEARS IN SEATTLE?! I’d follow them too! ;)

      You bring up an interesting point though.

      I started responding to you when I began to remember you. How did you get my attention? At first you did it by commenting I had jumped the shark and that you didn’t find me as useful now as when I worked for Bruce Clay.

      And then you did it again by commenting on Twitter that many of my tweets seemed like I was hitting on girls. Both were memorable and it’s how, over time, I’ve been able to put a name to your face, which makes me more likely to respond to you now or help you or when you ask a question on Twitter. I remember not too long ago you were asking for social media peeps who used Tumblr. I remembered that tweet, found someone who was, and sent it over to you. That right there is how social media works. But you have to put in the time to get on someone’s (anyone’s) radar.

      • Chris Miller

        Wow, I’m impressed. Especially since each one of those topics was under different Twitter handles ;)

        Ok, I’ll accedentally tie in a Quora comment. Quora is great, probably the best platform yet for this kind of social networking… But it’s hardly original. My first and longest friendship/iGirlfriend I met on IRC. The Q&A of Quora is just a front end for relationship building… It’s important, but in the same way beer is important to a bar.

        Now, I would divide this as a seperate functionality from social media marketing. I feel warm fuzzies that you remember me, so I’ll go back to Pink. I want to know when she comes out with a new song. I want to hear her witty canned go-girl comments, even if they are formulated. I don’t care – because I’m a fan. I think it’s cute of @RussellCrowe to make such an effort of engaging, but I don’t really see it making enough impact on the bottom line to be worth it.

        Moral of the story: methods are like shoes.

        • Lisa Barone

          Well, I mean, none of social media is particularly original. What are we doing here? Talking to people? Offering good customer service? Yes, revolutionary. And yet people think the rules have completely changed simply because we’re using new tools to use the same old thing.

          Re: your Pink example. You’re talking about big brands vs small businesses. It’s cute when Russel Crowe barely engages, but it’s less “cute” when that bakery down the street fails to respond when you ask what GD time they close so you can get your cannoli fix. Different brands can get away with different things, just like different groups want different things. Key is to match what you give to what people want. Therein lies marketing. ;)

    • Sam

      Free bear!! I’m so there… :)

      Chris: Thank you for all your Twitter support during our crazy journey towards our beta launch! We’re rooting for you too and are stoked to be able to connect with people like you! Go home team Seattle Startups!! Hope to meet you in person sometime.. Next Seattle Tweetup perhaps?


      • Sam


        Lisa: Great post! Very insightful, thanks for the great read!


        • Chris Miller

          I forgot to clarify that the free bear typo was yours, not mine ;) if you don’t stalk Lisa and her outspoken self, I suggest bookmarking this blog – you are more her demographic than I am (I mostly just cause trouble here)

          Come meet some cool tweeps at @IgniteSea on Thursday ;)

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    Oh noez! The Lisa cuts the one-side-or-the-other fat off the Quora debate! Which let you get right to the heart, as always.

    my first dip was Linked in. While I was there in an engaged way, I truly engaged. Got myself 18 best answers in search marketing, and 11 in internet marketing along with 26 others in various categories. Built connections. Interacted. From there I moved on to Twitter as my business focus shifted. Doing not so bad there. And blogging. not too bad there either.

    Sure, I maintain my LinkedIn account, and Facebook presence, have established a number of other spots under my name. Yet I only participate in any of these opportunities when I can do so in a truly engaged way. If I don’t believe in a given moment that my participation is going to be from an engaged perspective, I don’t jump in.

  • Leo

    Twitter has had a negative impact on engagement overall, and the drive-thru analogy is great.

    Thinking a 3-4 years back, when something you read grabbed you, you would discuss it on your own blog. Today, you simply “throw” that information at your Twitter followers and move on to the next bit of info you can digest as quickly as possible.

    I think is a bigger problem that simply social interaction on these sites though. The society we live in forces us to try and be everywhere at the same time (high expectations of our peers / clients) and always available (smartphones, emails etc…). The days are still only 24 hours long, and you DO need to sleep sometimes.
    Why was it ok to wait for a letter that took 1 or 2 days to arrive 15 years ago and today we complain when an email is not answered within 15 minutes? People need to relax, think and find what really matters. Is it “following” 10.000 people who will never truly matter to you, or 500 with whom you interact.

  • john Falchetto

    Thanks for this Lisa, as a small business owner the virtues of these two options are often discussed by different ‘experts’. The word ‘expert’ has always been quite surprising to me since Twitter is barely 4 years old and can someone really become an expert of anything in 4 years? This is another discussion.
    Yes, to being a real person, not to auto-dms and drive-by commenting. I don’t work in SEO, and I am not your ‘audience’ but I appreciate the frank approach you bring to the SM topics you discuss.
    Keep kicking that bag.

  • Jill Whalen

    This post can really be summed up by two words:


  • Shelly Kramer

    Great post, Lisa. It’s like the people who as “How are YOU?” and you can tell in the space of time it takes you to draw a breath that they’re not even listening. Drive thru social media is a great analogy and one we deal with on a daily basis. Everybody wants to “do” social media, yet no one wants to invest an iota of time in actually being present and doing the work that’s required to build relationships.

    I’ve learned to not waste my energies on them, as they’ll never get it. They’re just like the fat people who want to lose weight but who don’t want to take the time to diet or exercise, because there’s gotta be an easier way.

    Newsflash: as it relates to fighting fat AND social media, there IS no easy way. Except, of course, showing how much you care – by adding value – (or getting off your ass and working it off).


  • Cendrine Marrouat

    Hello Lisa:

    What a great post! Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    “Spend real time, having real conversations, with real people. Yeah, it takes more time and maybe more work, but the pay off is far greater and filled with way less filler.” Absolutely!

    I have always said that the more technology we have, the less we communicate. ..


  • Jasper

    Practical question: does twitter really allow you to “Spend real time, having real conversations, with real people.”?

    I engage with people on facebook, on blog, by email and in real life, but can’t really get there through twitter. I feel people meet each other on twitter, only to continue the actual conversation somewhere else. Accordingly, I’m a drive-by-tweeter but a pretty decent facebooker and blogger (I hope).

    Is this me, or do more people feel twitter tends to amplify the drive-Thru mentality?


    • Jill Whalen

      I’d answer yes to that. I find Twitter in some ways to be very much akin to chatrooms of old. You just get to choose those you wish to chat with.

      It can be more difficult to follow the conversation, however. Facebook does a better job at that.

  • Val @ Web Tracking Guide

    From all I hear, spam is what works best on Twitter. I think it actually makes the platform unique, how long spam has been ruling and how much people are willing to tolerate it, because so many users are also there to spam each other, in a fashionable and polite way.

  • Sandy Carter

    Lisa: I love this analogy. As I look at Social Business success, the long term mentality is a requirement. And you see the successes are those businesses that do get it. My problem is how do you convince companies to invest for the long term given we are such a quarter driven business.

    Not just for social but for all investments. Since in Social Business you DO see short term ROI from short term actions, I am trying to pull together a longer term model — or a Social Business Agenda — to map the way for businesses who are serious in the outcome of engagement.