How Social Media Veterans Succeed Where Others Fail

Lately I’ve been writing and talking about the importance of businesses working with or hiring social media veterans instead of social media rookies to manage their social media campaigns. I’ve talked about why social media is not an entry level position, and why it’s important for companies to hire people with several years of work experience to manage their entire social media campaign.

The State of Social Media for Business 2010

Last November, SmartBlog on Social Media released a report called “The State of Social Media for Business,” asking whether social media veterans or rookies — companies that have been using social media for several years compared to a few months — are doing a better job of social media.

While the report is about companies that use social media, not individuals, the same ideas apply to people — especially those who have used it for a few years for clients — versus the people who have only used it for a few months, but think their 100 hours playing Farmville and leaving cookie haikus on the Oreo Facebook page somehow qualifies them to be a social media consultant.

For their report, SmartBlog surveyed readers from a variety of industries and companies, and editor Jesse Stanchak pulled some of the best results from the report. (Disclosure: Yesterday, SmartBlog published my article about six social media tools to monitor your personal brand, and Jesse was my editor on the piece.)

SmartBlog found that companies with more than three years of social media experience — compared to companies with less than six months — are more likely to:

  • Say they have a fully developed or well-developed social-media strategy (65.7% of veterans compared with 13% of rookies)
  • Measure the return on investment of their social-media efforts (36.1% of veterans compared with 9.6% of rookies)
  • Say they would not be able to operate without a strong presence in social media (27.9% of veterans compared with 3.6% of rookies)

(It’s this last sin — operating without a strong presence in social media — that many marketing agencies and PR firms commit when they offer social media services to their clients without practicing it themselves. They claim they can manage clients’ social media campaigns, but have 300 Twitter followers and still run their entire website on Flash, which can’t be indexed by search engines.)

Stanchak attributes these differences in veterans’ performance to five key areas, veterans invest more in social media, have support from their leadership, diversify their tools, and use social media for more than just marketing.

But it’s the fifth point that really caught my eye: Veterans are more likely to listen.

Stanchak said that while both groups are almost as likely to use social media to put out news releases and maintain fan pages, it’s the veterans who are more likely to listen, experiment, and measure. (Stanchak didn’t say measure; I threw that one in myself. But he would have, because he’s smart that way.)

Social media veterans will listen to their networks, their customers, and their colleagues in the industry. They’ll experiment with new tools and new campaigns. Then they’ll measure the results, and make the necessary adjustments and measure again. They’ll make sure it’s the right thing to do, and they’ll use it the right way.

The problem most social media veterans face is the influx of rookies who read a book on social media and get hired by companies who believe social media is for young people.

While I don’t have a problem with social media rookies — after all, everyone has to start somewhere. We were even rookies once — my concern is that too many companies accept their advice. Then, when things go wrong, the companies blame social media and say it was a mistake to ever get started, while the rookie walks away from the problem and finds a new client or employer.

On the other hand, the smart rookie will figure out the problem by listening, experimenting, and measuring, making the necessary changes on the way. The smart rookie has identified mentors and teachers who will show them how to become smart veterans.

For businesses who are looking to hire a social media agency or employee, whether it’s for business blogging or social media management, check their pedigree and history. Ask them how long they’ve been doing social media. Ask them about past campaigns and how they dealt with problems. Ask them about their past failures. (And if they say they’ve never had any, they’re either lying to you, or they’re too new in the business to have any real experience.)

What about you? What have you seen from a social media veteran or rookie? What lessons have you learned? What are you hoping to learn? And if you’re a rookie, am I way off base? How are you making sure you don’t make the same mistakes of your predecessors?

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.

The Need for Social Media Experts Grows

People are starting to trust their peers less and less, according to a the Who Do You Trust? report from

Photo of a scientist puzzling over a math book

A lab coat does not automatically make you an expert. But it helps.

Researchers attribute this drop to overfriending. We see it all the time with people on Facebook with a few thousand friends, most of whom were gathered to build an army in Castle Age (guilty!). But all these friends telling us we “should” do this, we “ought” to try that. We can’t really trust anyone anymore.

This means, says, that people are starting to trust professionals a little more:

There’s been a decline in trust in a “person like myself.” A “person like yourself” fell from 47% in the 2009 study to 43% in 2011; this represents a steep decline from 2006 levels of 68%. In addition, a regular employee increased in credibility from 32% in 2009 to 34% in 2011. When it comes to the credibility of information, respondents trusted academics or experts [emphasis added — Erik] the most (70%), followed by a technical expert within the company (64%), a financial or industry analyst (53%) and a CEO (50%).

What does this have to do with social media? Basically, it means the need for social media experts is growing, and people don’t want professionals who use goofy titles to avoid the whole social media expert controversy. They want to be able to trust people who are credible and have the information they need — 70% of us want the experts.

  • If you’re a consumer-level trainer, like Patric Welch (aka Mr. Noobie), you’re highly sought out by noobies who are looking for basic answers on how to use Facebook and Twitter, how to write blogs, or how to research, buy, and use digital cameras and laptops. These beginners want someone they can trust, because that person has high credibility. They don’t want ninjas, gurus, superheroes, or surgeons, they want experts. In short, if you’re not an expert, or your Memaw’s favorite grandson who knows a lot about “Facespace,” they’re not going to hire you.
  • Although the data points to individual trust, this kind of thinking is also starting to find its way into the workplace. People are beginning to look to colleagues and associates within their professional networks. We’ve already seen the growth of the use of LinkedIn, reading industry blogs, or looking to their Twitter feed for professional advice, and the use of “real” experts is starting to grow. If you’re still playing at being a social media guru or shaman, companies are not going to call you.
  • Websites and print publications want experts to write for them, conferences want experts to speak to them. They need people who know what they’re doing, and have demonstrated their knowledge and understanding of the issues. This is not the time and place to use goofy titles. While it will work within our industry, when you talk to people outside the industry, they don’t get our cute little quirks and they don’t understand the whole expert/not-an-expert debate.

Trust is becoming more important to people, especially in the business world. Social media as a whole is all about user-generated content. We form opinions and make buying decisions by reading reviews and comments from our friends, and even strangers. But this may give way to, ever so slightly, to the need for independent experts who have a lot of information, and are willing to share it.

Photo credit: Fawksy (Flickr)

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, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

Ten Signs You’re NOT a Social Media Expert

Ten Signs You’re NOT a Social Media Expert

10. You updated your blog in December. 2009.

9. You’re convinced that Orkut will be the breakout social network of 2011.

Chris Brogan and Josh Brolin

This is not the same dude.

8. You’re feeding your Twitter stream into Facebook.

7. You think Chris Brogan was the star of “Jonah Hex.”

6. You’re still quoting the Malcolm Gladwell “10,000 hour rule,” unaware that you’re quoting someone who quoted someone else who didn’t actually read the book.

5. Your business email address ends with “,” but you don’t work for AOL.

4. You work for AOL.

3. You play Farmville so much, Zynga’s revenues plummeted the week you went on vacation.

2. You tell people you had the high score on Technorati when you were in high school.

1. Your social media experience consists of your unpaid college internship at your dad’s accounting firm.

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.

Do You Know Where to Tap the Hammer?

A parable.

A business owner is horrified to discover one morning that her company’s server is broken. Won’t boot up, won’t turn on. She calls a computer repair expert to come out and see what he can do.

The expert shows up, looks at the machine carefully, and even gives it a careful listen. He runs his fingers lightly on the side of the computer, and then taps it with a small hammer. The computer starts right up, the business owner is happy, and the expert goes away.

Hammer with light streaks

If I had this hammer, man, I could fix ANYTHING!

Two days later, the expert’s bill shows up. “Computer repair, $500,” it says.

The business owner calls up the expert, angry. “$500?! All you did was tap the computer, and you charged me $500?! I need to see an itemized version of your bill, to see why you thought that was worth $500.”

Two days later, the new bill arrives in the mail. “Tapping the computer with a hammer, $1. Knowing where to tap the hammer, $499.”

Knowing Where to Tap the Hammer: The Moral

Once, I was talking to a freelance writer friend, and she was worried about charging too much for her services.

“I don’t see how I can charge that much an hour, just to write a single press release,” she said, like she was worried she would be found out as a fraud, or that people would realize anyone could do it.

“Do you have special knowledge that enables you to write that press release in under an hour?”

“Oh sure, I’ve done so many of these, I can write them in 30 minutes sometimes.”

“And do you think your clients could write that same release in under an hour?”

“No, they take 3 or 4 hours to write one.”

So I told her the computer hammer story.

“You know where to tap the computer,” I said. “Your job seems easy to you because you’ve done it for years. But to someone who has never done it, it seems daunting. But then if they see how easy it is for you, they assume it’s that easy for anyone. But if they don’t know how to do it, it’s still a mystery.”

What can you do better than anyone else? What is a special piece of knowledge that you have that could be valuable to someone else? What are you putting your energy and time into?

For me, it’s writing. For Lorraine Ball, it’s PR for small businesses. For Paul D’Andrea, it’s portraits and event photography.

For us hammer tappers, we’re always learning new stuff, new tools and techniques, new ways of doing things.

Knowing where to tap the hammer is what sets us apart from those of us who will try the same things over and over — flipping the computer off and on, trying it in different plugs, shaking it — before declaring it impossible to finish.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available for pre-order on I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, who I also helped write Twitter Marketing For Dummies (another affiliate link).

Photo credit: KyleMay (Flickr)

Tools Don’t Make The Expert, Knowledge Does

Chris Brogan said something in his Hemingway’s Pencils post last week that really hit my hot button:

Moleskine Notebook and Pilot G-2 Pen

No one ever asked Hemingway which pencils he used to write his books. The tools aren’t the thing. The effort and the content and the promotion and the connection and the networking and the building value are the thing.

This is an important distinction as people still equate the knowledge and experience of using social media tools with the quality of the work someone does, and whether they can call themselves a social media expert.

I have used Moleskine notebooks and Pilot G-2 pens for over six or seven years. I have used computers to write since 1986. I have gone through hundreds of legal pads. But none of this makes me a good writer. Knowing the best words to use to convey an idea, knowing how to construct sentences for maximum impact, knowing how to string ideas together, knowing how to tell a story. Those are the things that make me a good writer.

However, to listen to some of the “no social media experts” crowd, it’s the amount of time that I have used my writing tools that make me a good writer. And to hear their argument, I lose my expertise each time I switch to a different writing tool. Switch from pen to computer? Start all over, your pen writing knowledge is useless.

The point is that it doesn’t matter how long I have used a tool, it’s what I do with those tools that make me an expert. It’s not how long I have owned a particular pen, or if I switch to a different brand of notebook (as if). It’s the knowledge and experience that I bring to my writing that does it.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available for pre-order on I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, who I also helped write Twitter Marketing For Dummies (another affiliate link).

Making the Argument for Ghost Blogging. Yet Again.

My good friend Lindsay Manfredi and I were both interviewed about ghost blogging last week, and asked whether we thought it carried any ethical dilemmas.

The answer is no, it doesn’t. Not if it’s done correctly.

I’ve talked about ghost blogging before, and said if it follows a few basic procedures, it’s as ethical as, say, public relations. (Er, on second thought. . . )social media ninjas

Yet, the issue keeps getting brought up, as if we’re committing some unpardonable ethical sin, like medical testing on baby seals. But the only people who seem to care are social media purists and “social media ninjas” who talk about transparency, yet work in industries where their efforts, if done correctly, are anonymous and behind the scenes as well.

Ghostwriting = copywriting

Anyone who does freelance copywriting can tell you that their name doesn’t go on squat when it comes to their efforts. Sales brochures, web copy, sales letters, speeches, you name it, the writer’s name is not-so-noticeably absent from the final copy. And that’s fine. That’s the life we choose.

Marketing agencies don’t get their names on their clients’ campaigns. No one whines that “my name isn’t on that sales brochure I wrote” or “my name isn’t in the newspaper article I sent the press release about.” Frankly, if you’re worried about getting credit for your work, you’re in the wrong business. If you want a byline, be a journalist.

Maintaining Ethical Boundaries for Ghost Blogging

A good ghost has procedures they follow with their clients:

  1. I interview the client, who tells me — in his own words — his thoughts about their industry-specific issues.
  2. I transcribe the interview and clean it up, turning it into 350 – 450 words of clear, informative copy.
  3. The client approves the article.
  4. I publish the article on their blog.

It’s the clients thoughts, the client’s words. I just transcribe it. Or as we like to say, “we do the work so you can go to your meetings.”

How is this any different from the CEO’s letter at the front of the company’s annual report? Or a politician’s speech to her constituents? Or the catalog copy that was supposedly written by the company’s founder? How is it any different from a PR flak’s press release that becomes the basis for a news article? (I say this as a former flak whose press releases were often turned into “Staff Wire Reports” by one county newspaper.)

Answer: It isn’t. Not a bit. They are exactly the same thing. (In fact, Jason Falls says that we’re not ghostwriters, we’re copywriters, and that it’s okay.)

These are the same steps that every other copywriter, speechwriter, and marketing director in the world follows when they produce work for a client. This has been an acceptable practice since well before Judson Welliver ghosted for Warren G. Harding, thus becoming the first presidential speechwriter.

The only place ghostwriting isn’t acceptable is journalism and academia, as it should be. Your merit is based on the work you produce; in business, it’s based on the results you achieve. (Although academia seems to have some of its own ghostwriting issues.)

So if you are against ghost blogging, you need to be against all ghostwriting. You need to speak out against speechwriters for politicians. You need to put an end to all freelance copywriting. You need to stop sending out press releases that don’t include your name as a quoted source.

Otherwise, it’s a non-issue. The people who hire me are the ones I’m concerned with. The social media purists? Well, you just give me something to blog about, thus boosting my own search engine rankings.

So, thanks for that.