Rethinking Social Media Experts

(Originally posted on on August 17, 2009.)

A few days ago, I wrote that we need to rethink this whole “there’s no such thing as social media experts” nonsense.

The argument, as stated by some non-social media people, is something to the effect of:

  1. Malcolm Gladwell says you have to do something for 10,000 hours to be an expert.
  2. Social media tools like Twitter are not 10,000 hours old.
  3. You can’t have used Twitter for 10,000 hours.
  4. Therefore, there are no social media experts.

This is utter bullshit.

Most of the NSME (“no social media experts”) crowd seem to think it’s the use, knowledge, and experience of the tools that make one an expert. The tools are not important. The tools are just tools. Real expertise lies in two other areas: message creation and social psychology. That is, what to say, and how it will affect your chosen audience/group.

Social Media Expertise - Venn Diagram

(Big thanks to my friend Lalita Amos, author of the now-famous N-Word Manifesto, for helping me come up with this idea. A never-long-enough meeting with her launched my brain in this direction. She deserves the credit for pushing it off that way.)

Speak to the dog, in the language of the dog, about things that matter to the heart of the dog.

Marketing relies strongly on those other two areas. The true social media experts are actually reformed marketers and PR pros. They’re Message Experts. They know how to create strong messages, and they know how those messages affect their targeted groups. They’re not tool experts. They’re not necessarily experts at graphic design, TV and radio production, or website creation. They hire the people who are. They focus strictly on making the best possible message.

Similarly, they’re Social Psychology experts. They know how a message will affect their target audience, and how and when to change the message for a different audience. They know they can’t just throw a message out there and hope for the best. They can, as I like to say, speak to the dog, in the language of the dog, about things that matter to the heart of the dog. The good marketer/PR pro speaks Dog. They may not be a dog, but they speak it as a second language.

The Tools Don’t Make the Carpenter

Norm Abram, the master carpenter on PBS’ New Yankee Workshop and This Old House, learned how to build houses and woodworking projects from his dad. Norm is old enough that his father taught him these skills on hand tools. Norm’s dad built houses using a hammer, hand saws, drills, and block planes. So Norm learned how to use these tools.

However, as Norm got older, he began to use power tools. Now, on his show, he has about 10 routers, multiple power drills, and enough nail guns to start a war with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. His dad, on the other hand, never made that jump, until after he retired.

One time when his dad was visiting for several days, Norm taught his dad how to use the tools.. He had never used routers or table saws before, so this was a brand new experience for him. But after a few days, he was up to speed on these new tools, and was creating projects with the same quality and skill he had been doing with block planes and hand saws.

According to the NSME crowd, Norm’s dad would no longer have been an expert, because he hadn’t spent 10,000 hours using those tools, as if all the knowledge had flown out of his head.

However, it wasn’t the knowledge of these new tools that made Norm’s dad a master carpenter, it was the knowledge of how to make straight cuts and fasten pieces of wood together. For his dad, it was the decades of knowledge of joinery techniques (message) and how to assemble the wood into functional pieces of furniture that would be appealing to people (social psychology).

Those Who Can’t Do, Coach

Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule is about people who have a freakish level of mastery of their chosen skill. They’re the Peyton Mannings, Michael Jordans, and Tiger Woods of the world. They have a level of expertise in all three circles. They’ve got expertise in the tools, the “message,” and the “social psychology.”

Peyton Manning has the tools, the message, and the social psychology. He’s 6’4″ with the laser rocket arm, he has a mastery of all the plays in the playbooks, and knows how other teams will react to the plays they will run (he does this by studying game film with an almost compulsive obsession. So Peyton Manning is obviously a 10,000 hour expert.

But what about Clyde Christensen? He’s the new offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts. Clyde has never played professional football (he was a QB at North Carolina University), but he has been a coach since 1979. He doesn’t have the same tools as our laser-rocket-armed quarterback, but he knows as much about the plays and what the other teams are going to do. Similarly, Larry Coyer, the Colts’ defensive coordinator, knows what his defense needs to do when the other teams look like they’re going to run certain plays.

Neither of them have the tools that their players do, or if they did, they don’t anymore. But they’re masters of the other two.

That’s where the real expertise lies. Not in the tools, but in the knowledge of the other two areas.

For the real social media experts, and there are more of those than the social media haters realize, we know about proper messaging, and we know how to package that message to our different target audiences. The tools we use just make our lives easier.

Five years ago, we had to communicate with websites and emails. Fifteen years ago, we communicated with TV and radio commercials. Twenty years ago, we communicated with newspaper ads. And while we had experts in creating content for those tools, the important knowledge — messaging and psychology — has remained the same.

Until the tools become so wildly different that messaging and social psychology has to change with it, we need to accept the fact that there are real social media experts in the world, and we know what we’re talking about.

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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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