What Does It Take to be a Social Media Expert?

My friend, Hazel Walker, wrote a blog post recently about how “Anyone With a Book Can Call Themselves an Expert,” and we were discussing it over coffee

“Uh, you know my book launch is tonight, right?”

She did know, but said it wasn’t books like mine that she was talking about, it was the self-published kind. “Anyone can self-publish a book, and anyone can regurgitate stuff someone else said. That doesn’t make them an expert,” she said.

Hazel’s gripe was about the proliferation of social media experts who are springing on the scene, armed with a few dozen hours of using the necessary tools, thinking this somehow made them an expert.

My mother, age 72, has decided that she is a social media expert. Heck why not, she uses Facebook, and has for about 6 months, she tells all her friends how to use it, when is the best time of day to use it, why it’s important to use it, and on and on. All things considered she has as much experience as many out there calling themselves an expert.

I agree with Hazel on this. Her mom notwithstanding, there are too many people who are eager to call themselves an expert when they’re not even an enthusiastic amateur. This prompts other people to rant against the faux experts (fauxperts?), which makes the real experts hesitant to adopt that mantle in the first place.

It’s a shame really.

There are some really smart, bright people who have earned the term “social media expert,” but they’ve been scared out of using it because other people are snarky, or just downright brutal, to the “fauxperts.” The real experts don’t want to get caught in the crossfire, so they eschew the title they deserve.

So what does a social media expert have that the non-expert does not have?

    1. More than five years experience in creating effective messages that educate, persuade, or inspire. The more, the better.
    2. More than five years of understanding their target market/audience (social psychology, and how their messages affect that audience.
    3. More than five years spent creating strategies and executing them. Not just executing someone else’s strategy, and doing someone else’s grunt work. You created the strategy, then you executed it.
    4. Has frequent speaking engagements to industry groups about their knowledge and experience.
    5. A lot more knowledge than their customers, including the ones that keep up with social media.
    6. A regular publishing schedule of thoughts, news, and research on a blog that’s older than a year. Even better, a regular publishing schedule of their thoughts, their news, and their research.
    7. A breadth of experiences, responsibilities, and first-hand knowledge from a variety of jobs. They don’t still have the same job they got after college, five years ago.
    8. Enough knowledge about social media message creation and social psychology that can, and hopefully does, fill a book.
    9. Paying clients.

This last point is probably the most important one. Printing out cards at a cheap overnight business card service doesn’t make you an expert. Being hired by your mom’s Pilates friend to create a Twitter account for her dried flower arrangement business doesn’t mean you have clients. You need to make a living at this. It’s not a sideline, and not a hobby. It’s not something you decided to do because you’re having trouble finding a job. It’s not a fallback option because you didn’t get into bartending school.

Also, notice I didn’t mention any specific tools, any scores, analytics, etc. For one thing, numbers can be gamed; value and reach are earned. For another, the real expert doesn’t rely on the tools, they rely on their network. And they would have that network if they were using Twitter, Facebook, or a 7-year-old email newsletter. The tools are constantly changing and evolving, some are dying, while others are growing (anyone remember AOL’s heyday?). So why put all your stock in the tool, when it’s the connections you need?

Being an expert is all about real-life experience and real-life work. It’s not about numbers and networks, it’s about what you can do with them.

I think the real social media experts need to man up (or woman up), step up, and assume the title. Don’t let the snarky people scare you off. Don’t adopt this falsely humble, “aw shucks, I’m not smart enough to be an expert” attitude. If you’ve been in the persuasion business for more than five years, you can start calling yourself an expert. Everyone else in every other field is calling themselves an expert in their job. Why should the charlatans and fakers scare you off?

They need to stop being scared off by those people who heard someone once say “there are no social media experts” and are now parroting it like it’s gospel; the people who think social media is rapidly changing, but no other industry in the world is; the people who think social media is brand new, forgetting that Facebook started in 2004, LinkedIn started in 2003, blogging has been around since 1994, and AOL was actually one of the first social media networks. Since the mid 1980s.

(And for those people who are going to say, “Nuh-uh, Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours to be an expert,” please go actually read the book. He said you need 10,000 hours to be an outlier, not an expert. The outlier is that person who is outstanding in their field — Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan, Bobby Fisher, Bill Gates — the expert is the person who knows a hell of a lot about their field, but may never rise to the level of the outliers.)

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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    About Erik Deckers

    is the President of Professional Blog Service, a ghost blogging and social media marketing agency in Indianapolis, IN. He has been blogging since 1997, and has been a published writer for more than 26 years. He is a newspaper humor columnist, appearing in 10 papers around Indiana, and in The American Reporter. Erik co-authored No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (2nd ed., 2012; Que Biz-Tech). His latest co-authored effort, The Owned Media Doctrine, was released in 2013.

    Comments

    1. I just wrote a long post in response to the criticisms Peter Shankman made in his recent diatribe against “social media experts.” It offers a different perspective on his arguments, articulates the need for social media expertise, and provides guidance for hiring individuals and organizations (consultants, contractors, and employees) to help with social media initiatives. I would love for you all to read/comment on what I wrote (esp. Erik), including a link back to this post and/or other resources you think would be valuable.

      The post is entitled “Social Media Experts: Yes, they Exist. And Yes, You Should Hire Them. But Do Your Due Diligence” and can be accessed via .

      Thanks!

      Courtney Hunt
      Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

    2. Excellent article Eric… All this reminds me of the old web development days… wow… yeah… it just hit me… I’ve been involved in something long enough for me to be part of “the old days”!

      I recall seriously disliking the term “webmaster”… (I recently resurrected an article I wrote years ago: http://williamwellsiii.blogspot.com/2011/03/webmaster-doesnt-mean-expert.html).

      I disliked the term because, for one, I always felt like I was in a “Star Wars” movie… “Luke… you’re a webmaster… use the force”… but more importantly, the term was used by so many who knew so little. Sure… they could put up a pretty web page… Whoo! Hoo! With the flowery backgrounds and embedded .wav files to provide a little music for your surfing pleasure… No “title”… (“Home” was a popular title for the page)… no meta tags… no image tagging… no SEO information what-so-ever… but they were “webmasters”.

      No… they didn’t have an ounce of “marketing” experience… thought “branding” was something only “ranchers” did… didn’t have a clue what “ROI” was… but they’d be sure to look it up because if it was cooler than “LOL”… they’d start using it in “AIM”.

      It’s frustrating to see the same thing today. “Wow! I can put up a Facebook page… and link it to Twitter! I must be a Social Media genius!”

      And Hazel’s observation is correct. Just as faux “webmasters” hurt those of us who were putting clients online for a living… so are “faux” Social Media “experts” hurting those of us who just might know a little bit about what we’re doing.

    3. Michael,

      That’s true about the Analytics, and it’s very important, but they aren’t always the best indicator. They’re a great indicator, but sometimes they can be gamed. Admittedly, they ARE hard to fake and it would take a lot of work (so you might as well actually DO the things you’re faking), but for people who don’t understand analytics (brand new social media clients), it’s not that hard to explain away little inconsistencies.

    4. Eric;

      What you are describing is expertise. Experts, people you have to hire because you don’t even understand the job yourself, generally require objective qualifications – google analytics would be a bare minimum, for example.

      Yes, there are people who are better than other at crafting persuasive messages online.
      Yes, and people who need persuasive messages should hire those people – because the latter know when they are wrong, they will be able to correct it.

    5. Hey Denise,

      Great questions.

      I picked 5 years more as an arbitrary number. It’s a decent amount of experience (and, coincidentally, 2,000 working hours x 5 years = 10,000 hours), and it means that someone can’t pick up a book or spend one year at an internship and suddenly be an expert.

      As far as #7 goes, I think someone with a breadth of marketing experience shows that they’re good at what they do, because they’re given new opportunities to do new things and learn new skills. Someone who writes advertising slogans over and over for five years may be awesome at writing advertising slogans, but they don’t know how to do anything else.

      And items 1 – 3 speak to the marketing experience, only I didn’t say it explicitly. But it sounds like you and I are on the same page about that one.

      Thanks for the comments.

    6. Denise Meyer says:

      I’m curious as to why the line is drawn at five years’ worth of experience. What data is there to support this?

      #7–Not sure I see the connection. It’s better to be a Jack-of-all-Trades and master of none than to have rock solid experience in one area? I have to assume this isn’t the point you are trying to make.

      I’d tack on marketing experience to the list. Many so-called “social media experts” have social down but lack in marketing experience to be able to form proper strategies and execute tactics to support the business’ goals. They don’t know how to carry out the industry research, market research or develop the messaging that is so important to the success of the initiatives. This results in lackluster ROI and unhappy clients. Social media is not an island–its another channel in the marketing communications mix. A solid marketing background is a critical component to success.

    7. Well thought out and well put. I also liked your earlier post “Ten Signs You’re NOT a Social Media Expert”
      Social Media can — and for most businesses should — be part of a viable growth and sustainability strategy. Very few people are experts. If tool usage doesn’t have an underlying business objective, then it’s just busy work anyway.

    8. I am right there with you. Funny how I run into media experts now that they have a camera and some software. Meanwhile, they get no views and don’t use any of the tools. But, sadly so many businesses don’t know the difference

      Dave

    9. Erik,
      Preach on brother preach on!!

    10. Thanks Eric, this is really helpful when looking for an expert in the field. Yes I did use the 10,000 hours in my blog, and I appreciate our conversation about that yesterday too. It just seems to me that Networking and Social Media Experts are too areas that are hijacked by anyone looking to make a few bucks. At the expense of those who really are experts int he field. Including you!

      Loved our discussion yesterday! Thanks for you words of wisdom on the subject.

      Hazel

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