Social Media Stars Killed Social Media

The days of the social media rockstar are drawing to a close.

We’re starting to see the end of social media as a standalone, magical mysterious thing that we do — something every startup embraced, every small business resisted, and every corporation fled from in fear — and we’re seeing acceptance, and even love, from those who previously spurned it.

Amber Naslund’s recent post, The Begrudging Death of the Social Media Superstar, plus a recent Jay Baer podcast episode with Dorie Clark, has got me to thinking that the end is in sight.

Social media will no longer be a viable standalone career path.

In the last six years, I’ve seen positions like Director of Social Media Marketing, Online Community Manager, and even VP of Social Media created to take advantage of this growing communication phenomenon. (I will not dignify positions like Social Media Wizard/Ninja/Guru with any response greater than a sneer.)

But I think we’re going to see those positions pulled into their respective departments, and they’ll become part of the general rabble.

Everyone in marketing and PR is going to be expected to be good at social media, much in the same way you need to stop listing “Proficient at Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer” on your résumé.

History Is Repeating Itself

Olivetti Typewriters - these things went away when computers became widely adopted.It’s always interesting to see what happens to an entrenched communication channel or business method when a new upstart shows up.

Newspaper people panicked when radio showed up, and the radio folks were the stars of the day. Radio panicked when TV showed up, and the TV people were the stars of the day.

Newspapers, radio, and TV all laughed and laughed when the Internet showed up. Then they ran around, screaming like they were on fire when the Internet started playing songs, streaming TV, and posting classified ads.

In the business world:

  • people turned up their noses at computers in the 1980s, but now we no longer have typists, because everyone does their own typing.
  • The postal service got worried when telexes showed up. . .
  • . . . and those people freaked when fax machines showed up.
  • Fax manufacturers peed themselves when email became the main method of communication.

Every step along the way, the new people were the stars, until everyone calmed down, and they were absorbed into the general landscape.

That’s happening with social media.

The social media people have been rockstars, writing books in a whirlwind of publishing activity, speaking and attending conferences. The ones who were doing it first are now considered the godfathers and grand dames of the industry, and the upstarts aren’t finding any real room to shine. There are no unexplored frontiers.

It won’t happen right away. There are still plenty of companies that aren’t doing social media. Hell, depending on which stats you see, anywhere from 40 – 60% of companies don’t even have a website. That means there are still plenty of people who aren’t adopting the Internet, let alone all the cool stuff it can do.

But when PR and marketing agencies are folding social media into their day-to-day offerings, and not a special add-on, you know things are settling down.

Social Media Experts Were Too Good At Their Job

That’s because, thanks to the social media evangelists who preached the gospel of engagement and relationships, everyone started doing it. And we all got good at it.

Eventually the executives who made the decision to create social media departments are going to start wondering, “Even my kids are doing this now, what makes these people so special? Why do they get the rockstar treatment?”

And the decision will be made to fold social media back into the regular marketing department. Or PR. Customer Service. Sales. R&D.

This is good news for people who are already good at marketing, PR, customer service, sales, and R&D.

But if you’re not good at it, you’re going to have a problem.

If you were only good at using the tools — you were “good at Twitter,” “good at Facebook” — you’re going to have a hard time fitting into your new role. If you thought that social media was all about using the tools, you’re in for a shock.

You need to get good at something else too. You need to get better at the departments and functions you were supporting.

You’re going to have to redefine yourself as a content marketer, a marketing strategist, a PR practitioner, a customer service professional. Social media is only going to be a part of what you do, not the actual thing you do.

Just like writers don’t have to be “proficient at Microsoft Word,” being “good at social media” will not be enough.

Photo credit: eat more toast (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Social Media Certification Programs Are Worthless

Jeff Espo wrote a great post on why you shouldn’t fall for bullshit social media certifications.

As someone who has beaten the “there ARE social media experts” drum for the last few years, you’d think I would be all for them. After all, if you earn enough certifications, you win. You’re the expert.

The problem is, the social media industry is lacking several important criteria to make these certifications carry any impact:

  • There is no centralized authority. A certification means something if the entire industry is behind it. But social media is so fragmented, and no one can claim ownership of the industry voice. Until we have one, we can’t have a meaningful certification.
  • The granting organizations don’t have any credibility. Who is granting these things? In Espo’s post, he’s talking about the PR News giving a certification for people who attend four conferences. The PR industry can’t even measure their own efforts. How can they claim authority in someone else’s industry?
  • There is no standardized knowledge. We’re getting there, especially as more professional marketers and PR flaks adopt this as a channel. As they adapt and create more best practices, the knowledge will standardize. Until then, a lot of what is “best” is going to be based on opinion and personal experience.

But while these three issues exist, we can’t/won’t/shouldn’t accept a certification program that claims to declare people have amassed a certain body of knowledge. We can barely do this with college degrees. Otherwise, we wouldn’t favor degrees from certain colleges over others.

So avoid any programs that claim to certify you or grant you special status. Until then, these are just seminars that give you a piece of paper when they’re done.

What Malcolm Gladwell REALLY Said About The 10,000 Hour Rule

Too many times, people misquote Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule regarding being an expert.

“Malcolm Gladwell said you have to have 10000 hours in a subject to be an expert,” they will often state. The problem is, they’re repeating a misquote from someone else who has never read the book.

The 10,000 hour rule is from Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success (affiliate link), which if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

The problem is, Gladwell never said you needed 10,000 hours to be an expert, you need 10,000 hours to be a phenom. To be so freakishly awesome, to be such a standout among your peers, that sometimes your first name is enough to tell people who you are: Peyton. Tiger. Venus. Kobe. Oprah.

But in the meantime, here’s what Malcolm Gladwell said about the 10,000 hour rule and being an outlier:

“In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers (violinists) had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice.” — p. 38

“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. — p. 40

“To become a chess grandmaster also seems to take about ten years. (Only the legendary Bobby Fisher got to that elite level in less than that amount of time: it took him nine years.) And what’s ten years? Well, it’s roughly how long it takes to put in ten thousand hours of hard practice. Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” — p. 41

So who is Gladwell talking about? Is he talking about the people who are merely “pretty good” or “very good” in their field? Is he talking about the Carson Palmer’s of the world? (Palmer is the QB for the Oakland Raiders. He’s good, but he’s no Peyton Manning.) Is he talking about the people who know enough about their subject to perform at a master’s level?

No, he’s talking about those surprising success stories who stand head and shoulders above the elite performers in their industry. That one guy who is way better than the 31 other “best quarterbacks in the country.” That one woman who fearsomely dominates all other female tennis players in the world.

“This is a book about outliers, about men and women who do things that are out of the ordinary. Over the course of the chapters ahead, I’m going to introduce you to one kind of outlier after another: to geniuses, business tycoons, rock stars, and software programmers. — p. 17

So, let me reiterate: an expert is someone who has a level of mastery about a special skill or knowledge in a particular field. They are not the freakishly good. The world class. The first-name-only celebrities. Those are the “outliers.” The “experts” are everyone else.

My point is, it doesn’t take 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert. It takes less than that. Don’t get me wrong, you have to know a lot about your field. You have to have spent thousands of hours doing it. But that’s not the 10,000 hour rule.

Are You an Expert?

Are you an expert?

Do you know more about a particular field than most people? Are you well-versed and well-read in it? Have you practiced or worked in that field for several years? Did you attend a special school to gain that knowledge?

An expert is someone, says the Random House Dictionary, who has “special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority.”

A doctor is a medical expert. A contractor is a building expert. A writer is a storytelling expert.

The doctor went to medical school, and then focused on one speciality for a number of years. She knows more than the average person about the human body, and more than most doctors about her speciality.

A contractor has spent more years swinging a hammer and cutting wood than other people. He knows more about building and repairing houses than even the most enthusiastic hobbyist.

A writer may have gone to school, or may be self-taught. She has written news articles, plays, and books for a number of years. She knows more about word smithing than the average person.

These people are experts because they have studied their chosen vocation, practiced to correct mistakes, and worked to become better and more proficient.

Experts do not stop learning. They do not know everything there is to know about their field. The doctor specializes in the brain, and knows nothing about sports medicine. The contractor builds houses, but can’t build furniture. The writer is a novelist, but can’t write marketing copy.

They are not the top dog, numero uno, king of the hill expert in their field. There are thousands of doctors, contractors, and writers. There may be a top doctor, contractor, or writer somewhere, but our experts are not. That doesn’t mean they are no longer experts.

Our experts are still experts when their field changes. New advances in brain surgery come, but our doctor is still an expert in her field. New tools, new materials, and new joinery techniques are created, but our contractor is still an expert. New styles of novels are invented all the time, but our writer is still an expert.

Replace their tools with new tools and they’ll retain their knowledge. They just have to learn the new tools. The doctor didn’t quit being a brain surgeon when someone invented the laser scalpel. The contractor didn’t become an apprentice again when they took away his hammer and saw and switched him to a nail gun and miter saw. The writer didn’t lose her ability when she got rid of her typewriter and switched to a laptop.

An expert’s status doesn’t end just because they switched tools. That’s because their expertise lies in the execution, not the method. It does not stop because their field changes or grows, because every field changes and grows. To claim these people are no longer experts shows a lack of understanding about progress and change.

Expertise is not negated because they’re not the best ever in their field. To say that means only one person can be an expert at anything ever.

Expertise is not eliminated because they haven’t learned everything there is to learn. Otherwise there will never be an expert at anything.

Expertise is based on amassing more knowledge than most people, not all knowledge. That’s it. It’s not a fixed milestone. It’s not a zero-sum competition. It’s not something that changes just because there’s a new development. And it’s not lost when tools are replaced.

To say otherwise means you just don’t understand what an expert is.

Businesses Don’t Care About the Social Media Expert Debate

After reading a few of the different posts about social media experts, including ours, our partner and founder, Mike Seidle (@IndyMike), wrote this response:

First, I am not a social media expert. I do sit on the board for a company that has several people that I would classify as experts on the payroll. Anyone who is saying “there are no social media experts” falls into one of two groups:

  • People who can’t accept that others may have more experience/deeper understanding than they do. This argument boils down to “since I don’t understand it, or can’t keep up, you can’t.”
  • People who do not have the resume to actually be an expert that are trying to get a job or gig that is for an expert. These people will claim that no experts can exist because of massive recent change that obsoletes past experience.

In the end, anyone who claims that social media experts are like the tooth fairy, Santa Claus or the Easter bunny ends up looking pretty silly:

Executive: So, you are here for the social media director position. I see here you’ve been using social media for two years. What makes you an expert?

Social Media Not Expert: There are not experts in social media. We are all explorers at sail on an undefined sea filled with incredible wonders and indescribable dangers. You see, no one can possibly be an expert on social media since it changes so fast. What I learned last year has no application to the future, and the tools we use and strategies we build often are rendered obsolete in the blink of an eye.

Executive: So, if it’s not possible to be an expert, then why are companies shelling out bucks on social media people?

Social Media Not Expert: Well, social media can get incredible results. Most social media campaigns fail because they are not well planned and are mismanged. On top of that it’s impossible to measre the ROI on social media… so do not count on predictable ROI or even expect a return you can measure. But social media will greatly enhance your brand. That’s why most companies are doing social media.

Executive: So, most social media campaigns fail for lack of management or knowege. I can’t expect any ROI, and you are not an expert. Right?

Social Media Not Expert: Well, when you put it that way… it doesn’t sound right. I would say that I’m not an expert, but I have experience and can guide your company around making mistakes that will make your social media campign fail. While we can’t …

Executive (Redfaced, Cuts off Social Media Not Expert): The door. Use it. Use it now.

Five Myths About “No Social Media Experts” Busted

Still? We’re still talking about whether there are social media experts?

This argument has reared its ugly head again, when some social media practitioners (frankly, people who I would call experts) have declared that they would never ever hire a social media expert, because there’s no such thing.

It’s interesting how people can declare there are no experts with an air of authority that they just implied doesn’t exist. I’m firmly in the “there are social media experts, so deal with it” camp, and have been talking about this for a couple years now, even arguing with other social media experts about their own existence.

So here are the same five myths I hear over and over, and my response to them.

Myth #1) Social media is new.

Social media is not new. It’s really, really old. It’s older than Kyle Lacy, and it’s even his birthday today.

Social media goes back before the mid-90s when AOL cracked 1 million members. (I became member #832,000-something in 1994).
Social media goes back before the mid-80s when AOL was born.
Social media goes back to the late-70s when BBSes and the Usenet were born.

Social media is at least 30 years old, even if we didn’t call it social media back then. But if you don’t want to accept that BBSes and AOL aren’t early forms of social media, then remember: Facebook is 7 years old, LinkedIn is 8 years old. That’s not new either.

2) Social media is always changing.

Yes, and so is medical science, but we still call doctors medical experts. So is finance, but we still call financial planners experts. So is auto racing, but we still call the engineers experts. So is animal husbandry, but we still — okay, that hasn’t changed since the dawn of time.

The social media tools may change, but the idea of relationship marketing has not. People still don’t want to be screamed at by TV ads, or spammed by, well, spammers. People want to have relationships with their brands. That hasn’t changed.

The only thing in social media that’s changing are the numbers of people joining it. But the idea of “being a valuable resource to your customers,” of “don’t spam people,” of “practice good customer service” has never changed.

3) Social media is just a channel. You can’t be an expert at a channel.

Tell that to the TV advertising guys, tell that to the radio advertising guys. Tell it to people who excel at trade shows, who kick ass at street teams, or are wizards at special events.

Social media may be a channel, but so is every other form of communication we use.

4) Social media is just a tool. You can’t be an expert at a tool.

No one said they were an expert at the tool. You said that’s what we had to be when you said “Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours to be an expert.”

Remember, it’s not the tool that’s important, it’s message creation and social psychology. In other words, can you create an effective message? Do you know how your target audience will respond to that message?

A good communicator understands his or her audience, and can tailor a message that will move, inform, educate, or persuade that audience. Journalists know how to write good news stories that people want to watch or listen to (now there’s an industry that’s changing all the time. No one’s whining that there’s no such thing as a news expert.) Marketers know how to create compelling copy that makes people want to buy stuff. TV producers know how write shows that make people want to watch.

5) Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours to be an expert.

Oh dear God, he did not! Malcolm Gladwell said if you want to be an outlier, the freak of nature who outshines everyone else, you need 10,000 hours of solid practice. Hence the name of his book, Outliers.

To get 10,000 hours of anything, you need to do it for a full-time job, 40 hours a week, for 5 years. If you’re going to quote the 10,000 hour rule at me, then I’m calling anyone with six or more years of experience at anything an expert.

This Is What An “Expert” Is

To me, a real expert is someone who knows more about something than most other people. Even the dictionary agrees with me: a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority: a language expert. (

An expert is not the person who knows the most, is the best in the world, or has stopped learning new stuff. They know more than the average person. That’s it. They don’t get to wear a sash, they don’t get a parade, they don’t get the best seats in restaurants. They get to say “I know more than most people about this subject,” and that’s it.

My doctor better know more than me. My financial planner better know more than me. Dario Franchitti’s engineer better know more about fixing race cars than anyone in his garage. They don’t have to be the best there is, they just need to know enough to help me succeed at what I (or Dario Franchitti) want to do.

And as long as you know more than most people — at least enough to fill a book — you need to wear the mantle of expert and don’t be a snob about it. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be charging thousands of dollars to speak at an event, and should tell your publisher you don’t know as much as you claimed when you signed your book contract.

PR & Marketing Agencies, Know Your Stuff Before You Offer Social Media

I’m both heartened and worried by the number of PR and marketing agencies that are offering social media.

I’m heartened, because it means the business world is that much closer to accepting social media as a real form of communication. It means they know it’s going to be around for the long haul.

I’m worried, because a lot of these agencies don’t even understand it They just threw their new junior account exec at it because she has a Facebook page and they think that means she knows enough to run a large-scale campaign for them.

A lot of social media professionals just come off as snake oil salesmen, like this guy.

Make sure you know your stuff, AND that it works.

Social media is not an entry-level position, people. It’s not something you turn over to the brand new employee who has never even run a traditional campaign. And it’s definitely not something an agency should try to learn on a client’s dime.

NOTE: This is not to say that entry-level people shouldn’t do social or that PR or marketing agencies shouldn’t get into it at all They absolutely should. But, your experience needs to be more than resuscitating the nearly-dead Twitter account you started six months ago with the “Still trying to figure this twitter thing out. Does this make me a twit?” tweet.

I’ve seen a number of agencies now that are starting to offer social media as part of their service offerings, but I think they’re out of their element, and are only going to screw it up.. For one thing, their Twitter accounts are less than six months old. The agency accounts have fewer than 500 followers, and the employee accounts are all hovering around 100, and are filled with retweets from the agency account.

That is not social media experience. Not enough to start providing services for clients.

Strong social media experience means running campaigns where you can measure the ROI and show how much money you made. Strong social media experience means having more than 2,000 followers, because you know the ethical way to break past Twitter’s 2,000 following cap. Strong social media experience means you have a blog that’s more than a year old, and it’s filled with new social media knowledge and opinions, because you publish 2 – 5 times per week, not per quarter.

Look, I know how to write a press release, and I know how to pick up the phone and individually pitch journalists and bloggers. (Jason Falls would say that puts me ahead of the game for knowing that.) I even know how to do good TV and radio interviews. But that doesn’t make me a PR expert.

If I wanted to open a PR agency, I could probably do a passable job. I could fool a couple of small clients, and learn on their dime. But I wouldn’t be giving them the best I could be (or, if I was, the best I could be wouldn’t be good enough).

If you’re in PR or marketing, and you want to offer social media to your clients, you need to do a few things before you ever you’re ready to start:

  1. Put together a team of people who are responsible for social media, not just one person. You at least need someone who can write and someone who knows how to read analytics and research. You also need one person who will be responsible for it all. This is not a time for committees and democracy. You need a social media account executive to take charge.
  2. Understand that social media is as much about sales and customer service as it is about marketing and PR. If you’re going to manage social media for a client, you need someone who can sell and deal with problems.
  3. You need to invest heavily in the ongoing education of your social media team. Require them to read industry blogs, read or listen to social media books, attend social media networking meetings, and pay for any learning they can get their hands on. I met an advertising agency that pays its staff to read books and give book reports to the rest of the agency at a monthly meeting. They pay $25 per book read (they even have a copy of Branding Yourself (affiliate link) in their library).
  4. Send your social media team to at least one conference a year, if not two or three. Better yet, have them learn enough so they can present at those conferences. The great thing about being a presenter is you have to know more than your audience, which means they have to stay on the cutting edge.

If you’re going to do social media, do it right. You can’t sign up for a new Facebook account and pronounce yourself a social media consultant any more than you can record a video on your mobile phone and call yourself a video production house. Take the time to learn as much as you can before you offer it. Don’t feel like you have to rush. There are plenty of clients available, and they’ll still be there in a year or two when today’s agencies are being fired by their clients for bad social media execution.

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

Photo credit: Inky (Flickr)