Yes Virginia, There Are Social Media EXPERTS

(Originally published on on August 14, 2009)

I’ve been thinking about the whole “there’s no such thing as social media experts” argument lately.

I’ve decided it’s wrong. It’s utter crap. I no longer believe it, and think the people who believe it are just parroting someone else they heard say it and thought it sounded cool.

We’ve heard this “no such thing” argument from a lot of people, including me, who all sound like a bunch of 8-year-olds fighting on the playground.

“Nuh-uh! Social media isn’t even 10,000 hours old. Malcolm Gladwell says you have to have 10,000 hours of experience to be an expert!”

Fair enough. Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that if you want to have a true mastery of a skill, you need 10,000 hours of work, practice, and study in that field.

However, keep in mind that this is to be a superstar in your field. The Michael Jordans, the Peyton Mannings, the Tiger Woods. If you want to be that good, then yes, you have to have 10,000 hours or more of practice.

But what about to be just “decent?” To be better than most? You don’t have to be better than everyone, you just have to be better than your clients, your colleagues, or the people who just invited you to speak to their trade association for a few thousand bucks. (Do you really want to tell those guys you’re not really an expert?)

Think about it. Do you truly have 10,000 hours of experience in your chosen field? If you’re a public speaker, have you given 10,000 1-hour speeches? If you’re in public relations and you consider yourself a good press release writer, have you truly written press releases for 10,000 hours? And how many years would it take to rack up 10,000 hours of experience as a professional photographer? (Measure it in 1/60th of a second increments.)

Let’s face it, there aren’t that many experts in any field. The 10,000 hour commandment we’ve all accepted as gospel from St. Malcolm is not appropriate for us.

My friend Doug Karr decided it was a load of bullshit last month, and has a new definition for an expert.

Peter Shankman has a big list about ways to tell if your social media expert is not really an expert. (My favorite: 5. Everything they learned about social media they learned by reading blog posts (i.e. no application). You can learn a ton about sex from reading Kinsey’s manuals, but I’d still rather be with someone who has some practical experience.

So I think we need a new standard when calling ourselves an expert, whether it’s social media, public relations, photographer, etc. And it’s a simple, 4-question survey. If you can answer yes to all four of these questions, you’re an expert. If you can’t, well, then get back to work until you can.

  1. Do you know more about your tool/method/equipment than most people? Would you be graded on the 90th percentile or even 95th percentile in terms of knowledge?
  2. Can you speak intelligently about the application and usage of that tool/method/equipment? Are you asked to give presentations and/or teach others about it?
  3. Have you written extensively about that tool/method/equipment? Have you published articles, blog posts, or even books on the subject? Do you have an extensive body of work that demonstrates your knowledge?
  4. Are you generally recognized by your peers as having some authority and credibility in this subject? Does your name come up frequently when someone asks, “who knows a lot about?”

If you can’t answer yes to these questions, it doesn’t matter how many hours you’ve spent on that subject. I can think of six people who I would gladly hang the label “social media expert” on, because they can answer “hell, yes!” to each of these questions.

To the people who put “social media expert” in the same “no such thing” camp as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, get over yourselves. Just because no one is recognizing you as an expert doesn’t mean you have to get all snarky about the ones who really are.

I’m with you when it comes to booting out the so-called experts who have only been using Facebook for six months, and that’s to play Pirate Clan. But when you’ve got people who are truly well-versed on the tools, don’t give me this “10,000 hour” bullshit when it just doesn’t apply in this case.

It doesn’t matter if these tools are less than five years old. It’s not the tool that matters. The tool is useless and pointless, and it doesn’t make you an expert.

Knowing what messages to send and how your message and those tools will affect a group (social psychology) is where the expertise lies. In a few days, I’ll be writing about how knowing how to use the tools is not nearly as important as knowing what messages to send and the social psychology of a group is where the true expertise lies.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency in Indianapolis, IN. He co-authored three social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (2nd ed., 2012; Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.


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